This is part of a series on Canes football games that have been lost to history. Information on the series including other articles is available here.
The year is 1999. President Bill Clinton is in the penultimate year of his presidency. The week of October 23rd, 1999 saw Smooth by Santana featuring Rob Thomas top the Billboard Hot 100 list. And Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling was #1 on the New York Times fiction best seller list. Gas was $1.24 a gallon. The big news story were the failure of a campaign finance reform bill in the Senate and that the National Debt was being reduced as the government ran a surplus.
Miami entered the game at 2-3, but was still ranked #23 in the country.
Boston College entered the game at 5-1, but unranked with their one loss coming at Temple.
The Canes had started the season really well, winning the Kickoff Classic against Ohio State 23-12. Ohio State was ranked 9th at the time, but it turns out they actually weren’t that good, finishing 6-6 and missing a bowl game. But the win still propelled the Canes into Top 10, rising to 8th in the polls before hosting #2 Penn State (it turns out Penn State wasn’t as good as thought by season’s end, where they finished 4th in the Big 10. They were good, but not National Title contender good). The Canes trailed by 2 TDs against the Nittany Lions, but a furious rally saw them take the lead 23-20, and put them in position to ice the game. On 4th-and-2, deep in Nittany Lions territory, the Canes went for it (got a bad spot) and came up just short. On the next play, Penn State threw the winning TD to win the game 27-23.
The next week, the Canes built a 23-3 second half lead at East Carolina (who was not even playing in their home stadium due to flooding and damage from Hurricane Floyd). Miami blew that lead and lost 27-23 for the second week in a row.
After a bye, the Canes headed to Tallahassee and played a great game, but FSU was the best team in the country and Miami just couldn’t overcome them, for a 3rd consecutive loss.
The following week’s game against Temple was delayed to the end of the season because of Hurricane Irene so the Canes had 2 weeks off before heading to Boston, having lost 3 in a row, but given that 2 of those losses were to two of the better teams in the country, they managed to stay ranked.
There were still questions swirling about Butch Davis’ overall competence.
For Boston College, an otherwise promising start to the season was ruined by a shock loss to an awful Temple team (who ended up finishing the year 2-9).
Miami was favored to turn things around, starting in this game.
This was a game that turned on a dime. For the first 40 minutes, Boston College dominated and the Canes continuously shot themselves in the foot.
After a Canes punt, the Eagles immediately drove inside the Canes 25, leaning on a ground game that would dominate all day. When the drive stalled at the Canes 22, the Canes jumped offside on the FG attempt, giving BC a 1st down. They’d take advantage when Tim Hasselbeck threw a TD pass from 17 yards out.
Miami crossed midfield on the next drive, but it stalled and the punt was downed inside the Eagles 19. But BC immediately started marching again. Cedric Washington, who finished the game with 183 of the Eagles’ 237 rushing yards, was instrumental in the drive. The Canes finally forced a 44-yd FG when BC drove inside the Canes’ 30, but once again, it was a penalty that kept the drive alive. Miami roughed the kicker and BC took advantage when William Green dove into the end zone 3 plays later to put BC up 14-0 with 2:11 left in the 1st quarter.
Miami’s offense failed to respond, punting again. The quarter ended with the Canes’ defense finally stepping up, forcing a 3rd-and-19. 2 plays into the 2nd quarter, BC punted for the first time. The Canes punted, again, and the field position favored BC, as they started in Canes’ territory. It wasn’t long before the Eagles were in the end zone again. On 2nd-and-goal from the 7, the Eagles just ran right up the middle with Carlton Rowe going into the end zone almost untouched. 21-0 BC with 12:05 left in the 2nd quarter.
The Canes had flatly not shown up for this game, but there was a lot of time left. Both teams exchanged punts, but then the Canes finally mounted a drive behind Bubba Franks and freshman Clinton Portis. Unfortunately, at 3rd-and-2 from the BC 35, Kenny Kelly was sacked and the Canes had to punt, once again. The Canes shanked the punt, and lost all the field position from that drive. Miami’s defense had grown into the game, and did force another punt as they’d started to find their sea legs.
The next drive short-circuited when, of all things, Santana Moss dropped consecutive passes. Nothing was going Miami’s way. The Eagles did get a decent drive going, but Miami stuffed BC and on 4th-and-13 from the Canes 35, they chose to punt and pin the Canes deep, which effectively ended the half.
