Updated with quotes from Coach Larry Scott and players on 11/07 at 7:50 p.m.
There was no miracle ending, but Miami will gladly take the win to cap off homecoming week. The Hurricanes thoroughly outplayed the Cavaliers in Larry Scott’s first home game as interim head coach for a 27-21 victory over Virginia in front of 40,963 fans at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday.
“We moved on right away,” Scott said about refocusing after the last-second win over Duke. “We had to zero in their attention on Virginia because we knew it would be a great challenge.”
Sophomore Michael Badgley sealed the win with a 39-yard field goal to put the Canes up by two possessions with 2:15 remaining. Badgley’s kick capped off an 11-play, 58-yard drive that took 4:53 off the clock after Virginia had just cut Miami’s lead to six. The possession nearly ended when running back Joseph Yearby fumbled at Virginia’s 14-yard line, but the sophomore was able to fall on top of the loose ball.
Virginia (3-6, 2-3) made it a one-possession game with 7:08 remaining on a 36-yard field goal by senior Ian Frye. Junior quarterback Matt Johns moved the Cavaliers down the field with some great passing, but couldn’t finish off the drive with a touchdown. Johns thought he had a 4-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Canaan Severin, but the play was waived off for offensive pass interference.
Frye once again cut the lead to six with 0:35 left on a 47-yard field goal, but Miami recovered the ensuing onside kick to end the game.
Sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya started for Miami after missing last week’s game against Duke with a concussion he suffered against Clemson. Kaaya was cleared to play the night before the game and connected with redshirt senior receiver Rashawn Scott for a 33-yard gain on Miami’s first play.
“It felt great getting back out there. It felt awesome,” Kaaya said. “It was a bit hard getting used to the rhythm of the game. It was hard at first. I settled down a little bit. I’m just glad I got this game over with and can progress.”
Miami would’ve been ready to play Virginia with redshirt freshman quarterback Malik Rosier instead of Kaaya, but getting the starter back helped settle down the Canes.
“He’s their leader. He’s their quarterback,” Scott said of Kaaya’s return. “He walks into the huddle, you look at him and go, ‘There’s our guy.’ It relaxes everybody just from the standpoint of we got our leader back.”
Kaaya finished the game with 286 yards and two touchdowns with one interception on 20-of-26 passing.
The defenses dominated the first quarter, as neither team was able to score in the period. Miami opened the scoring with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Kaaya to redshirt freshman tight end David Njoku early in the second quarter. That throw capped off a 16-play, 95-yard drive that was aided by multiple Virginia penalties.
The Canes (6-3, 3-2) quickly forced a punt on the next Cavaliers possession, but a nice boot by Nicholas Conte pinned Miami back at the 8-yard line. Virginia scored a safety on the next play thanks to an intentional grounding call on Kaaya for throwing the ball without a receiver in the area from the end zone. Rosier was also called for a safety in a similar fashion last week against Duke.
Virginia cut Miami’s lead to two on the ensuing drive on a 25-yard field goal by Frye. The Cavaliers methodically marched down the field on 12 plays, but the Canes ended the drive once Virginia reached the 10-yard line.
The Canes made Virginia pay for only coming away with a field goal on the next possession. Kaaya hit junior receiver Stacy Coley over the middle on a short slant, and Coley took off for 67 yards untouched for a touchdown. That 67-yard catch-and-run was Miami’s longest play of the season from the line of scrimmage, although it comes up short when compared to Corn Elder’s 75-yard kickoff return touchdown against Duke last week.
“When I caught it, I just ran for green grass,” Coley said.
Virginia added on three points right before the end of the half on a 48-yard field goal by Frye to make it 14-8. The Cavaliers took over at their own 29 when Kaaya threw only his third interception of the season.
Miami barely outgained Virginia at the half 192-191 in total yards. The Cavaliers dominated possession, controlling the ball for 19:10 compared to 10:50 for the Canes. Six penalties for 50 yards hurt Virginia, although Miami was flagged five times for 42 yards.
The Canes punted on their first drive of the second half, but quickly got the ball back on freshman safety Jaquan Johnson’s first career interception. Senior defensive back Tracy Howard battled the pass into the air and Johnson dove for the grab right before the ball fell to the ground.
“Tracy squeezed the No. 1 receiver on a dig, and the ball just happened to pop my way and I dove for it,” Johnson said of the interception. “It felt good. I thanked [Tracy].”
Miami failed to make anything of the turnover on offense though, despite a career-long nine-yard rush by Kaaya to move the Canes closer to the end zone. Badgley missed his fourth field goal of the season, this one from 34 yards out, and Virginia took over at the 20.
The Cavaliers responded with their best drive of the day, easily moving 80 yards in six plays to take a 15-14 lead. Freshman tailback Olamide Zaccheaus opened the possession with a 25-yard catch-and-run on a screen pass, and then finished the drive with a 3-yard rush for the touchdown with 5:28 left in the third.
Miami’s own freshman running back, Mark Walton, led the Canes on the ensuing possession. Walton moved the Canes into the red zone after two nice runs and a personal foul on Virginia. However, Miami stalled once inside the red zone had to settle for a 28-yard field goal by Badgley.
The Canes came away from their next visit to the red zone with seven. Kaaya connected with Njoku over the middle for a huge 58-yard gain to move the team down to the 7, and Walton finished off the drive with a 1-yard run for his sixth rushing touchdown of the season.
“[That catch] started with trusting Brad. He’s a tremendous athlete and a great player,” Njoku said. “Brad threw a great ball and I just had to execute.”
The win makes Miami bowl eligible for the eighth consecutive season and is the third victory over an ACC Coastal opponent this year. Miami outgained Virginia 429 to 407 in total yards and converted eight of thirteen third downs.
The Canes next face North Carolina on Saturday, Nov. 14 in Chapel Hill.
Feature photo courtesy HurricaneSports.com.