The New Year won’t seem quite as bright for the Miami Hurricanes — unless they take 2014, put it in the incinerator and never look back.
For the first time since 2007 and third time since 1980, the Hurricanes will end a season with a losing record.
South Carolina defeated Miami 24-21 Saturday in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl, expected to be the last college game for junior running back Duke Johnson.
UM lost its fourth consecutive game to finish the season 6-7 in front of an announced crowd of 38,242 that appeared about half that size.
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The Gamecocks turned their season into a winning one, finishing 7-6.
“We’re obviously disappointed in the outcome,” said UM coach Al Golden, now 0-2 in bowl games at Miami, which hasn’t won a postseason game since 2006. “The kids played hard. We made some mistakes that we couldn’t overcome.”
With 5:24 left and UM down 17-14, Johnson’s right ankle was banged up on a rushing play as his right knee landed on another player, and he fumbled away the ball at the South Carolina 29-yard line.
The fumble was likely Johnson’s last play as a Hurricane. He is expected to forgo his senior season and announce at a noon news conference on the UM campus that he will enter the NFL Draft.
And what a parting gift, despite Johnson rushing for a game-high 132 yards on 24 carries and also leading UM in receiving with 51 yards on five catches.
Two plays after Johnson’s fumble, Gamecocks quarterback Dylan Thompson lofted a 25-yard completion to Saturday’s Most Valuable Offensive Player, receiver Pharoh Cooper (nine catches for 170 yards and a touchdown), then Thompson crossed the goal line on a 2-yard naked bootleg to make it 24-14 and seal the victory.
Canes’ freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya proceeded to lead Miami 72 yards down the field, culminating the drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Phillip Dorsett to make it 24-21 with 2:16 left.
But by then it was too late.
Johnson and senior left guard Jonathan Feliciano had few words in the postgame news conference.
“Disappointed,” Feliciano said. “We didn’t execute. Coaches called good plays, and it was on us. I thought we were going to win. The team was fine mentally. We made some mistakes and let it get away from us.”
Miami gained more yards than South Carolina (422 to 352), had five more first downs (21 to 16), held the ball 31:10 to South Carolina’s 28:50 and outran its opponent 186 to 60 yards.
But the Gamecocks had the explosive plays when they needed them and intercepted Kaaya late in the third quarter on a hard, short pass to Johnson, which skipped off his fingers and into the arms of linebacker Jonathan Walton.
South Carolina eventually also converted that turnover — into a 32-yard field goal to take a 17-6 lead.
“Too many mistakes,” Kaaya said. “An interception earlier and then the fumble later on that costs us. That’s 10 points right there.
“I feel like we played hard. We really came together in the fourth quarter. Everyone was really trying to win that game, and we just came up short. They just made a few more plays than us.”
Even when UM did make the plays, they sometimes didn’t work out for the best. Linebacker Nantambu-Akil Fentress forced two fumbles, but South Carolina recovered both.
Golden, whose contract runs through the 2019 season and is assured of returning next season, was asked if this felt like a 6-7 season.
“We are what our record is,” Golden said. “In so many ways we’re better than that. This is a team that runs the ball really well. I thought we defended the run so much better [Saturday night].
“We’ve got to be better. We’ve got to improve in all facets, but at the same time so many kids have grown, even during this bowl practice. Our quarterback is going to be so much better from this whole process.”
Kaaya completed 19 of 33 passes for 236 yards and a touchdown, and Thompson completed 22 of 34 passes for 294 yards and two touchdowns.
UM’s points came on first-half field goals of 27 and 26 yards by Michael Badgley, a third-quarter 3-yard run by Gus Edward and Dorsett’s late score. Badgley’s 51-yard attempt that would have tied the score with 8:52 left sailed way wide left.
“Certainly amazing,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. “A lot of boost for next year. It’s a shot in the arm, energy.”
For the Gamecocks, linebacker Skai Moore of Cooper City and University School, was named the Most Valuable Defensive Player. He had a game-high 11 tackles.
“I’m disappointed,” UM’s Johnson said. “Not the way you wanted to end it.”