Column: Miami fanbase welcomed back to loads of surprises

Redshirt junior safety Bubba Bolden and sophomore cornerback Tyrique Stevenson try to tackle Appalachian State wide receiver Jalen Virgil during Miami's game versus Appalachian State at Hard Rock Stadium on Sept. 11, 2021.
Redshirt junior safety Bubba Bolden and sophomore cornerback Tyrique Stevenson try to tackle Appalachian State wide receiver Jalen Virgil during Miami's game versus Appalachian State at Hard Rock Stadium on Sept. 11, 2021. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

Nine months had elapsed without Miami football, but the sweeping Hard Rock Stadium lights shined in full luminance for a Hurricanes home game.

The last time those lights turned on was during the thick of COVID-19, when hardly 12,000 spectators were in attendance on a mid-December afternoon.

The worst part? A good chunk of those brave enough to wear masks and physically distance in the echo-filled stadium left at halftime. They had just witnessed the most mortifying performance — a 62-26 catastrophe at the hands of North Carolina— in recent Miami football history.

With so many negative reflections on the year of 2020, it seemed that the sorely missed energy, and even hasty temperaments, had been pumped back into the game day experience on a balmy, humid Saturday. As over 45,800 fans filed into the building, the surrealness of green and orange once again dotting those trademark teal seats was instantly apparent.

The Hurricanes faithful was amped up when the men in green jerseys and classic white helmets stormed through the smoke. Shortly after kickoff, striker Amari Carter ignited that crowd, part of which had not stepped inside the building since November 2019, with a two-handed interception.

Second-year freshman running back Don Chaney added to the eruption about two minutes after, dashing out of the red zone almost as quickly as Miami had entered. His season’s now come to an abrupt conclusion after leaving Saturday’s showdown in grave discomfort and was later diagnosed with a season-ending torn ACL.

There were, however, a heaping number of surprises in Miami’s return to its home turf. Sticking to how UM appeared, Appalachian State running back Camerun Peoples streamlined up the middle from the Miami 35-yard line, drawing not even a fingerprint from the Hurricanes’ backfield.

And then, following a high snap into the Mountaineers’ end zone and freshman kicker Andy Borregales’ first field goal at Hard Rock, additional mayhem unfolded. App State wide receiver Jalen Virgil blazed up the far sideline for a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown, appearing like a runaway train. The crowd became restless as the super senior threw his hands up and shrugged his shoulders while Miami looked on with a squandered lead.

The first half thrills somehow sustained, even if they weren’t directed towards what fans had expected to witness anywhere near the field itself.

A black-and-white cat dangled off the upper deck and gained instant publicity on social media after fans in surrounding rows craned their necks and expressed concern. Dozens recorded video of the scene while others simply stood in shock.

An ultimate sigh of relief accompanied a seesaw battle of a second half. Offering remnants of his older brother, Jose, now playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Borregales drilled a 43-yard field goal to decide the 25-23 final.

The freshman, soft-spoken like his brother, was the only Hurricane who could hold much pride after the game-winner.

Watching Hurricanes football live was a first for so many individuals who had missed out for a combined six months. While UM nonetheless permitted 13,000 spectators each week in 2020, the atmosphere was nowhere near the same as what one would expect on a typical afternoon or evening inside such building.

Some college football gurus still bring up App State’s heralded ability to scare and even upset top 25 ranked schools. Quarterback Chase Brice, who finished 21-for-34 for 199 yards with a touchdown to wide receiver Malik Williams, certainly had the Miami returnees on the edge of their seats with a strangely different performance than last year with Duke.

Saturday night successfully dissolved that disheartening emptiness with a scare both on and off the gridiron. If three hours of skimp Hurricanes football and a cat saved by an American flag wasn’t enough of a bizarre welcoming back, one would have a tough time fathoming otherwise.