Updated with quotes from Head Coach Al Golden and players at 9:57 p.m.
Inhale. Now exhale, Hurricanes fans. The game is over and Miami scored more points than Virginia Tech. After suffering two tough losses the last two weeks, the Canes took down the Hokies 30-20 in a tense matchup in front of 50,787 fans at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday.
A 33-yard Virginia Tech touchdown pass with 7:20 remaining cut Miami’s lead to three, but the Canes responded with a touchdown throw of their own on a nine-play, 75-yard drive with 2:44 left. Sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya connected with redshirt senior receiver Rashawn Scott for a two-yard catch in the middle of the end zone to put Miami up 30-20.
Junior defensive back Artie Burns put to bed any chance of a comeback when he picked off quarterback Michael Brewer for his second interception of the game on Virginia Tech’s first play from scrimmage. The Canes took over with 2:29 left and ran out the clock in the team’s ACC Coastal Division opener.
“I need every win. We needed it badly because it’s the Coastal,” Kaaya said. “It’s our first Coastal game, so just starting with the Coastal is huge and we’ve just got to keep it rolling.”
Virginia Tech Head Coach Frank Beamer brought in Brewer near the end of the third quarter after quarterback Brenden Motley threw two costly interceptions earlier in the game. Brewer hadn’t seen any action since breaking his collarbone in Virginia Tech’s season opener.
Brewer rewarded his coach in his second drive with a beautiful 33-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Isaiah Ford in the left corner of the end zone. Ford’s catch was reviewed, but the referees upheld the call and Miami’s lead was cut to 23-20 with 7:20 remaining.
Miami outgained Virginia Tech 395 to 361 in total yards and forced four turnovers on defense without giving up any on offense.
“We are an attack defense,” Miami Head Coach Al Golden said. “We were getting pressure with four and five [players]which was good.”
The Canes (4-2, 1-1) took an early lead on a 3-yard rushing touchdown by sophomore running back Joseph Yearby. Miami took over at Virginia’s three-yard line after sophomore defensive lineman Trent Harris recovered a fumble inside the five. Motley dropped the ball when he saw Harris coming in unblocked from the right side, and the Winter Park native quickly gathered it up to give the Canes great field position.
Miami came into the game tied for fifth-best in the nation with a plus-nine turnover margin. The Canes now have 11 interceptions and four fumble recoveries on defense compared to just two turnovers lost on offense.
Virginia Tech (3-4, 1-2) responded with a seven-play, 63-yard drive that resulted in a 30-yard field goal by sophomore Joey Slye. The Hokies started at their own 26 but quickly advanced to midfield on a 22-yard carry up the middle by redshirt freshman running back Travon McMillian. Motley then connected with redshirt sophomore tight end Bucky Hodges for a 35-yard gain to Miami’s 13. Redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Al-Quadin Muhammad killed the drive with a sack on Motley on third-and-eight from the 11-yard line. Muhammad has two sacks now in his last two games.
Miami came right back down the field on the next drive and took a 10-3 on a 24-yard field goal by sophomore Michael Badgley. Freshman running back Mark Walton thought he had his sixth touchdown of the year on a 13-yard run-and-catch, but it was called back for pass interference on sophomore tight end Christopher Herndon. Walton also had two touchdowns called back for penalties against Nebraska.
The Hokies tied the game on a 9-yard pass from Motley to McMillian to end the first quarter. Virginia Tech upped the tempo on offense and went 75 yards on 10 plays in three minutes and 46 seconds.
Virginia Tech managed just 100 total yards against Pittsburgh two weeks ago. The Hokies racked up 129 yards on Miami in the first quarter alone.
Miami opened the second quarter with a 10-play, 43-yard drive that ended in a career-long 49-yard field goal by Badgley. The Canes called a draw for Walton on third-and-eight from Virginia Tech’s 34 that only went for two yards. The Canes picked up two third down conversions for four and five yards earlier in the drive on passes from Kaaya.
