In a wildly intense game that made them look like champions for the first quarter and chumps for the next couple, the Miami Hurricanes proved in the end they have a fighter’s heart.
Miami rallied from a 17-point deficit — after blowing a 19-0 lead — to defeat Georgia Tech 42-36 in overtime Saturday and take first place by itself in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division.
Senior running back Mike James scored four touchdowns. His 10-yard catch with 27 seconds left in regulation tied the score, and his 25-yard game-winning run contributed to a stunning offensive performance by the Canes — 609 yards, a career-high 436 of them thrown by quarterback Stephen Morris.
“It’s a day I’m always going to remember,” said James, who ran through the end zone and back out into the arms of his jubilant teammates. “I thank God for it.”
Though the UM offense produced the fifth most yards in school history, the much maligned defense was not to be outdone. It was that young defense, without injured star linebacker Denzel Perryman, that stopped the Yellow Jackets on the first overtime series at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Per overtime rules, the Jackets started their series on the UM 25-yard line, then rushed 14 yards to the UM 11, got to the UM 6, and then had three opportunities from within 3 yards to score. But the Hurricanes held, with redshirt freshman tackle Corey King stopping quarterback Tevin Washington on third-and-2 from the 3, and redshirt freshman linebacker Eddie Johnson tackling Washington on fourth-and-1 from the 2 to give the Hurricanes the ball.
“We did our job, made a play,” Eddie Johnson said of the fourth down, which was followed by an official measurement. “After that we just prayed he didn’t get it.”
As soon as James scored the deciding touchdown — he scored UM’s last three — the Hurricanes stormed the field. Coach Al Golden ran through the bedlam, chest-bumping UM’s mascot, Sebastian the Ibis, so hard that he apologized for doing it. Golden got dumped with ice water, and the Hurricanes (3-1, 2-0 ACC) sprinted to the Southeast corner of the stadium, where a few thousand Canes fans jubilantly gave them a hero’s welcome.
“Obviously, an incredible range of emotions,” Golden said. “I just felt our kids earned it the hard way. … For the kids just to stay together — anybody at the game could have said, ‘It’s Kansas State again,’ and the kids refused for it to be that.”.
The Yellow Jackets (2-2, 1-2) could only watch in disbelief.
“We had support even though we were in Georgia,” said senior receiver Davon Johnson, who had a career day with seven catches for 107 yards. “We played off their emotions.”
Fellow wide receiver Phillip Dorsett was even more amazing, catching nine passes for 184 yards and a 65-yard touchdown just 57 seconds into the game.
After Miami — a 14-point underdog — took the 19-0 lead, the Yellow Jackets reeled off 36 consecutive points before the Canes got a field goal to make it 36-22.
The Canes would not quit. An acrobatic, leaping sideline catch by sophomore Rashawn Scott put UM on the Georgia Tech 15-yard line with 14:06 left. James barreled down the middle for a touchdown on the next play, making it 36-29.
An Anthony Chickillo sack for UM forced Georgia Tech to punt, and UM had another shot with 10:07 left. The Canes drove down the field from the UM 7 to within 4 yards of what could have been a game-tying touchdown. But they failed to score three consecutive plays at first-and-goal from the 4.
With 7:07 left, Jake Wieclaw missed a 22-yard field goal attempt wide right — his first miss this season.
The Hurricanes won the toss for at least the third time this season, but this time elected to be the aggressors. It proved to be an excellent choice.
On the third play from scrimmage, Morris lofted a 65-yard beauty to Dorsett, who caught the ball at the Tech 22 and sprinted down the right side for a touchdown. With only 57 seconds elapsed in the game, UM led 7-0.
The Hurricanes made it 10-0 on a 38-yard field goal by Wieclaw with 4:11 left in the first quarter, then suddenly led 12-0 on a safety. The score was 19-0 on the final play of the first quarter, just three plays after freshman Malcolm Lewis made a diving catch and sustained a gruesome dislocated ankle while doing it.
Golden sprinted onto the field to comfort Lewis, and the rest of the Hurricanes and coaches soon began kneeling in prayer at the 30-yard line. Medics and trainers surrounded Lewis, who was carted away on a flatbed truck. UM said the skin was not broken.
UM later suffered another major loss when punter Dalton Botts injured his right ankle trying to make a tackle. He was seen on crutches.
Miami comes back home next Saturday to face North Carolina State.