There was a point, when the — down 20 points to their biggest rival — were booed, loudly on their home field.
The UM faithful who crowded into Hard Rock Stadium were eager to see their team win a second straight against and, just as importantly, they wanted to see their Hurricanes end a maddening six-game home losing streak to the Seminoles.
But for long stretches of Saturday afternoon, the 17th-ranked Hurricanes looked lost and listless, unable to stop an upset-minded FSU team that was hoping a win over Miami could start to turn their season around.
And then, when it seemed as if all was lost, the Hurricanes — .
First, a Gerald Willis fumble recovery led to a Lawrence Cager touchdown. Then a Mike Pinckney interception resulted in a Jeff Thomas touchdown. And in the end, the Hurricanes clawed their way to a hard-fought 28-27 win that won’t be forgotten in either Coral Gables or Tallahassee any time soon.
“No one lost heart,” Hurricanes coach said. “There’s no doubt [Florida State] created doubt in everybody’s minds. … But nobody gave in. It just took a spark and that spark turned into a flame and we got the lead and we found a way to finish the game.”
The victory was the Hurricanes’ first over Florida State in Miami since 2004. It also marked the Hurricanes’ fifth consecutive win of the year since a gut-wrenching 33-17 season-opening loss to .
In that game against the Tigers, the Hurricanes (5-1, 2-0 ACC) couldn’t respond after taking an early series of punches from LSU, prompting Miami players and coaches to say they needed to become mentally tougher with the rest of their season still ahead of them.
On Saturday, that mental toughness showed in spades throughout the second half as Miami rallied from a 27-7 third-quarter deficit.
In the end, it was Brevin Jordan’s 41-yard touchdown pass from N’Kosi Perry and Bubba Baxa’s ensuing extra point with 11:52 left that were the difference on the scoreboard, but those would not have been possible were it not for the way the Hurricanes defense shut down Florida State (3-3, 2-2) in the second half.
Seminoles quarterback Deondre Francois, who threw 109 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, had just 20 passing yards in the third and fourth quarters. The Seminoles, who had 200 yards of total offense in the first half, had just 45 the rest of the way.
Perry, meanwhile, bounced back from his slow start, finishing the day 13 of 32 for 204 yards with four touchdowns passes.
“I didn’t ever get down on myself. I know I missed a couple open targets, but at the half I wasn’t pouting, I was smiling because I know I make those throws every day,” Perry said. “It wasn’t anything I couldn’t come back from.”
Still, for most of the first half, it was Florida State — not Miami — that looked like the ranked, double-digit favorite.
The Seminoles, who came in riding some momentum after a 28-24 comeback win over Louisville last week, forced a three-and-out on Miami’s first offensive possession. Then, moments later on offense, gashed the Hurricanes defense with an 8-play, 58-yard scoring drive that culminated when Francois connected with Keith Garvin on a 17-yard touchdown pass.
Two possessions later, the Hurricanes and Perry — who made only the second start of his Miami career on Saturday — pulled even, when on fourth-and-goal, the redshirt freshman connected with Cager on a 10-yard touchdown play that capped a 14-play, 83-yard drive that took 7:49 off the clock.
It was Miami’s longest scoring drive — in terms of minutes — all season.
It was also, for the Hurricanes, the only highlight of the first half.
After that, Florida State went on to score 13 unanswered points, capitalizing twice on long field goals by Ricky Aguayo, including a 53-yarder just before halftime that staked the Seminoles to a 20-7 lead.
And while the Seminoles seemingly had little trouble against a Hurricanes defense that a week ago against North Carolina forced six turnovers and scored three touchdowns, there were times Perry and the Miami offense struggled.
Perry, who replaced Malik Rosier — one of the heroes of last year’s Miami win in Tallahassee — was just 7 of 18 for 89 yards in the first half. He was sacked twice, fumbling and losing the ball once.
Richt conceded there were moments he considered making another quarterback change, but he stayed with Perry and late, the quarterback delivered.
And as tough as the Hurricanes’ comeback was, there was a point in the fourth quarter where it could have been even more difficult.
After Miami had cut FSU’s lead to 27-21, Seminoles coach Willie Taggart opted some trickery to try and spark his offense.
But officials ruled the Seminoles’ play — which had Francois connecting with D.J. Matthews, who then hurled the ball downfield to a wide-open Gavin for a touchdown — included an illegal forward pass.
The Seminoles didn’t score on that drive, Aguayo missing 43-yard field goal five plays later.
That all set up Miami’s eventual go-ahead touchdown from Perry to Jordan.
“The one to Brevin [Jordan], that was the perfect look, the perfect play call for the defense they were in and it worked out perfect,” Perry said.
Jordan finished with two catches for 51 yards, while Thomas — who dealt with a knee issue throughout the game — had three catches for 76 yards. Cager, who struggled with several drops, but still scored twice, had three catches for 33 yards.
Defensively, Jaquan Johnson — back in the lineup after missing two games with a hamstring injury — had a team-high 10 tackles for the defense, which put together a dominant second-half performance.
“During halftime, [defensive coordinator Manny Diaz], Jaquan Johnson and all of us let each other know that we needed a turnover. That chain has powers,” Pinckney said, referring to Miami’s famed Turnover Chain. “Tonight was a testament of that. It was just momentum, the change in the game. Once that chain came out, things started to turn around and we had the opportunity to do something great.”
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