Jacksonville Sports Day

ACC: No. 9 Miami Earns Comeback 25-24 Win at Virginia Tech

Photo / MATT GENRTY, The Roanoke Times, Pool)

BLACKSBURG, Va. – Winning is never easy and earning victories on the road is even more difficult, but No. 9 Miami found a way on Saturday at Virginia Tech.

Despite a top-10 ranking, the Hurricanes (7-1, 6-1 ACC) entered Lane Stadium as an underdog against the unranked Hokies (4-4, 4-3 ACC). With 13 players unavailable, including multiple starters, Miami had to battle back from a double-digit deficit to come away victorious in Blacksburg, 25-24.

“Some of things that we encountered this week and some of the things that we had to overcome this week just to get here, just to play, and the attitude that our guys kept and the way that they wanted to go play, I’m so proud of them,” said head coach Manny Diaz.

Down five with 9:38 left to play, Miami marched 82 yards to the end zone to take its first lead of the game. Quarterback D’Eriq King found Mark Pope for a 36-yard touchdown that put Miami ahead, 25-24. The Hurricanes went for two, but King’s pass to Donald Chaney Jr. fell incomplete and Miami would hold a one-point advantage with 5:59 left to play.

“It actually felt great putting the team on my back for a moment like that,” Pope said. “[Mike] Harley did it the last time, so I wasn’t really shocked by that. I just saw everybody blitzing, King looked at me, gave me a signal and made it happen.”

Te’Cory Couch, who had several big plays for the Hurricanes in Blacksburg, made his biggest of the day on the first play of the Hokies’ ensuing drive. The sophomore cornerback secured his first career interception, picking off quarterback Hendon Hooker to give Miami the back on its own 35.

The Canes could not capitalize off the turnover, but Miami punter Lou Hedley booted a booming kick 52 yards that was downed on the VT 9 with 5:48 remaining in the game.

Jaelan Phillips, who had 2.5 sacks and four tackles for loss, continued his dominance for Miami when he sacked Hooker for a five-yard loss on first and 10 from the VT 28. Two plays later, Hooker slipped as Miami’s pass rush closed in on him and the seven-yard loss forced another Virginia Tech punt.

“First of all, I got to give all the credit to Hendon Hooker. I think he’s a great quarterback,” Phillips said. “I think Virginia Tech is a very dynamic team. We came into the game, game-planning, expecting him to run the ball and for them to get active like that. In the first half, had a couple mistakes. I know I had a couple mistakes. But then just homing in, really just sticking to the game plan and just kind of taking a deep breath and relaxing and playing Canes football like we know how.”
King and the Hurricanes started their next possession near midfield at the UM 43 with 2:13 left to play, but Miami ran off just 28 seconds before Hedley kicked another 52-yard punt that was downed on the VT 3. The redshirt junior had six punts of over 50 yards Saturday afternoon.

“D’Eriq is a great leader. He leads the pack,” receiver Dee Wiggins said. “Coming into the fourth quarter, he is always focused. He doesn’t change. You always face adversity in a game, and he stays focused during every quarter.”

With the Hokies moving toward midfield, Miami striker Gilbert Frierson came up with a big seven-yard sack of Hooker with under 30 seconds left to play. VT’s final play was unsuccessful, as the multi-lateral effort ended with Hooker tackled by Phillips at the VT 38 and Miami closed out its third ACC road win.

After winning the toss and deferring their choice to the second half, Miami saw its defense step up in a big way on VT’s opening drive. Phillips set the tone with a tackle for loss and the Canes forced a three-and-out by the Hokies.

Miami’s offense got off to a fast start, racing to the VT 30 after just eight plays. The Canes sent out kicker Jose Borregales for what looked like a 57-yard field goal, but the Hurricanes ran a fake and Borregales was stopped two yards shy of the line to gain and Miami turned the ball over on downs.

The Canes forced another punt, with Phillips making some more noise behind the line of scrimmage. The redshirt junior dropped Hooker for a seven-yard sack on third-and-2 from the VT 43 that led to another punt by Oscar Bradburn to close out the six-play drive.

