While numbers 10 through 6 of The Best of The Streak were all classics, the real meat and potatoes are finally unveiled. Read on.
5. Miami 26, Virginia Tech 24 – December 1st, 2001 – Win #21 – The final roadblock to the title game and a streak of another kind that would have to come to an end. Miami hadn't won at Blacksburg since 1992. Beamer Ball flourished while the Canes were on probation and Virginia Tech held onto a 5-0 record against Miami from 1995 through 1999. The 2000 contest wrapped up 41-21 in favor of UM but that was in the Orange Bowl – Lane Stadium is a whole difference scenario.
Tech struck first and held onto a 3-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. The next fifteen minutes would belong solely to Miami. The Canes put up 20 points in just under 13:00 with a touchdown strike to Jeremy Shockey, a solid touchdown run by Clinton Portis and two Todd Sievers' field goals. Miami appeared to have the game in hand and was thirty minutes away from a trip to Pasadena.
Cane fans were still breathing easy with a 26-10 lead early in the fourth quarter but one had to wonder how Miami could only muster up two field goals in the second half. Instead of going for the jugular and putting this game out of reach, the Canes played not to lose instead of playing to win. The Hokies put together their best drive of the day as Jarrett Ferguson barreled in for his second touchdown of the day with 8:33 remaining. The two-point conversion was good, the score was 26-18 and unexpectedly, we had a ballgame here.
A drive later the Canes were forced to punt and in true Hokie fashion, blocked Freddie Capshaw's attempt, returning it for a touchdown – 26-24 and another two-point conversion would be attempted. Ernest Wilford would let the tying score slip though his hands. A few possessions later the Miami defense would come up strong with an Ed Reed interception and in the final seconds a Capshaw punt would fall lifeless inside the two yard line. Miami averted disaster, held tightly to the 26-24 victory and packed their bags for the National Championship game and UM first ever Rose Bowl appearance.
4. Miami 18, Boston College 7 – November 10th, 2001 – Win #18 – A day that started with the Canes heavy favorites in Chestnut Hill, Miami received their biggest wake up call in years when Boston College was knocking on the door of the end zone in the final minute. A 12-7 Hurricane lead never felt so helpless. In Ken Dorsey's worst performance as a Miami gunslinger, it was the Hurricane defense which would rise to the occasion and save an afternoon and a season.
Dorsey's four interception performance almost did the Canes in. Clinton Portis gave the Eagles all they could handle with a 160 yard rushing performance, but the Miami offense would never find the end zone. The Canes defense picked off Boston College's Brian St. Pierre twice this afternoon – the second takeaway being Miami's most important pick of all time.
Fresh off an improbably 4th and 10 completion setting BC up on the Miami 9 yard line, St. Pierre had 20 seconds and four downs to do the unthinkable – upset the No. 1 team in the nation. He had just moved his team 61 yards and needed one more big time play for a score. The 12-7 Miami lead was protected a few drives earlier when a poor center to quarterback exchange forced Boston College into a field goal situation. The kick would go wide right and instead of being in a position where a field goal would win, the St. Pierre led Eagles needed a touchdown in the final moments to steal the victory.
In a split second moment every Cane has rerun in slow motion on their VCR, history was made. With a first and goal from the 9 yard line, St. Pierre dropped back, looked left for Ryan Read and let his attempt fly. The pass would find its way off of Hurricane DB Mike Rumph's knee, into the hands of lineman Matt Walters only to be stripped by safety Ed Reed for a touchdown. Miami would go ahead 18-7 and live to see another undefeated day.
November 10th at Alumni Stadium was about survival. Dorsey was out of sync and Miami defense shouldered the burden of pulling out a win. Much credit also goes to Todd Sievers' leg as his four field goals provided the 12 offensive points of the afternoon. The only question mark on the day came when coaches decided to go to true freshman Frank Gore on a crucial, late game third down play. The Portis injury should've brought senior fullback Najeh Davenport into equation. Gore came into the game ice cold, fumbled the ball and gave BC new life. Miami was driving with a chance to seal the win. Hindsight is 20/20 but this blunder almost provided the biggest upset in recent college football memory.
3. Miami 28, Florida State 27 – October 12th, 2002 – Win #28 – On paper, this game never should've cracked the top ten. The Canes entered the contest a +12 favorite and No. 12 Florida State was stinging from an overtime loss to Louisville. The preseason No. 4 Seminoles entered 2002 with high aspirations that fooled many college football gurus. Some saw Florida State headed to a Fiesta and looking at an undefeated season. Everyone in Tallahassee was screaming, "Let's Roll" and the vibe was that FSU was not going to be down two seasons in a row.
