For the first time since 2006, the Miami Hurricanes have gone out winners.
The Hurricanes defeated Duke 52-45 on Saturday, clinching a share of their first Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division title and closing out a roller-coaster season with more late dramatics.
UM had a 21-point lead entering the fourth quarter, but gave up three touchdowns — including a 99-yard pass from Sean Renfree to Jamison Crowder, the longest in Duke history — to keep it close.
But that didn’t prevent the Canes (7-5 overall, 5-3 ACC) from celebrating so loudly with coach Al Golden that they could repeatedly be heard screaming “It’s great, to be, a Mi-a-mi Hurr-i-cane!” through the cinderblock walls that separated the visitors’ locker room from the media.
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Miami would have clinched a berth in the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 1 in Charlotte, N.C., had it not self-imposed a postseason ban Monday with hopes of softening expected NCAA sanctions in the case involving former booster Nevin Shapiro.
Instead, Georgia Tech will replace Miami and face Florida State in the ACC title game.
“As I just told the team,” Golden said, “it was such an emotional week. If you think about the range of emotions on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. And then when [the Blue Devils] came storming back with a 99-yard play. I felt like, ‘Oh man, now we’ve got to respond. Do we have enough in the tank?’
“I’m proud of them.”
Duke dropped its fourth consecutive game to finish the regular season 6-6 and 3-5.
The last time Miami won a season finale was against Nevada in the MPC Computers Bowl on New Year’s Eve in 2006, Larry Coker’s final game as coach.
After the victory, senior cornerback Brandon McGee — one of only two senior starters on offense or defense — soaked in the moment as he walked off the Wallace Wade Stadium field with his finger pointing skyward in memory of his mother and grandfather.
“It’s overwhelming,” said McGee, who had nine tackles and two pass breakups. “It was really me coming to grips with everything that I set my goals on, just understanding that my journey here is complete. I felt a sense of not necessarily relief, but peace, walking off that field knowing that I gave it all I had.”
UM’s star was running back Duke Johnson, who set the Hurricanes freshman rushing record with 176 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries. Johnson’s total this season: 947 yards — only 53 shy of the coveted 1,000-yard mark. He eclipsed Clinton Portis’ record of 838 yards, set in 1999.
Johnson also amassed 277 all-purpose yards and finished with 2,060 on the year, the second most in school history behind Willis McGahee’s 2,108 in ’02.
Johnson’s touchdowns included a 65-yarder in the third quarter.
Miami quarterback Stephen Morris had another strong showing, throwing for 369 yards and three touchdowns in surpassing Bernie Kosar (1984) for the most yards of total offense — 3,415 — in a season. It was Morris’ fourth game without an interception. He has thrown only three in his past seven games.
The Canes’ 646 yards of total offense were the third most in UM history and the most since 689 yards againt UCLA on Dec. 5, 1998.
Duke quarterback Renfree and his senior receiver Conner Vernon, a Miamian, had their own prolific day. Renfree completed 36 of 59 passes for a season-best 432 yards and career-best four touchdowns.
Vernon finished with 11 receptions for 109 yards, increasing his ACC career-record totals to 273 catches and 3,630 receiving yards.
Running back Mike James, the lone senior starter on offense, had a memorable final game, scoring two touchdowns — the latter a 72-yard pass play on a screen pass in which he outsprinted the defense at least 65 yards.
James, all smiles, said there were no tears of regret after the victory.
“I’m just proud of the boys and the way they played,” James said. “Hopefully, I gave these boys something to push for. I’m excited for the future for them, and for myself also.”
As for the pending NCAA notice of allegations, Morris said he thought, after the announcement of UM’s second self-imposed postseason ban, that “the worst is over.”
“We’re moving forward,” Morris said. “Hopefully, the NCAA will be on our side.”
James was asked what the mind-set would now be for his younger teammates. He knew immediately. The Canes begin their offseason strength and conditioning program next week.
“Groundhog [Day],” James said. “Go back to work. It’s as simple as that. There’s no reason to sulk. There’s no reason to keep on talking about it. It’s over.”