Somehow, the seventh-ranked Miami Hurricanes are headed to No. 3 Florida State still undefeated.
UM’s star running back plunged 1 yard into the end zone with 53 seconds left Saturday to give Miami a 24-21 victory over Wake Forest and lift the Hurricanes to 7-0 (3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) for the first time since 2003.
“Clearly emotional,” said UM coach Al Golden, who spoke publicly for the first time since learning the program’s NCAA sanctions on Tuesday. “I promise you I have never worked harder in my life than the last 72 hours to get them focused for a game. … Now we can breathe and move forward.”
Johnson’s touchdown culminated a 10-play, 73-yard drive and marked the second consecutive week that UM won in the last minute. He ran for 168 yards and two touchdowns on a career-high 30 carries at Sun Life Stadium.
UM cornerback Antonio Crawford ensured the victory with an interception off a deflection with 37 seconds left.
The Canes travel to Tallahassee on Saturday for an 8 p.m. nationally televised matchup on ABC against the Seminoles. ESPN’s College GameDay will set up its program on the FSU campus.
But UM’s players did all they could to mirror their coach and insist that FSU is the next opponent, nothing more.
Freshman standout receiver Stacy Coley was asked if Florida State (7-0, 5-0) would be on his mind because at one time he planned to be a Seminole.
“No sir, it’s just another game,” the businesslike Coley said. “We’re going to treat it as another game and do our best.”
Tight end Clive Walford, who had a magnificent one-handed catch that preceded UM’s first touchdown just before halftime, was told by a reporter wanting a UM-FSU comment, “Let’s be real here. This is one big game!”
Replied Walford: “You talking about Florida State?”
The Hurricanes gladly talked about Wake Forest.
“They played their butts off,” UM defensive lineman Anthony Chickillo said. “We kind of got punched in the face and had to respond. We’re a whole new team. We have a different mind-set. We’re not going to quit until there are four zeros on the clock.”
Wake Forest scored on a 44-yard pass from quarterback Tanner Price to Dominique Gibson with 4:02 left to snatch a short-lived lead from UM and give the Demon Deacons a 21-17 advantage.
But the Hurricanes drove right back down the field for the victory.
Wake Forest fell to 4-4 and 2-3.
“Our guys are really down,” Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. “The thing that is a problem for you, though, with a guy like Duke Johnson, you can’t just sit in there and expect [UM quarterback Stephen Morris] to throw the football. Handing the ball to him is as good as throwing the football.”
Johnson charged 4 yards into the end zone with 5:36 left to give Miami its first lead of the game — 17-14.
Johnson had just 37 yards on 10 carries in the first half, but surpassed 100 yards for the seventh time in his career. His 243 all-purpose yards marked the ninth time he has surpassed 200 yards.
“I was feeling it, the O-line was feeling it, so coach made the decision, ‘Let’s run the ball again,’ ” Johnson said Golden told him during the last drive.
After officials called back an apparent Johnson touchdown and put the ball on the 1-yard line, Golden told Johnson, “Make it convincing this time.”
That, he did, barreling straight through the middle.
For the second week in a row, UM was trailing by double digits — this time a season-high 11 points — but recovered late to escape.
“Basically, we said, ‘This happened last week up at North Carolina, and we just have to do it again,’ ” center Shane McDermott said. “We trusted each other.”
Wake Forest led 14-10 at halftime, with UM seemingly sleepwalking through much of the first half.
But the second half brought life to UM and its fans, who witnessed Coley’s impossible 44-yard grab to begin Miami’s first drive in the final quarter. Coley caught the ball while lying on his back with a defender draped all over him. He made contact while he was upright, then fell. The ball ricocheted twice, finally landing in his grasp.
As for Morris (17 of 28 for 191 yards), had he not launched a perfect 35-yard pass that zipped over the shoulders and into the outstretched hands of Herb Waters as he sprinted into the end zone with 1:10 left in the half, the Canes likely would have been in a stupor heading into the locker room.
Before he left the interview room, Golden was asked if his Hurricanes were prepared for the media frenzy this week.
“With all respect,” he said, “there has been more national exposure over the last 28 months than any of us can handle. If it’s about football, we’re all in.”