Another thriller in the Miami/Florida State series occurred because the Noles decided to bring their "A" game. Something about this battle brings out the best in everyone involved. Miami struck on their first offensive possession with a sustained drive and Willis McGahee touchdown. The tone seemed to be set – Miami 7, Florida State 0 after one quarter of play.
Squandered opportunities were the name of the game for Miami. A late first quarter Ken Dorsey interception thwarted one drive. Moments a later a Hurricane punt was fumbled by Florida State, recovered by Miami only to be given back on the next play by a muffed snap. The Canes had several chances to put the game out of reach, but never found a way to do so. Florida State hung tough early, weathered the storm and exploded for a 17 point second quarter. Down by 10, the Canes answered back with :26 left in the half when Kellen Winslow hauled in a 5 yard Dorsey pass for a touchdown.
Down only three, Miami lacked momentum as well as the ability to slow down Florida State's rushing attack. Greg Jones and Nick Maddox ran as if possessed – combining for 263 yards and two touchdowns on the day. The Noles would eventually jump to a 27-14 lead as the Canes would struggle in the third quarter, going scoreless.
Miami would answer back after falling behind by 13. Two possessions later, a methodic drive begun with a 37 yard pass to Andre Johnson. An 11 yard McGahee run here, another Johnson grab there, one final push by Willis and then a two yard strike to a sprinting Kevin Beard in the end zone had the Canes back in business. A respectable 27-21 with 8:10 left in the contest.
The Canes would hold the Noles to one first down on the ensuing drive but Florida State would eventually punt. With 5:36 remaining in the game Dorsey would go straight to McGahee on first down. The quick screen ended up a 68-yard gain, setting Jason Geathers up for the 11-yard touchdown run. Miami experienced their first lead since the second quarter, up 28-27.
Like a snake with its head cut off, Florida State wouldn't die. Although it was a 3-yard Freddie Capshaw punt that left the Noles with incredible field position, some acrobatics and dumb luck went into Florida State's final possession. Again, Miami had a chance to run out the clock and keep the ball out of the Noles' hands but three runs up the middle were not going to do it. Capshaw's shank had Florida State knocking on the door and with 0:01 left in the match up the Noles lined up for a potential, game-winning 43-yard field goal. While Xavier Beitia bucked the wide right trend, sending it wide left – he stayed true to Seminole form. When the game is on the line and down to a final FSU kick, Miami can start the celebration because, in the words of the immortal Ed Reed – it ain't happenin, Captian.
2. Miami 37, Nebraska 14 – January 3rd, 2002 – Win# 22 – Hard to consider a 34-0 Hurricane lead at the half an all time classic but with National Championship implications on the line, the Rose Bowl comes in a solid #2.
The Canes hadn't played in a National Championship game since falling to No. 2 Alabama in the 1993 Sugar Bowl. A No. 3 Miami had an outside shot against No. 1 Nebraska in the 1995 Orange Bowl but the Canes' loss combined with No. 2 Penn State's win over Oregon in the Rose Bowl left UM without a snowball's chance. The probation years followed and the Canes spent a decade watching their foes competing in the championship game.
No way was Miami going to stumble over their final hurdle of the 2001 season. Too much was on the line. Nebraska limped into the title game off of a 62-34 thrashing at Colorado and not playing in their conference championship. A handful of upsets kept the Florida Gators or Tennessee Volunteers from a trip to Pasadena. Some say the Oregon Ducks got the shaft on a Rose Bowl invite. Either way, all three aforementioned teams can thank their lucky stars because they too would've taken the same beating. No one could've beaten the Canes this night.
Clinton Portis, Jeremy Shockey and co-MVP Andre Johnson stole the show on offense. After witnessing the massacre there was no doubt that underclassmen Portis and Shockey were forgoing their senior seasons for an early departure to the NFL. They shone brightest on college football's grandest stage. Portis' 39-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter might've been the best of his career. Johnson's 199 receiving yards and two touchdowns on seven receptions showed he was a man amongst boys. Shockey proved uncoverable as well. Ken Dorsey? Another ho-hum day at the office with 362 yards and three touchdowns on 22 completions earned him the other half of that co-MVP award.
The defense was electric, shutting down Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch the entire evening. He rushed for 144 yards on the evening but only completed five passes for 62 yards. His one interception proved costly as Miami's James Lewis returned it 47 yards for a touchdown.
The Canes put it on cruise control at the half, up 34-0. Miami fans were able to soak up the final 30 minutes of the contest knowing fully that a win was in the cards. The Canes' fifth National Championship was a few dotted i's and crossed t's from being a reality. When it was all said and done the Canes were champs yet again. Almost as beautiful as the win itself was the mindset of the team post game. The talk quickly shifted from "champions" to "back to back champions." One wasn't enough and that mindset carried over into 2002.
