There were no miracle kickoff returns Saturday.
No crazy, eight-lateral touchdowns.
But the Miami Hurricanes were just fine, thank you.
UM not only qualified for a bowl game with its 27-21 homecoming victory over Virginia, but also the Hurricanes stayed alive in the Coastal Division race of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
And they did it with a healthy quarterback, as Brad Kaaya impressed in his first start back since sustaining a concussion Oct. 24 in a 58-0 loss to Clemson.
“Last time we played at home, that was pretty rough,” Kaaya said. “That was ugly. We as a team felt like that just wasn’t us. That wasn’t our identity. That wasn’t who we are. We felt we had to avenge that — and defend our home turf better than last time in front of all our fans.”
Now 6-3 overall, the Canes are 3-2 in the Coastal, two games behind the North Carolina Tar Heels (8-1, 5-0) with three games left in the regular season. The two teams will meet in an ACC showdown next Saturday in Chapel Hill.
“… In the month of November, it’s championship ball,” UM interim coach Larry Scott said. “You’re either contending, or in the football world, as we say, pretending. We know what we have to do. We know the things we have to get ready for.
“… The guys glued in, they tied into the details and went out and competed hard for four quarters. I’m happy for this team. I’m very encouraged by where we’re at, because we still can grow and take some lessons from this deal and keep getting better — and I think they will.”
When reminded that his team had just qualified for a bowl game and asked if he had talked much about that, Scott said he was “not going to muddy the waters” with anything except their goal.
“Our goal,” he said, “was to win the Coastal.”
The Cavaliers (3-6, 2-3), who had beaten the Hurricanes in four of their past five meetings coming into Saturday, stretched their three-year streak to 14 consecutive road losses in front of an announced crowd of 40,963. The last time Virginia won a game on the road was in November 2012.
Kaaya, as well as a timely Miami defense, had plenty to do with extending Virginia’s not-so-illustrious streak. Kaaya was cleared by the medical staff to play Friday night, but it wasn’t known to the crowd until he ran onto the Sun Life Stadium field, garbed in UM’s special all-black uniform to honor the U.S. Armed Forces.
Kaaya completed 20 of 26 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception.
Receiver Stacy Coley had another strong game with seven catches for 132 yards and a 67-yard touchdown late in the first half that gave UM a 14-5 lead.
Tailback Joe Yearby had 78 yards rushing on 17 carries.
Mark Walton added a touchdown on a 1-yard rush, tight end David Njoku scored his first career touchdown on a 5-yard reception and Michael Badgley added two field goals.
“We all just listened to Coach Scott,” said Coley, who had his second 100-yard game of the season. “He told us this team had our [number], and we had to come out here and just play. Protect our house, protect our home. And that’s what we did.”
UM led until 5:28 remained in the third quarter, when the Cavaliers went ahead on a 3-yard rush by Olamide Zaccheaus — the culmination of a six-play, 80-yard drive.
Miami came back a little more than two minutes later with a 28-yard field goal by Badgley to retake the lead 17-15 and never trailed again. Badgley’s 39-yard field goal with 2:15 remaining made it a two-possession lead — 27-18.
Virginia’s Ian Frye kicked his fourth field goal of the night with 35 seconds remaining, and UM recovered the ensuing onside kick.
The Hurricanes’ defense allowed 407 yards but came through in crucial situations.
After the Cavaliers opened their scoring with a safety when Kaaya was called for intentional grounding in the end zone, Virginia got the ball back and drove to the Miami 9-yard line. On third down, cornerback Corn Elder delivered a big hit on tailback Daniel Hamm, and Virginia was held to a field goal.
UM held Virginia to another field goal in the fourth quarter when the Cavs were flagged for offensive pass interference on a pick play that appeared to be a touchdown.
And early in the third quarter, freshman safety Jaquan Johnson earned his first career interception on a pass that was tipped by cornerback Tracy Howard.
Miami held the Cavaliers to four third-down conversions and converted a season-best 8 of 13.
“You find your weaknesses, and you attack the weaknesses,” Scott said. “We’re starting to get the results.”