The first time kick returner Corn Elder saw the replay of what he called his “miracle” touchdown at Duke was around midnight Saturday on his way to the Raleigh-Durham International airport.
The Miami Hurricanes gathered around the video of the eight-lateral return that Elder, the first and last player to touch the ball, finally ran back 91 yards for the victory-sealing score as time expired.
“Crazy. Unbelievable,” Elder said.
Elder said he has seen it “about a hundred times” since. “I’m still in shock.”
How long did it feel like the play took?
“Hours,” Elder said, though it took roughly 46 seconds, 40 of them after the clock hit 00:00. “When I was running to the end zone at the end, my legs were giving out and I was like, ‘Just stay up and make it to the end zone.’ ”
Elder, a nationally heralded star in both football as a running back and basketball as a point guard at The Ensworth School in Nashville, is the only player in the nation this season to record an interception and score on a punt return and kickoff return.
He had two other punt returns for touchdowns called back because of penalties.
“He’s a tremendous athlete,” said quarterback Brad Kaaya, who returned to practice Tuesday for the first time since sustaining a concussion against Clemson. “You guys all know he plays basketball, too. He can make shots, dunk. He’s just gifted.”
Kaaya said he was with about 15 players who were injured or didn’t travel, watching the game at walk-on receiver Greg Golden’s place and “chillin’” before the final play.
After Elder scored, “a couple guys ran outside and were screaming,” Kaaya said. “Kids were like trick-or-treating out in the street looking at us weird.”
When Kaaya and his teammates saw Miami coach Larry Scott “celebrating” and “fist-pumping” after about nine minutes of the officials conferring, he said he knew the play was ruled a touchdown. “We all just went crazy.”
The Hurricanes (5-3, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) were still visibly fired up Tuesday as they practiced for the first time since the dramatic victory. The win kept Miami in the Coastal Division race as it prepares to meet Virginia (3-5, 2-2) at home at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Kaaya, who has not yet been cleared to play, is proceeding through UM’s concussion protocol, which calls for players to take several steps and go through a practice of contact before they can play.
“I’m still taking a few tests and stuff here and there,” Kaaya said, “a few brain tests. I felt pretty good today.”
The last week for Kaaya, he acknowledged, was difficult. “It was hard to have mental clarity, acuteness, mental sharpness,” he said. “[I was] sensitive to noise and lights. I feel way better than last week. It was hard to think straight and look at screens. I had to rest a few days.”
Kaaya was asked what he thought of the national reaction the past few days — including the opinion by many that UM should forfeit the game — after the ACC suspended the officiating crew for two weeks.
“I mean, we won,” he said. “People can say, ‘Oh, one play changed the game,’ but there were a lot of plays in that game. A lot of plays led up to that play.”
Elder was asked the same question.
“We won the game,” he said. “That’s all. We won. I don’t really listen to all that. We just focus on Virginia.”
Elder finished his prep career with 6,351 rushing yards, 84 touchdowns and three consecutive state titles. But defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio was impressed with his body control, speed and ability to flip his hips, and convinced him to switch to cornerback.
“I feel corner is the best thing long term for me,” said Elder, who ranks 25th nationally with 10 passes defended.
Elder, only 5-10 and 183 pounds, also led Ensworth to multiple state basketball titles. He initially wanted to play basketball at Miami, but tore the meniscus of his right knee against Virginia in late November 2013 and underwent surgery. He said he misses basketball, but believes he made the right decision to focus on football.
Despite his interest in watching what has been deemed in these parts as “The Return,” Elder said he is preparing hard for the Cavaliers.
“Every time you win, it builds your spirit up,” Elder said. “We just want to keep it going.”