In the years that follow the 2003 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, every player wearing a Miami Hurricanes jersey will eventually realize the success and accomplishment of helping pad one of the longest streaks in college football history.
For now, the mood among Hurricane players and coaches is still one full of gloom, and the talk consists of words like “failure” and “missed opportunities.”
Miami’s 34-game win streak and national championship hopes came to an end two weeks ago in a 31-24 double-overtime loss to Ohio State at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona, dropping their all-time Fiesta Bowl record to 0-4. After the defeat, the Miami players showed reluctance to talk to the media, other than to share one-sentence answers on the disappointment of the final result.
“We’d be able to appreciate [the game] a lot more if we were on the winning side,” said quarterback Ken Dorsey.
As if the loss and the disheartening task of watching Ohio State hoist the national championship trophy wasn’t enough, the Hurricanes saw running back Willis McGahee go down with two torn knee ligaments after a questionable hit from OSU’s Will Allen. Quarterback Dorsey was knocked out for play in the second overtime by Buckeye linebacker Matt Wilhelm. Miami’s senior QB would later spend much of the night in the hospital.
Overshadowing the Miami injuries, though, was a pass interference in the first overtime. With the Hurricanes leading 24-17 in the first overtime, Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel attempted a pass into the end zone on fourth down without success. However, field judge Terry Porter, standing on the opposite side of the play, ruled that Miami’s Glenn Sharpe interfered with Michael Jenkins, even though replays would clearly indicate that the contact came after the ball reached Gamble’s hands. Krenzel would score three plays later to send the game into the second overtime.
“The loss was, without question, devastating,” said head coach Larry Coker, whose career record fell to 24-1 after the game. “Especially when you’re down, you come back and have a chance to win, think you have it won and then you don’t. It’s one of those things that will take a long time to get over. You may never get over it.”
Injuries and bad calls aside, the Hurricanes turned the ball over five times, leading to 17 Ohio State points. Dorsey was directly involved in three of the miscues, throwing two interceptions and fumbling once, all of which overshadowed the departing senior’s 296 yards. The final two Miami turnovers both negated potential game-turning plays. On one play, Sean Taylor coughed up the football after picking off a Krenzel pass in the end zone, while Roscoe Parrish fumbled the ball at the end of a long reception on the other play.
“We were the better team, but they were just destined to win,” said tight end Kellen Winslow, who set a new Fiesta Bowl record with 11 receptions. “They didn’t beat us, we beat ourselves.”
Miami had an opportunity to send the game into a third overtime, but were unable to punch the ball into the end zone on four opportunities from the one-yard line. According to running backs coach Don Soldinger, the result of the drive might have been attributed to McGahee’s injury.
“I would have liked to have a healthy Willis McGahee on third-and-one and fourth-and-one,” Soldinger said. “I’d give it to him. You’d think he’d make it.”
Backup tailback Jarrett Payton could not score, and the Hurricanes left Tempe empty-handed and amid comparisons to the 1986 Miami Hurricanes, who fell 14-10 to an underdog Penn State team at the Fiesta Bowl. Like that squad, it took a while for the loss to hit many of the Miami players and coaches, and some still haven’t recovered.
“If you ever have something bad happen to you, as we all have, when you wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning, then it all of a sudden hits you,” Coker said. “It’s a gut-wrenching feeling. That’s what I had [the following morning].”
Others, like Jarrett Payton, are now using the loss to motivate them towards making a statement in 2003.
“None of us wanted to lose, and in the huddle everybody thought we were destined to win, but this just makes us more determined to come back and work harder for next season,” Payton said. “We’ll be back.”
You can reach Jeremy Marks-Peltz at firstname.lastname@example.org.