All eyes were on Florida Quarterback Rex Grossman. Unfortunately for the Gators, Maurice Sikes’ were also.
With the ‘Canes struggling to hold on to a 27-16 lead late in the third quarter, the Gators drove 88 yards to the Miami 5-yard line. Grossman, a leading candidate to win the Heisman Trophy this year, set up in shotgun formation on first down and had his sights on Carlos Perez in the end zone. But Sikes saw it all the way – picking off Grossman at the three-yard line and running 97 yards for a score.
The play increased the ‘Canes lead to 19 points and essentially ended all hope for a Florida victory.
“I just read his eyes,” said Sikes. “I saw that he was looking at the same guy the whole time so I rolled over there. I wasn’t supposed to be there, but it was football. You’ve got to make a play, and I did. I got us out of that bad situation.
“The pass was kind of hot. But I tipped it up and ran it in for a touchdown. This was the biggest game of the season and someone had to make the pick. It was just another play and someone had to make it.”
The interception proved to be a turning point for Miami. And both UM quarterback Ken Dorsey and head coach Larry Coker had the same words about the play. “It was huge.”
Sikes, a 5’11, 193 pound junior free safety, also made another interception in the fourth quarter and recorded four tackles and broke up two passes.
But what’s more impressive is that he made most of his big plays with an injured left shoulder, which he said he separated while trying to tackle running back Earnest Graham in the second quarter.
He took painkillers and donned a shoulder harness for the rest of the game. But despite the pain, he said he never once thought about leaving the game.
“I knew I hurt it when I stretched,” Sikes said. “But the adrenaline kicked in. I was not going to come out of the game like this. There was no doubt in my mind that I would be back.”
But while Sikes’ interception and touchdown return captured most of the attention, others on the Miami secondary also stepped up big.
Decimated by graduation and the NFL Draft, the ‘Canes secondary, viewed as the weak link on the team, silenced its critics and proved that it is once again ready for the spotlight.
“It’s not that we’re the weakest on the team,” Sikes said about the secondary. “The problem was the nobody knew us.
“If you ask the coaches, we were never considered the weakness on the team. Those interceptions and the play of our secondary didn’t surprise anyone.”
And Coker was anything but surprised.
“They put a lot of pressure on Rex,” Coker said. “We knew we had to do that or we were in for a very long night.
“They’re young but talented.”
Jordan Rodack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org