Hurricanes start hot, hold off Virginia Tech for Senior Day win

Freshman quarterback Tyler Van Dyke winds up to throw a pass during the third quarter of Miami’s game versus Virginia Tech at Hard Rock Stadium on Nov. 20, 2021.
Freshman quarterback Tyler Van Dyke winds up to throw a pass during the third quarter of Miami’s game versus Virginia Tech at Hard Rock Stadium on Nov. 20, 2021. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

The Miami Hurricanes ended their home slate on top, beating Virginia Tech 38-26 to clinch bowl eligibility in the 2021 season.

Miami honored 23 seniors before kickoff, including quarterback D’Eriq King, wide receivers Mike Harley and Charleston Rambo and defensive tackle Nesta Jade Silvera. The seniors that were healthy made plays against the Hokies, leading to a victory that was headlined with heart and passion for the program.

“It was a reward for the older guys, for the seniors,” head coach Manny Diaz said. “We’ve had guys here in the past that have chosen and they’ve not always finished what we started. That is kind of what we had challenged them and the team; if you start something, you finish it.”

The Hurricanes started by scoring on each of their opening four drives in the contest, highlighted by some beautiful throws from quarterback Tyler Van Dyke. The freshman found his favorite target in Rambo for a 38-yard sideline snag on the Hurricanes’ opening possession, which would set up a Will Mallory 9-yard touchdown to begin the scoring for Miami.

After a pair of goal-line touchdown runs by running back Jaylan Knighton, Van Dyke released a pinpoint pass to fellow freshman Brashard Smith, connecting for a 75-yard score to lead Miami to a 28-13 lead going into the half. At the break, Van Dyke had already hit for 235 yards through the air, and two touchdown passes.

“We’ve called a lot more shots and we’ve been hitting a lot of them,” Van Dyke said. “It’s either a catch or pass interference. So, we’re really happy with that.”

The momentum shifted Virginia Tech’s way in the second half, and as did the weather. The second half involved a near monsoon of perpetual rainstorms, which allowed the Hokies to snatch back momentum. Big runs by quarterback Connor Blumrick set up a pair of passing touchdowns to Kaleb Smith and Da’Wain Lofton, bringing the game back from 31-13 to 31-26, with Miami losing all traction.

With the game on the line, one of the longest-tenured Hurricanes stepped up to win the game. Harley, a fifth-year wide receiver, broke away from the defense to haul in a 55-yard touchdown catch to restore Miami’s double-digit lead. It was the 10th home touchdown in Harley’s illustrious career as a Cane.

Senior wide receiver Mike Harley celebrates with a game ball after Miami defeated Virginia Tech 38-26 at Hard Rock Stadium on Nov. 20, 2021.
Senior wide receiver Mike Harley celebrates with a game ball after Miami defeated Virginia Tech 38-26 at Hard Rock Stadium on Nov. 20, 2021.

“It sealed the deal tonight,” Harley said. “My last touchdown at Hard Rock as a Cane, it meant a lot.”

To close the game, the defense stepped up and made numerous plays. Pass rushers DeAndre Johnson and Jared Harrison-Hunte each recorded sacks in the second half, with Freshmen Marcus Clarke and Chase Smith each making crucial pass breakups.

The win officially moved Miami bowl eligibility, which means Miami will be playing in a postseason game for the ninth consecutive season. For this year’s Hurricanes, the win was about more than just the extra game.

“It’s always important for this program to go to a bowl game,” said Hurricanes defensive end Zach McCloud. “For this team, the story has always, really this year, has been persevering and fighting through the adversity … We weren’t thinking ‘Okay, we’ve got to win this game so we can get to a bowl game.’ It was more just, ‘We’ve been fighting a lot of downs and let’s turn this into a positive and go out and send the seniors out on a high note.’”

On the offensive side, Van Dyke was excellent again. The freshman hit on 19 completions for 357 yards and three scores. Honored receivers Rambo and Harley combined for 181 yards, and tight end Will Mallory chipped in with a score.

Some freshmen also chipped in with some important plays. Running back Thad Franklin, Jr., led the way for Miami with 36 rushing yards. On special teams, returners Jacolby George and Xavier Restrepo helped Miami flip the field with 135 total receiving yards, including a 50-yard kickoff return by Restrepo.

For some marketable moments, Dyke became the first Atlantic Coast Conferernce quarterback in 15 years to record five consecutive games of over 300 passing yards and at least three touchdown passes. Rambo became just the fifth Hurricane to record 1000 receiving yards in a single season after his pair of catches on the opening drive. As a program, Miami advanced to 24-15 all-time against Virginia Tech.

The Hurricanes will face one more challenge in the regular season. Miami will visit the Duke Blue Devils at Wallace Wade Stadium on Nov. 27 to finish its season. The Hurricanes beat the Blue Devils 48-0 last season, but lost 27-17 against David Cutcliffe’s team in the year prior. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m.