The Canes forced a quick three-and-out on Virginia Tech’s next drive, but Miami took over on its own 20 and failed to put points on the board. Kaaya hit junior receiver Stacy Coley for a 28-yard gain over the middle on the first play of the drive to move the Canes near midfield. The drive ended when Kaaya’s pass fell incomplete on fourth-and-four from Virginia Tech’s 33-yard line.
The Hokies tied the game at 13 on the ensuing possession. Motley got the Hokies inside Miami territory on a 24-yard pass to Ford. The Hokies faced a fourth down of their own at the Miami 34, but Motley rushed for four yards on a QB sneak when he only needed one yard for a new set of downs. The Canes limited Virginia Tech to a 38-yard field goal when junior linebacker Jermaine Grace sacked Motley on third-and-10 on Miami’s 16-yard line.
Miami appeared ready to run out the final 58 seconds and go into the half tied at 13, but Virginia Tech called timeouts after two short carries by Walton. Virginia Tech Head Coach Frank Beamer would quickly come to regret those timeouts. Facing third-and-20 from the 11-yard line, Virginia Tech jumped offside and Kaaya hit senior receiver Herb Waters for a 45-yard catch down the right sideline on the free play. A roughing the passer call on Virginia Tech and a 14-yard catch by Scott moved the Canes down to the seven-yard line with eight seconds remaining in the half. After a Miami timeout, Kaaya found Scott in the back of the end zone for a touchdown with four seconds left on the clock. Miami went 79 yards in seven plays and 54 seconds to take a 20-13 lead into the half.
“That’s a game-changer right there. That changed momentum; I think it changed the outcome of the game,” Kaaya said of the touchdown to close the first half. “Just the rule is if they jump offside then get the ball snapped and automatic go-route.”
Coming off a strong performance against Florida State last Saturday, Kaaya had another impressive outing for the Canes. The second-year quarterback out of California threw for 296 yards and two touchdowns on 19-of-30 passing.
After the win, Golden praised Kaaya for his progress the last few games.
“His courage, his mental toughness, his ability to make plays when we need him. He is swiping the field,” Golden said. “He made some big throws when we needed it. Obviously Brad is stepping up his game right now.”
Miami outgained Virginia Tech 277 to 189 in total yards and converted five of nine third downs in the first half.
As usual, the Canes’ defense dominated in the third quarter. Miami outscored opponents 41-10 in third quarter coming into this game, and a 21-yard field goal by Badgley was the only score of the quarter for either team.
The Canes missed a great opportunity to take a 27-13 lead near the end of the quarter when they had first-and-goal from Virginia Tech’s two-yard line. Before the first snap inside the five, sophomore guard Kc McDermott was flagged for a false start. Walton moved the Canes down to the one-yard line, but then Kaaya dropped the ball on third down and Badgley was called into action once again after a loss of three.
Miami started the drive in terrific field position after sophomore linebacker Juwon Young got his first career interception to give the Canes the ball at the Hokies’ 28.
Burns picked off Motley earlier in the quarter for his fourth interception of the season, but the Canes punted after four plays.
“I’m just trusting my technique,” Burns said. “I’ve been working on my craft over the offseason, getting better with ball control and stuff like that, and making plays.”
Although Virginia Tech did not score in the third quarter, the Hurricanes’ suffered a tremendous blow when senior linebacker and team captain Raphael Kirby went down at the 6:54 mark with a lower extremity injury. He did not return to the game and was replaced by Young. The team did not say how serious his injury is, but Golden said the team is “concerned.”
“He’s getting an MRI right now. We’re just praying for him at this point,” Golden said. “Obviously we just want him to have good luck with this, we really do, because nobody deserves it more than he does.”
Young made the most of his opportunity in Kirby’s absence. Asked what it was like the first few minutes after Kirby went down, Young said, “I couldn’t really explain it in the moment. Kirby’s always telling me to stay on his level, so I try to beat him out at practice, and it just helped me a lot in the game when it was my time.”
Young is prepared to fill in if Kirby is out for an extended period of time.
“I got to be the captain. That’s it. Point blank, period,” Young said.
The Hurricanes next face Clemson on Saturday at Sun Life Stadium.