The University of Miami entered its game Saturday night undefeated, ranked 10th and never having trailed this season.
But the real test, insisted college football experts, would be Florida State.
The test failed — barely.
In an intense rivalry marked over the years by missed FSU kicks, the Noles prevailed 20-19 on a blocked extra-point attempt after Stacy Coley’s 11-yard touchdown catch with 1:38 remaining. FSU senior DeMarcus Walker made the deciding play, swatting Michael Badgley’s kick to prevent overtime.
“Tough one to finish the way it did,” UM coach Mark Richt said. “Obviously, getting what looked [to be] the score to tie it up and not being able to protect well enough to kick an extra point is tough, tough for everybody. But to their credit, somebody cared enough to blast through and get it. It was a great effort on their part.”
Miami relinquished a 10-point halftime lead in front of a sellout crowd of 65,685 at Hard Rock Stadium as the Seminoles won their seventh in a row over the Hurricanes.
After FSU’s disheartening losses to Louisville and North Carolina, its victory over Miami gave the Seminoles (4-2, 1-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) their first conference victory, not to mention a launching point for the rest of the season.
“That’s a Florida State-Miami game,’’ FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “It doesn’t matter what the records are. Somehow, some way, that thing always comes down to the end.”
The Hurricanes (4-1, 1-1) dominated the first half behind a spirited, swarming defense, entering the locker room with a 13-3 lead and plenty of highlight-reel plays. But the Noles came back after Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya was intercepted by Plantation American Heritage graduate Tarvarus McFadden with 11:16 left in the third quarter.
Kaaya said he was hit in the head multiple times, including on UM’s first offensive play of the game.
“Emotionally, it’s tough,” he said. “But we have to just keep going and just let this become added motivation for us going forward. It’s only one loss in the ACC, and it’s just more fuel to the fire. The Coastal [Division] is wide open right now. We’ve just got to keep fighting. … We can’t let this loss define us.’’
How was he feeling physically?
“Not amazing,’’ Kaaya said. “I’ll go in to see the trainers [Sunday]. Took some hits to the head, which I wasn’t a fan of. Lost a tooth … chipped half of my [left] back molar. But I’m good. … Part of football.’’
Former Miami Central star Dalvin Cook scored on a 59-yard catch-and-run down the left sideline during the drive after Kaaya’s pick, and quarterback Deondre Francois connected with Kermit Whitfield for a 20-yard touchdown with 3:32 left in the third quarter.
Down 17-13, Miami trailed for the first time in 2016.
A 32-yard field goal by Ricky Aguayo with 9:02 left in the game increased FSU’s lead to 20-13.
Cook, whose heroics also finished off the Hurricanes the past two years, gained 150 yards on 27 carries in addition to the receiving touchdown.
Francois completed 20 of 31 attempts for 234 yards and two touchdowns.
The Canes came out strong on defense, delivering several hard hits to Francois and knocking him out of the game at the end of the first quarter. The right-handed redshirt freshman signal caller, who seemed to have injured his throwing shoulder, was replaced by redshirt senior Sean Maguire for most of the second quarter.
But Francois returned and the Canes faltered offensively, including a 45-yard would-be touchdown run by tailback Mark Walton that was negated by right tackle Tyree St. Louis’ holding penalty with about three minutes left in the third quarter.
Richt called the play a defining one.
“I didn’t see it. I didn’t see the holding,’’ Richt said. “I don’t have the vantage point the officials have. All I saw was one of the greatest runs I’ve ever seen. It’s a shame that it went for naught, because it was a phenomenal effort by Mark. It was a game-changer type of run.”
Walton finished with 39 yards on 14 carries and backfield mate Joe Yearby carried 10 times for 39 yards, as UM was largely held in check in the second half.
Kaaya completed 19 of 32 passes for 214 yards, with two touchdowns to Coley — and the interception.
The Hurricanes, who generated only 276 yards of offense, scored on field goals of 37 and 51 yards by Badgley, and a 21-yard touchdown throw by Kaaya to Coley in the right rear corner of the end zone. The touchdown play was reviewed, but officials ruled that Coley’s left foot was in bounds.
“We lost,” said Coley, one of the team’s seniors who will leave UM without ever having beaten Florida State. “It hurt.”
FSU had 407 total yards.
Two players were ejected for targeting: FSU linebacker Matthew Thomas and UM safety Jamal Carter. Both players will also miss the first half of their games next week, Thomas against Wake Forest and Carter against North Carolina.
Said Richt of Carter’s ejection: “I guess I can respectfully say I didn’t think it was targeting. I thought he hit with his shoulder, and I don’t think he tried to hit him above the neck. Even on the replay it didn’t look like it.”