Left with Smiles

The Miami Hurricanes entered Saturday’s contest against Florida State nearly two touchdown favorites. In the end, it took yet another missed Seminole field goal for the Hurricanes to escape.

The No. 1 ranked Hurricanes defeated the Florida State Seminoles 28-27 in front of a record 81,927 fans at the Orange Bowl. The ‘Canes trailed 27-14 before scoring two fourth quarter touchdowns to take the lead for good. Even then, the Seminoles had a chance to win when placekicker Xavier Beitia, 2-2 on field goals earlier in the game, attempted a 43-yard field goal. However, the snap was low, the hold was shaky, and Beitia’s kick sailed wide left.

The missed field goal ended arguably the craziest game in the 46 meetings between the two teams, at least in the eyes of head coach Larry Coker.

“I’m an old man, and it’s the best football game I’ve ever seen,” Coker said.

Quarterback Ken Dorsey and the Miami receivers, who struggled to be on the same page through the first three-quarters, were key in engineering the two fourth quarter touchdowns. Dorsey, who tied a career high with 362 yards passing, hooked up on a corner route with Andre Johnson for 37 yards, which led to a two-yard strike from Dorsey to Kevin Beard, cutting the Seminoles lead to 27-21. After a Florida State drive stalled at their own 42, Dorsey and Willis McGahee connected on a 68-yard catch and run. On the ensuing play, Jason Geathers scored the go-ahead touchdown on an 11-yard draw.

Beard knew the receivers would have to make big plays in order for Miami to stay undefeated.

“Our main goal has been for the receivers to make plays because they like to stop the run,” Beard said. “We knew that the receivers would have to win the game for us and luckily, I had a big catch and everything just started out for us.”

The Hurricanes took the lead on their first drive, a 13 play, 89 yarder, when Willis McGahee scored on a four yard run, eluding several Seminole tackles on his way to the end zone. Florida State would answer in a big way, scoring 17 unanswered points, including a 30-yard run from Nick Maddox, and a 10-yard touchdown strike from Chris Rix to Talman Gardner, giving the ‘Noles a 17-7 cushion. Miami would put together a scoring drive late in the first half, capped off when Dorsey found Kellen Winslow in the end zone for a five-yard TD. Miami might have narrowed the gap going into the halftime locker, but the Seminoles were the ones with momentum on their side. However, the Hurricanes did not quit.

“We never felt like we were out of the game,” Beard said. “We just needed to cut back on mental errors and penalties to get back into the game.”

Florida State would post the only three points of the third quarter, on Beitia’s second field goal of the game, this one from 42 yards out. The ‘Noles would put together a drive during the final seconds of the third quarter, and three minutes into the final period of play, Greg Jones scored an 11-yard touchdown, giving Florida State an almost insurmountable 13 point cushion. However, the Hurricanes still stayed with their game plan, and they finally found success in the fourth quarter.

“We are always going to go with our game plan,” said wide receiver Ethenic Sands. “That’s what makes us No. 1.”

Dorsey provided the bulk of the passing attack with his 362 yards, but also struggled through a 20-45, two-interception day. However, the senior quarterback out dueled Florida State’s signal caller, as Rix completed just 8-19 passes for a woeful 83 yards.

The Seminoles dominated the ground game though, out gaining Miami 296-115. The one-two punch of Greg Jones and Nick Maddox were lethal for the front seven of Miami, as Jones gained 189 yards on 31 carries, while Maddox added 12 carries for 76 yards.

The success of the Seminoles rushing attack, combined with nearly mistake free football, were reasons why head coach Bobby Bowden refused to accept the final outcome.

“I simply can’t believe we lost the game like that again,” Bowden said. “I thought we had it. I went out to shake (Beitia’s) hand. I thought he hit it.

“I’ve had that picture so many times before in my career. I can’t stand it. Our kids did not deserve to lose this game.”

In the other locker room, the Hurricane players were overjoyed and relieved, as the team was outplayed for three quarters, but refused to quit. Offensive lineman Sherko Haji-Rasouli could not have been prouder of the men wearing white and green, and said that this game was the scare that Miami needed.

“It was just sheer guts,” Haji-Rasouli said. “Everyone took it upon themselves like it might be the last play of their lives and I think this game was good for us because we have some tough games down the road.”

You can reach Jeremy Marks-Peltz at jmp310@hotmail.com.