ATLANTA -- Just hold onto the ball.
That’s all Mike James said he was thinking about Saturday when he took a handoff from quarterback Stephen Morris in overtime, followed fullback Maurice Hagens off left guard and saw a hole with a path to the end zone.
Twenty-five yards later, James and the Miami Hurricanes were celebrating their biggest come-from-behind victory since they stormed back from 23-points down in the third quarter to beat the Florida Gators at the Orange Bowl in 2003.
Saturday’s rally from 17 points down late in the third quarter against Georgia Tech is a game the 5-11, 222-pound senior said he’ll never forget. Not because he ran for a career-high 89 yards on 15 attempts and scored four touchdowns. But because of the joy it brought his teammates.
“Guys are really starting to understand what we have to do to win games,” said James, who scored on a 10-yard pass with 27 seconds left in regulation to help UM knot the score at 36.
“I’m sure some people at home turned off their TV, turned their back. But the team stuck with each other. Guys didn’t quit. Coach Golden did a good job of calling plays and the team did what the team does. Those guys are great people. I love my teammates. They did a hell of a job preparing for this game. I just did my part.”
James didn’t want to take any of the credit for his best day in a Hurricanes uniform. His winning touchdown run? “Give the credit t to the offensive line,” James said before pointing out how Hagens knocked out Georgia Tech’s weakside linebacker and Malcolm Bunche plowed a defensive end out of the way.
His 15-yard touchdown run to trim UM’s deficit to 36-29 with 13:41 to play in the fourth quarter — the one in which he ran over a safety and then barreled past two more defensive backs before stretching out just enough to break the plain of the goal line? “I don’t know how it happened,” he said with a smile. “I just did what I had to do, ran the ball.”
James, one of 11 players in the Football Bowl Subdivision to be selected to the Allstate Good Works team for his community service earlier this week, has never been a selfish person while he’s been in a Hurricanes uniform.
When Randy Shannon asked him to play fullback as a freshman, he smiled and did what was needed. When Lamar Miller emerged as UM’s go-to-back last year, he played a supporting role while battling a turf toe injury. Now, with freshman Duke Johnson taking on a starring role (Johnson had 200 all-purpose yards Saturday), James has once again taken a back seat.
But Saturday was his day to shine. And his teammates couldn’t have been happier for him.
“Mike works very hard,” said Johnson, one of a handful or running backs who go to James’ house every Thursday night for dinner and extra film study. “The first three weeks he didn’t have a touchdown. He was making plays, but he really wasn’t going off. Just to see him go out there and do what he did, it just touches all of us.”
James, who lost his mother in a car accident just before the Sun Bowl two years ago, had his sister, nephew, brother-in-law, aunt and uncle sitting among the crowd of 50,390 Saturday. The only thing that felt better than hugging his sister after the game was seeing his teammates celebrate and cry, James said.
“I think this was his best game by far,” Morris said. “I know there is a lot more to come through for him. He’s a tremendous person. God is really on his side. I know his mom is looking down very happy for him.”