The Miami Hurricanes finally found a way to start, finish — and win.
University of Miami quarterback N’Kosi Perry scrambled for a 3-yard touchdown on third-and-goal with 2:31 left in the game to seal a 17-9 victory Friday against the No. 20 Virginia Cavaliers.
The 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive at Hard Rock Stadium took 5:08 off the clock and ensured that the Hurricanes (3-3, 1-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), even after a lousy few weeks, are still alive and in contention for the ACC’s Coastal Division title. That they defeated preseason Coastal favorite and division-leading Virginia (4-2, 2-1) was an important step. But chances are they’d have to win out in their final five ACC games, and hope that somehow they could survive a tiebreaker.
“Obviously, I”m extremely proud of our football team,’’ UM coach Manny Diaz said. “It was a very hard-fought win, which is what we expected it to be. We had talked all week about how strong our culture was, even on the backs of some of these losses to start the season. If we trusted in [the culture] and continued to nurture it, the results would start to come. This game was a testament to that because we knew that it was going to be a game where persistence and being relentless was going to be key.’’
Perry, in his first 2019 start for injured starter Jarren Williams, completed 16 of 27 passes for 182 yards and one touchdown in front of an announced crowd of 54,538. He also ran for 18 yards and the final touchdown on nine carries.
Miami’s defense held the Cavaliers to three field goals and also came up big with two goal-line stands. The Canes amassed five sacks and seven tackles for loss and held Virginia to 318 yards — only 74 of them rushing — and 4.4 yards per play.
The Canes won despite only 265 yards of offense.
DeeJay Dallas, who scored Miami’s only other touchdown, had 13 carries for 63 yards, plus two catches for 14 yards and a touchdown.
The Hurricanes struck first on their opening drive, marching 78 yards on 11 plays.
Perry tossed completions of 13 yards to tight end Brevin Jordan, 27 yards to K.J. Osborn and 10 yards to Jeff Thomas to bring the Canes to the Virginia 28-yard line. After a 3-yard Perry rush to the 25 and a third-and-7 completion that gained no yards, Miami faced a fourth-and-7 from the UVA 25.
With kicker Bubba Baxa’s repeated accuracy problems, Diaz dared not attempt a field goal. Instead, Perry darted left for a 10-yard gain and first down at the UVA 15. After tailback Dallas lost 2 yards, Perry threw a screen to Dallas, who zigged and zagged to the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown.
Baxa’s only job Friday was kickoffs, so he sat on the sideline as virtually unknown walk-on Turner Davidson made the extra point to put UM up 7-0. Davidson, the third-string kicker behind unavailable walk-on Camden Price, later kicked a 19-yard field goal with 10:06 left in the final quarter to give UM a 10-6 lead.
Perry, who completed 5 of 6 passes for 67 yards on the first drive, went into the locker room at halftime with 61 passing yards after a pair of -3-yard completions in the second quarter. He was sacked three times for the game.
“The guy worked really, really hard from January all the way to August,’’ Diaz said of Perry, a redshirt sophomroe who started six games last year but lost the starting job to Williams in fall camp. “Then he finds out that he is not the starting quarterback. It’s so easy in this day and age to throw your hands up in the air and say, ‘I’m going to pack my bags or I’m going to stop working.’ For him to not only stay but also to continue to persevere...
“Last week we saw a new version of N’Kosi. We saw how much he had improved. There was this strange karma deal that he got this start against Virginia. And the fact that he got to score not the winning touchdown per se, but the touchdown that iced it...just shows you that you don’t always get what you want when you want it, but if you continue to work hard, it comes.’’
Perry was exuberant after the win.
“Thinking about it now, it means a lot to me,’’ Perry said about beating the Cavaliers, against whom he threw two quick interceptions last season in Virginia and got pulled after six passes. “But before the game, we just needed a win. Our opponent never mattered. Even in our losses, our opponent never mattered. We feel like we beat ourselves every game.’’
Cavaliers quarterback Bryce Perkins, who completed his first nine passes, finished 25 of 41 for 252 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. Miami’s defense pitched a shutout until the final play of the first half.
The Canes moved aggressive redshirt freshman defensive end Greg Rousseau into the starting lineup, a move that paid off with seven tackles, a sack, tackle for loss, forced fumble and quarterback hurry.
“I definitely challenged myself,’’ Rousseau said. “I knew that I had to go out there and uphold that standard. Even when I wasn’t starting, there’s still that Miami standard that when you’re on defense, you have to be a dog.’’
UM would have gone into halftime with a shutout had it not blown a third-and-14 from the UVA 43. Cornerback DJ Ivey slipped on the play, and senior wideout Hasise Dubois was all alone for a 49-yard catch that took the Cavs to the UM 8.
After three incompletions, Brian Delaney kicked a 25-yard field goal as the half ended.
Virginia might have had more, but UM defensive tackle Pat Bethel blocked a 38-yard field goal attempt with 4:41 left in the second quarter.
UM cornerback Trajan Bandy later recovered a Mike Hollins fumble forced by defensive tackle Jon Ford, but the Canes went three-and-out and Virginia took over.
“I think we were relentless,’’ Bandy said. “Just relentless.’’
Miami held the Cavs to a field goal with 14:28 left in the game — after four consecutive plays from inside the Miami 10-yard line. UM stopped the Cavs at the 1, but Delaney’s 21-yard field goal ricocheted off the right upright and right through the uprights to make it 7-6.
Canes safety Amari Carter was penalized and ejected for targeting in that drive. It was his second targeting penalty of the season.