Virginia Tech’s offense finally broke through on its third drive of the game. A pass interference penalty by Al Blades brought the Hokies near midfield and Hooker took the next snap 53 yards for a rushing touchdown that put VT ahead, 7-0, with 6:01 remaining in the opening quarter.

Miami’s offense charged p into Hokies territory on its ensuing possession reaching the VT 18. But King was sacked on third-and-10 for a seven-yard loss and the Canes settled for a 42-yard Borregales field goal to get on the scoreboard, 7-3, just before the end of the first quarter.

The Hokies attempted a 54-yard field goal to try and push their lead back to seven points, but Brian Johnson’s kick never came close to the uprights and Miami took over possession on its own 37.

After Miami’s offense went three-and-out, the Hokies responded with a seven-play, 80-yard drive that ended with an eight-yard rushing touchdown by Jalen Holston that put VT up, 14-3, halfway through the second quarter.

King and the Canes answered with a touchdown drive of their own. The redshirt senior led Miami on a 10-play, 84-yard drive that ended with a 10-yard run into the end zone by the quarterback. King put Miami in the red zone on the previous play, throwing a dart that required some fancy footwork by Wiggins to complete the catch near the Miami sideline. One snap later, King’s touchdown brought the Canes within four points with 5:11 left to play before halftime.

“I think Dee Wiggins is a great player. It’s going to happen. It’s football, it’s college football. You got to make contested catches,” King said. “He had a drop early in the game, but you got to move forward. I told him I was going to keep coming back to him and he played big for us down the stretch. Shout-out to ‘Wigs.’”

King, who finished with 225 passing yards and a touchdown, completed passes to six different targets on Saturday. Wiggins finished the game with a career-high eight catches for 106 receiving yards, bouncing back from a drop earlier in the game to have one of his best games as a Hurricane.

“No matter what goes on in the game, you have to play the next play,” Wiggins said. “If you stick with that play, you are going to play bad the whole game. I just had to stay focused on keep playing.”

Miami’s defense got back to work on third down on the next VT drive, as Couch and Sam Brooks split a six-yard sack of Hooker that forced a three-and-out to give the Canes the ball back with a chance to add some points before the intermission.

The Hurricanes reached the VT 18, but King was dropped for a five-yard loss on third-and-6, sending Borregales out for a 40-yard field goal. The kicker split the uprights and sent Miami into the locker room trailing by a point, 14-13.

The Hokies opened the second half with a sustained scoring drive, marching 74 yards over 11 plays to go back ahead by eight points when Holston ran into the end zone from a yard out to go up, 21-13.

On Virginia Tech’s next possession, a big sack by Frierson on third-and-10 from the 15 held the Hokies of a 38-yard field goal by Johnson. But VT extended its lead to 24-13 with 6:14 remaining in the third quarter.

Facing an 11-point deficit, Miami marched 75 yards over 13 plays on a scoring drive that ended with a six-yard touchdown run by Cam’Ron Harris. The Canes went for two and ran a throwback play to left tackle Zion Nelson, but the big man was stopped short of the goal line and the Hokies clung to a five-point lead with 1:27 left in the third.

The Canes’ defensive front continued to pressure Hooker, with Phillips dropping the quarterback for a six-yard sack. But a personal foul after the play by Bubba Bolden gave the Hokies 15 yards and a fresh set of downs.

Virginia Tech continued to drive into Miami territory, but the Canes made another play behind the line of scrimmage when they needed it. Nesta Jade Silvera dropped Hooker for a loss of one on third-and-6 from the UM 37 and forced a punt by knocking the Hokies out of field goal range.

Miami’s offense could not build off the stop, going three-and-out, but the Hurricanes’ defense forced a three-and-out by Virginia Tech to give the Canes the ball with 9:38 left to play and that is when King led Miami’s offense on the game-winning 10-play, 82-yard scoring drive.

Miami has battled back to win in four consecutive games dating back to its 31-19 victory over Pitt on Oct. 17. Despite being in tight games, the Hurricanes have maintained their composure and found a way to come away with a victory in each of those games and that is a sign of growth that Diaz sees in his team.

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