Just when disgruntled Hurricanes fans were ready to label this season a failure, Miami upset No. 10/11 Virginia (7-2, 4-2) 31-21 Saturday in Charlottesville, Va., putting them in the driver’s seat of the ACC Championship race.
If the Hurricanes (7-2, 4-2) can win their final two games at home against Wake Forest and Virginia Tech, they will likely head to a BCS bowl game despite back-to-back losses to North Carolina and Clemson.
Roscoe Parrish returned a punt for a score and caught a 25-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with under a minute left to help seal the victory. Frank Gore had a career game for Miami, gaining 195 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries.
The Hurricanes received a surprise contribution from fullback Talib Humphrey, who caught three passes for 49 yards and a touchdown.
The Cavaliers were led by running back Alvin Pearman, who carried the ball 21 times for 106 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Marques Hagans struggled throwing the ball, going 10-for-25 for 94 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, but rushed for 85 yards on nine carries.
Miami’s offense looked strong on its opening possession, as Brock Berlin completed two 10-yard passes to Darnell Jenkins and Gore broke off a 22-yard run. The Hurricanes weren’t able to come away with points on the 11 play, 62-yard drive, however, after Jon Peattie missed a 29-yard field goal.
The Hurricanes got another chance halfway through the first quarter and Gore refused to let another scoring opportunity get away, rushing up the middle for an 11-yard touchdown to give UM an early 7-0 lead.
The ‘Canes’ defense couldn’t hold the lead very long, as the Cavaliers ran the ball on eight consecutive plays before Hagans found tight end Heath Miller for a three-yard touchdown to tie the score.
The score remained tied until late in the second quarter when Miami got the ball on the UVA 47. Gore gained 44 yards on the first play from scrimmage and Berlin countered Hagans’ three-yard touchdown pass with one of his own to Humphrey, giving UM a 14-7 halftime lead.
Both teams traded three-and-outs to start the second half before Hagans completed a 30-yard pass to Miller to set up a 34-yard Pearman touchdown that evened the score again. Miami responded with a 43-yard Peattie field goal to regain the lead at 17-14.
After a long UM drive stalled at the UVA 34, the Hurricanes stopped the Cavaliers on their next possession and forced them to punt. Parrish didn’t even let the offense get back on the field, returning Sean Johnson’s punt 62 yards for a touchdown to give the ‘Canes a decisive 24-14 lead.
Virginia showed tremendous resolve after getting the ball back with 4:18 left in the game. Hagans completed a 14-yard pass to Pearman before rushing for 47 yards to set up a three-yard Wali Lundy touchdown.
Clinging to a three-point lead, Berlin completed a critical 34-yard pass to Humphrey to keep the clock moving. Facing a fourth-and-four with 0:58 left, Peattie came out to try a 42-yard field goal but Virginia called a timeout before he could attempt it. After talking it over with his players, Head Coach Larry Coker decided to send the offense back out to try to clinch the win. Berlin came through with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Parrish, and the Hurricanes left Scott Stadium with a crucial victory.
Berlin told ESPN that the decision to go for the touchdown on fourth down was literally a last-second decision.
“We were already starting to talk about what we wanted to do next series,” Berlin said. “Sure enough, Coach Coker called us back on the field and said, ‘Let’s give this thing a shot.'”
Parrish told ESPN that the Hurricanes’ performance in the previous two losses was an aberration.
“You can’t just push us over,” Parrish said. “You can’t just expect for teams to come out and do whatever they want to do against us. When our backs are against the wall, we’re going to handle our business.”
Eric Kalis can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.