Despite playing behind an inexperienced offensive line, making only his third career start and re-injuring his right arm, sophomore quarterback Jacory Harris was able to carry the Canes on his back and silence the hostile crowd during the season opener Monday night in Tallahassee.
In an instant classic that featured two ties and eight lead changes, the University of Miami Hurricanes defeated No. 18 Florida State Seminoles 38-34 in front of over 80,000 fans at Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Harris finished 21-for-34 with a career-high 386 yards passing with two touchdown passes and a touchdown run. The Canes scored 21 points in the fourth quarter.
FSU had an opportunity to win the game as it had the football inside Miami’s 10-yard line with under one minute left, but the Hurricanes’ secondary stepped up and batted away two balls in the waning seconds. Seminole sophomore wide receiver Jarmon Fortson dropped a three-yard pass in the end zone as time expired as the Hurricanes upset the Noles to add another chapter to this storied rivalry.
With 11:45 left in the fourth quarter, Harris dropped back to pass but was hit as he released the ball by freshman defensive back Greg Reid. The football fluttered in the air and was caught by junior defensive end Markus White, who returned the ball up the left sideline for a touchdown.
The Seminoles would successfully execute a two-point conversion to take a 31-24 lead.
“It was just a bad funny bone incident,” Harris said in an interview with ESPN immediately after the game. “My whole arm went numb. I had to fight through. I had to help this team win.”
Last year in the Emerald Bowl, Harris injured his right shoulder. Backup quarterback and true freshman A.J. Highsmith took practice snaps on the sideline, but Harris remained in the game.
Harris proved he was healthy by finishing the game 7-for-9 with 122 yards passing and a touchdown after that play. He demonstrated poise, confidence and swagger, and executed new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple’s play calls perfectly down the stretch.
On the game-winning drive he converted on three straight third downs by connecting to junior wide receiver Leonard Hankerson and sophomore wide receivers Thearon Collier and Travis Benjamin.
The drive would culminate with UM tying the game at 31 when junior running back Graig Cooper caught a 25-yard touchdown pass as the FSU safety slipped in blown coverage with just over seven minutes remaining.
True freshman kicker Dustin Hopkins gave the Seminoles a 34-31 lead as he split the uprights on a 45-yard field goal with only 4:11 left. Earlier in the game he connected on a 52-yard field goal, but he did miss an extra point.
The comeback Canes would respond in a hurry as Harris would connect with Benjamin once again on a 40-yard strike that ultimately set up the game-winning touchdown as Cooper scampered up the middle for three yards to give Miami a 38-34 lead with 1:53 left.
The completion to Benjamin was reviewed by officials, but the call stood on the field as the Belle Glades native clearly maintained possession and had one foot down.
Benjamin, who last year had 274 all-purpose yards against the Seminoles, tallied 128 yards receiving on only four catches.
Florida State battled until time expired as junior quarterback Christian Ponder converted on a third down and three by scrambling up the middle for 30 yards as FSU marched all the way down inside Miami’s 10-yard line with under one minute left.
The UM secondary, maligned much of the night, stepped up when needed as sophomore cornerback Brandon Harris and senior and converted cornerback Sam Shields batted away passes to break up fade routes.
With five seconds left, Ponder scrambled right but threw low to his intended receiver – Fortson – as time expired and the Canes secured the victory.
Heading into this Atlantic Coast Conference showdown, the squad who had scored first won 16 of the previous 18 meetings, and that trend did not change Monday night as the orange and green scored less than three minutes into the game as Harris hooked up with the aforementioned Benjamin on a 39-yard post route.
The Canes continue their brutal schedule on Sept. 17 as they host ACC foe and No. 15 Georgia Tech at 7:30 p.m.
Be sure to pick up the print edition on Thursday as The Miami Hurricane will have all of the post-game statistics, injury updates and reactions from the players and coaches.
Justin Antweil may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org