Miami had a complete meltdown for the entire half, trailing 21-0. Cedric Washington had 15 carries for 137 yards in the 1st half. It was an awful performance that did nothing to dispel the worries about Davis’ coaching. In addition to the team not showing up, BC’s Tom O’Brien was running circles around the Canes’ coaching staff. Miami had twice made penalties on FG attempts, gifting BC TDs. Legendary South Florida broadcaster Frank Forte justifiably lamented that he was running out of ways to describe how horrid the Canes’ performance was late in the 1st half.
The Canes D had hung in at the end of the half, and to start the 2nd half, they immediately came out and forced a 3-and-out. The Canes did drive across midfield, and once again, Miami failed to hit a quality punt. Freddie Capshaw punted it out of bounds at the BC 31, gaining only 17 yards.
On the next play, Canes’ legend Ed Reed, a sophomore at the time, made one of his signature huge plays, intercepting the ball across midfield, and returning it to the BC 35…except one of the great players in football history got stripped from behind and BC recovered, essentially where the play had started from, turning the play into a very exciting do-over. And BC took advantage, moving the ball down the field. Cedric Washington did much of the heavy lifting, and become the 3rd different Eagle to score a rushing TD to put BC up 28-0 with 6:18 left in the 3rd quarter.
Forte correctly chastised the complete lack of performance: “I’m almost at a loss for words….and I don’t know that there’s a good way to explain it.”
Then it all turned, out of nowhere.
James Jackson started rolling, moving the chains after 2 runs. Kelly then hit Santana Moss before Jackson picked up another 1st down. The Canes ended up with 4th-and-1 at the BC 25, and on a bootleg, Kelly scrambled for 14 yards down to the BC 12. 2 plays later, Kelly hit Will McPartland on a screen pass for a TD that cut the lead to 21 with just 2:11 left in the 3rd quarter.
Miami’s defense came up with a big stop, and the Canes were set to receive the ball to start the 4th quarter, with BC lining up to punt.
Shockingly, the comeback did not continue here. BC immediately forced another punt. And then they put a drive together, working the clock, moving into Miami territory. The Canes defense finally held, but with only 12 minutes left and BC on the Canes 17-yard line, a FG to put BC up 31-7 would basically end the game.
And then BC missed the FG, wide left, and with 11:29 left the Canes were still down 28-7.
I distinctly remember my brother saying to no one in particular, “we’re going to come back and win now.”
He was right. The Canes exploded.
Going no-huddle, Kelly hit Bubba Franks on consecutive plays to the Canes’ 47. Next, Andre King got involved, making a big catch. Miami, out of sync all day, was in a rhythm. After a scramble, Kelly hit James Jackson on a screen pass, and Jackson took it 32 yards for the TD that cut the lead to 14 with 10:07 left.
On the next kickoff, James Lewis obliterated the returner inside the 20-yard line. On the next play, BC fumbled and William Joseph rumbled to the BC 6 setting up the Canes. One play later, James Jackson went around the right end for a TD that made it 28-21, with still 9:45 left.
In the course of less than 2 minutes, the game went from potentially BC up 24, to BC up 7.
BC went back to the ground game, trying to run the clock out. But Miami got the stop after one 1st down and took over at their own 24. There was now all of a sudden, plenty of time to score the one TD necessary.
And James Jackson started the drive with a big run for 20 yards, followed by another Bubba Franks reception, James Jackson exploded on 3rd-and-2, going down to the BC 28. The Canes ended up with 2nd-and-3 on the BC 10, but Jackson got stuffed for once. On 3rd-and-2, Kelly made a play fake, avoided a free rusher, got outside, and threw a strike to Bubba Franks for the TD that remarkably tied the game at 28 with still 3:51 left.
BC suddenly had to score. And they took a shot deep on 3rd down, which Al Blades made a great play breaking up, preventing the Eagles from getting into FG range and forcing a punt
Miami started what would be the final drive at their own 43. The Canes still had 3 minutes and 2 TOs left. James Jackson was called on and gained 7 yards on 1st down to go over 100 yards…in the 2nd half. On the next play, Kenny Kelly was sacked and came up limping as the Canes were forced to use a timeout.
