This wasn’t the national championship.
This wasn’t a bowl game.
But by the end of the football game Saturday between the University of Miami and Nebraska, nerves on both teams were likely shot — as if maybe the stakes were that high.
At least that’s how it seemed when sophomore Michael Badgley kicked a 28-yard field goal in overtime to lead the Hurricanes to a 36-33 victory in front of 53,580 at Sun Life Stadium.
“Unity kills adversity,” said senior linebacker Raphael Kirby, whose defense gave up 23 consecutive points in the fourth quarter to turn a 33-10 lead into a 33-33 heart-thumper after Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong threw an 8-yard touchdown pass and completed the two-point conversion with 33 seconds left. “We were the more unified team [Saturday night], and it showed.”
Badgley’s winning field goal was his fifth of the night, set up after cornerback Corn Elder intercepted Armstrong’s first play in overtime from the Miami 25-yard line.
Then, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Nebraska left tackle Alex Lewis put the Hurricanes on the 12 1/2-yard-line to begin their four chances to score.
After three unsuccessful rushing plays, Badgley became the hero and the Canes exulted, throwing helmets into the air and embracing at midfield.
For the first time since 2013 and only the third time since 2004, Miami has started the season 3-0.
“We kept fighting,” a spent UM coach Al Golden said. “Obviously, Tommy Armstrong was making some plays. Great look on the sideline when it did go to overtime. Nobody panicked. Leaders led and everybody else just stayed together. I’m proud of the way we finished.
“We have some things we have to correct, but I just told the guys, ‘You’re 3-0. You just beat a good team.’ ”
Added Golden of Badgley, his fellow New Jersey compatriot who wears a 1980’s mullet hairstyle and also kicked field goals of 23, 27, 41 and 28 yards: “He’s got bad hair, but he works his [butt] off. He’s tough. The ball has been jumping for him lately.”
Badgley came to the postgame podium for the first time.
“It’s a big win,” he said, “but I’ve always said to myself, ‘Take this win with a 24-hour rule. Celebrate as much as you want and then on to the next.’ It’s going to be fun.”
The Canes dominated offensively and defensively for the first three quarters, while the Cornhuskers (1-2) were especially sloppy and undisciplined in the first half. Nebraska finished with 12 penalties for 98 yards, and Miami finished even worse — 13 for 114 yards.
UM had a 20-3 lead at the half and 30-10 lead after three quarters but inexplicably began to disintegrate late in the game.
Two UM safeties — Deon Bush and Jamal Carter — were ejected from the game in the fourth quarter for targeting and are expected to miss the first half of the next game Oct. 1 at Cincinnati.
Elder’s crucial pick was UM’s third of the game and seventh of the season. Bush and cornerback Artie Burns also had interceptions Saturday. The Canes came into the game leading the nation in takeaways. They now have 10.
“I [saw] them scramble and just took off deep,” Elder said of his game-changing interception. “He threw it, and it came right to me.”
Miami, which has defeated Nebraska three times for national titles, won just its second regular-season game in six attempts against the Huskers and first regular-season home game against them since the series began in 1951.
UM quarterback Brad Kaaya had a career-high 379 passing yards. He completed 25 of 42 passes and threw two touchdowns and his first interception of the season.
“We still won the game, and that’s all that matters,’’ Kaaya said, when asked if he was upset that UM blew a 23-point lead. “A few plays didn’t go our way, but we’re not complaining about that. I looked around the sideline, I looked at Raphael and Dallas [Crawford] in overtime, and there wasn’t a doubt in my mind. Everybody was locked in.”
UM receiver Rashawn Scott had another dominant performance with nine catches for 151 yards, and tailback Joseph Yearby rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.
Freshman tailback Mark Walton would have added two touchdown runs had they not been called back because of holding penalties by tackle Sunny Odogwu and tight end Standish Dobard.
The Canes have more than a week to exhale before embarking on a murderous October stretch that encompasses the Thursday night game at Cincinnati, followed by Florida State on the road, Virginia Tech, Clemson and a road game at Duke.