Dorsey returned for his senior season to lead the team to yet another undefeated season and shot at the crown. Ask his where his 2001 championship ring is and he couldn't tell you. Kellen Winslow II gave his ring to the senior Winslow because he felt he didn't earn his in 2001 as a back up and special teams player. Willis McGahee, a back up running back all season and starting fullback for the Rose Bowl, watched the celebration from afar. He too did not feel that this was his team or his championship. He sat behind starter Clinton Portis all season and was thrown into fullback duties when starter Najeh Davenport broke his foot. McGahee planned on earning his ring and running the show in 2002. That he did.
Miami attained all their goals in 2001. Winning a championship was part one – defending it and playing for another was part two. On January 3rd, 2003 they will add one final piece to this puzzle.
1. Miami 27, Florida State 24 – October 7th, 2000 – Win# 3 – The one that truly started it all was the third win in the streak. Throw out the wins at West Virginia and Temple that came after the Washington loss. Miami grew up and became men again on October 7th, 2000 when the No.1 Florida State Seminoles dropped by the Orange Bowl as defending National Champions. The Noles were looking for six straight over the Canes and smelled blood after the preseason No. 4 team lost at Washington and clawed their way back up to a No. 7 ranking for this state rivalry.
The backed up Canes pounced on the top dog early. They had waited a full year for this one. Miami had a shot at Florida State in 1999 but eventually fell 31-21. It was the first time the Canes held their own with the Noles in four years but it wasn't enough. In 2000 Miami knew they had the firepower – the just had to put together the complete game.
Miami would score first on a 22 yard strike from Ken Dorsey to Najeh Davenport – exploiting the Noles' ability to cover the fullback. On the other side of the ball it was defensive stands. Several times the Noles were knocking on the door but the Canes turned them away empty handed. Bobby Bowden rolled the dice on a few field goal opps due to a lack of kicker confidence. Credit the first stop to Miami's d-line cutting the Noles short on a 4th and 1 run. A few drives later it was the flick of Ed Reed's wrist that prevented a Florida State touchdown on 4th down. The play of the first half came on another Miami goal line stop. This time it was Dan Morgan picking off a Chris Weinke pass in the end zone, protecting Miami's 17-0 halftime lead.
Still, no one expected the defending champs to go quietly into the good night. Florida State made their adjustments and finally put some points on the board and at the end of a somewhat quiet third quarter the score sat at 20-10. Miami still had the momentum but it was obvious that Florida State would not roll over. This game was far from over.
The first half of the final quarter of play was a defensive struggle. Scoreless until eventual Heisman Trophy winning quarterback found Anquan Boldin for the second touchdown of the day. It was Miami 20, Florida State 17 with just over three minutes remaining. All the Canes had to do was put together a time consuming drive and the Noles would never see the ball again.
The Canes appeared to have every under control when Davenport picked up a crucial third down. In his quest for a few extra yards he was stripped of the ball. Florida State recovered and before Miami knew what hit them it was 24-20, Noles.
History seemed to be playing a cruel game with the Canes and was about to repeat itself for the sixth time in as many years. With 1:37 left in the contest Miami would get the ball on the 32 yard line and a sophomore quarterback would have the challenge of leading a game winning drive. Dorsey would go on to hit six of seven passes. Crucial grabs were made by seniors Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne – two warriors in their final game against Florida State – but the biggest catch of the drive and the season was pulled in by a then unknown, backup, junior college transfer from Ada, Oklahoma. Dorsey hit Jeremy Shockey for the 13 yard touchdown. The Canes took the 27-24 lead and kicked off with under a minute to play.
Florida State would frantically move the ball down the field. Poor clock management on the final reception set up future statistic Matt Munyon with the 49-yard field goal attempt for the tie and overtime.
Wide Right III. An old tradition reborn and the perfect way to take down Florida State after a five year hiatus. Miami was back and in a way that no one could ever comprehend. Thirty-one games later the Canes are yet to lose. In that streak Miami has the 3-0 advantage against the hated Noles.
The Streak. One of the most amazing feats in recent college football memory. Thirty-four is impossible to fathom at times – but will lose so much luster if it never reaches thirty-five. A win over No. 2 Ohio State is a must. To go this far and not take another title would be criminal. Regardless of the outcome on January 3rd, the day will come where Miami finally loses. As crushing as it will be, it won't be until then that everything comes full circle. The Canes will have to lose to put this accomplishment into perspective. Until then, embrace every moment of this amazing experience and prepare for yet another classic Miami experience in the Fiesta Bowl.
Born and raised in Miami, FL and a Grassy.com guest columnist since 1995, Chris Bello now resides in San Diego, CA. Feel free to send your comments or to contact him for potential writing assignments at firstname.lastname@example.org