On a gray, rainy Saturday that turned to sunshine in the fourth quarter, the Miami Hurricanes emphatically put an end to their recent woes by defeating Virginia 45-26 in their last home game of 2013.
Thanks in large part to three interceptions and a fumble return that led to touchdowns, Miami ended a three-game losing streak and three-year skid to Virginia.
The Hurricanes reached eight victories in a season for the first time since winning nine games in 2009 and are still alive — though barely — in the Coastal Division race of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
If the Canes (8-3, 4-3) defeat Pittsburgh on the road Friday, coupled with victories the next day by North Carolina over Duke and Virginia over Virginia Tech, UM would win the Coastal Division and advance to the ACC Championship Game — as implausible as that seems.
Counting their yet-to-be-determined bowl game, the Hurricanes could still finish with 10 victories this season — 11 if they were to win the ACC championship.
“We just have to worry about the Pitt game,” UM coach Al Golden said. “It’s going to be their last game. It’s going to be a tough environment.
“I hope we have a team that gets on the plane and is excited about that challenge.”
UM’s victory didn’t come without sacrifice. Three cornerbacks were injured, including junior Ladarius Gunter, who sustained an apparent neck injury and was airlifted to Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
UM sent out an email Saturday night that Gunter had been released from the hospital with “an upper extremity injury” and “will be able to play football again this season once he is fully healed.”
Also sustaining “significant” injuries, according to Golden, were redshirt freshman Nate Dortch and freshman Corn Elder. Their injuries were not revealed, though Dortch was seen limping.
With 2:06 left in the game, Gunter collided with two Cavaliers while trying to make a tackle. After being surrounded by teammates and medical staff, Gunter, who teammates said remained conscious, was strapped to a backboard and placed on a cart that left the field. His teammates kneeled in prayer.
“It was definitely a sad moment,” safety Kacy Rodgers said. “Obviously, that’s our brother. He’s one of the best teammates you could ever ask for. So to see him go down, I automatically took a knee. Doctors said he’s going to be OK.”
Gunter was conscious and seen giving the crowd a thumbs-up sign as he exited the field.
The Canes now have only three healthy scholarship cornerbacks: redshirt freshman Larry Hope, who only played against Savannah State and USF this season, Antonio Crawford and Tracy Howard. Cornerback Artie Burns was injured coming into the game.
Rodgers, a senior, said he felt plenty of emotions on Senior Day, when players were met by their families in the pregame ceremony at Sun Life Stadium.
“I’ve been through a lot with these guys, and I’m proud we buckled down and I’m glad we went out this way,” he said. “We finished what we started.”
UM receiver Allen Hurns (six catches for 126 yards) made Senior Day count with his fifth 100-yard game of the season.
He scored a 26-yard touchdown with 25 seconds left in the third quarter, bringing him 35 yards shy of becoming the fourth 1,000-yard receiver in school history.
UM’s three interceptions: Howard’s pick-six on Virginia’s opening play from scrimmage, Gunter’s 81-yard return of a deflected pass that set up a 1-yard touchdown by Dallas Crawford just before the half and Rodgers’ 14-yard return of a deflected pass that set up Crawford’s 5-yard score in the final quarter.
The fumble return: a 72-yarder by senior David Gilbert, made possible by Tyriq McCord’s forced fumble.
The Cavaliers (2-9, 0-7) rushed for 203 yards in the first half, when UM led 21-13, but ran for only 40 more in the second half. Virginia had only 32 passing yards in the initial half, but ended with 240 — 106 of those by starter David Watford and 134 by Greyson Lambert.
Watford threw all three interceptions.
UM quarterback Stephen Morris completed 13 of 26 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception.
“It feels like everything went by really fast,” Morris said. “When I was a freshman, I thought I would be here forever. Time moves fast, though, and that clock doesn’t stop for anybody.”