There would be no last-minute miracles Saturday at Sun Life Stadium.
Not only did the University of Miami lose its first Atlantic Coast Conference game, it lost its starting quarterback in the process — at least for the pivotal ending of North Carolina’s 18-14 victory.
With 8:26 left in the game and the Hurricanes down by four to North Carolina, quarterback Stephen Morris lay on his stomach, grimacing on the turf, his left ankle injured without ever having gotten hit.
Enter backup Ryan Williams with the Canes driving and hoping for heroics from the 6-6, 223-pound redshirt sophomore who had gotten mop-up duty in three games with a total of three passes this season.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“Stephen just said, ‘Go out and have fun, just relax and play,’ ” Williams said his injured teammate told him. “I’ve played this game my whole life. It was nothing different.”
But in the end, as the announced crowd of 58,954 stood on its feet in anticipation, the Hurricanes could only get as far as the North Carolina 24-yard line. Close enough to see the promised land, but far enough to be denied.
On fourth-and-16 from the UNC 35, with 34 seconds left and no Miami timeouts left, Williams threw over the middle to tight end Clive Walford for an 11-yard gain.
The Tar Heels took over with 26 seconds left and the victory was all but official.
Miami, which dropped to 4-3 overall and 3-1 in the ACC, faces No. 12 Florida State (6-1, 3-1) in a nationally televised game at 8 p.m. Saturday at Sun Life Stadium.
“It’s a rivalry matchup,” said UM linebacker Denzel Perryman, who led all players with 11 tackles — three for losses. “But we have to take it one step at a time.”
Perryman missed two games with a high-ankle sprain before returning last week, but wore a boot on his right leg when he came into the postgame interview room. He brushed it off, saying he was OK.
The Tar Heels (5-2, 2-1) were led by another outstanding performance from redshirt sophomore running back Giovani Bernard. The Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas graduate rushed for 177 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries — second only to the 262 yards he had last week against Virginia Tech.
Miami coach Al Golden, who lost back-to-back games for the first time since taking over in 2011, called the loss “tough.”
“He moved us,” Golden said of Williams (9 of 13 for 80 yards). “We just needed a couple more plays. We had too many missed opportunities today to win against a good team.”
The Hurricanes never led but made it 7-7 late in the second quarter.
They were down 18-14 when they took over at 10:07 in the final quarter after UNC kicker Casey Barth missed his second field goal of the day.
Morris started at his own 26 and drove the Canes to the 43. He got hurt after he released the ball on a 9-yard completion to Phillip Dorsett — landing awkwardly.
“I’m not worried,” said Mike James, who rushed 22 times for 96 yards and a touchdown. “He’s a tough guy. He’ll be back as soon as possible. If not, then Ryan is going to take the reins and we’ll just roll with him.”
Williams came in and got the Canes as far as the UNC 26, as his fourth-down pass to Dorsett fell incomplete.
Golden could have tried for the field goal, but instead punted. He said the wind was the deciding factor.
The Tar Heels took over with 5:45 to play, then kept possession until they punted.
Miami had hope again.
The Canes got the ball back with 1:47 left — first-and-10 from their 17-yard line. But Williams’ final pass to Walford was too short.
North Carolina did what it could to keep UM within reach in the first half, committing 10 penalties for 85 yards in the first half and 15 for 140 yards overall. But UM was its own worst enemy, with a lackluster offense and two interceptions.
“Obviously, we left some plays on the field,” Golden said. “There’s a lot to learn from this game.
“We have a rival coming in here. We have to get rested up, shake it off and get ready to go.”