It’s hard to imagine given the trajectory of both careers, but the sight of backup QB Ken Dorsey stretching at this point to potentially come into the game was scary. Kelly attempted to gut the game out. And he delivered. Limping badly, he somehow avoided a free rusher and threw a strike to Santana Moss down to the BC 40-yard line. James Jackson once again got going, and ran to the BC 28.
In FG range, with Kenny Kelly barely able to walk, the Canes let the clock run down. Jackson inched the Canes forward 4 yards, as the clock was an ally. On the next play, disaster. The Canes made holding and pushed themselves out of FG range with under a minute left. Miami went for a draw to dry and pull some yards back and return to field goal range, but BC was ready and the play only gained a yard. Miami ran the whole clock down, and with 14 seconds left, Kelly threw incomplete on 3rd-and-17.
The Canes had the option of attempting the long FG, going for it, or even punting.
Butch Davis called timeout and decided to go for it. Without any timeouts, Kelly hobbled on a rollout and threw a strike to Reggie Wayne who dragged both feet inbound on the sideline for a 23-yard gain before falling out of bounds. Andy Crosland immediately came out and hit a perfect FG right between the uprights from 30 yards out with 3 seconds left to put Miami up.
BC tried to lateral on the kickoff, but got nowhere and the Canes won 31-28.
Full Game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IT2fEKkOFY0
Why is it Memorable?
The hell was this?
Butch Davis was derogatorily referred to as “Botch” by Miami fans for much of the 90s, and it was performances like what the Canes put on for a majority of this game that made everyone justifiably think he’d never elevate the program.
There is so much to unpack here.
First, a lot of the players that would 2 years later be dominating everyone and winning championships legitimately struggling to find their sea legs is a story line. It’s still great to see them in their infancy.
But this game is also about the “stolen championship” Canes. The tragedy of the 2000 BCS snafu was not just that the Canes were screwed out of the championship. For us fans, while it still hurts, as does 2002, we at least won the 2001 title. For players like Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne, James Jackson, Dan Morgan, Al Blades, Damione Lewis, Andre King, Leonard Myers (RIP)…their title was stolen. This performance was character building. It led to eventually this mostly same collection of players being the best team in the country the following year. While we consider the 2000 class as champions, and justifiably, they didn’t get that opportunity. By forgetting games like this, we lose sight of how we got to see a team and players struggle and grow.
And what about Kenny Kelly? This was the only season he would be the starter, and he would be injured later in the year, eventually losing the job to Dorsey (although Kelly did start the Gator Bowl). He made play after play in this game, even after being hobbled. It was gutty.
Of course, in a sense, any 28-point comeback is memorable. But the context here is so key.
If the Canes lose this game, they go to 2-4 on a 4-game losing streak. There was no way they were not losing to Virginia Tech later in the year, so that’s at least 5 losses. Does Butch Davis even survive 5 losses with 2 being to East Carolina and Boston College, especially if this game had ended 28-0?
Everyone justifiably points to the 98 UCLA game as a turning point, and it was. After losing to Syracuse by 53 points, they turned around and won that game, knocking UCLA out of the championship game and reinvigorating the program.
But if the UCLA game was huge 3rd down conversion to kickstart a memorable drive, this game was where the Canes fumbled at midfield and miraculously recovered.
After going 9-3 in 1998 with the big UCLA win, it would be really hard to justify Butch Davis going 7-5 the following year. Really hard.
But that justification was unnecessary, thanks to this huge comeback where the Canes scored 31 points in the last 17 minutes of the game to win by 3.
First, let’s dispense with BC. They were a good team that finished well from here, finishing 3rd in the Big East behind Miami and VT. They were solid and continued to be for several years.
For Miami, the season went well from here. The Canes would get obliterated in Blacksburg in a game where Kenny Kelly was injured, and replaced by Ken Dorsey. But Dorsey got valuable experience from there, starting 3 consecutive wins to end the season, and featuring heavily in the Canes Gator Bowl win over 17th ranked Georgia Tech. Despite the 4 losses, the Canes finished the year ranked 15th, having won 7 of 8, and were viewed as a national championship contender for the following year.
We all know where it went from there, wins piled on top of wins, what should have been a 3-peat robbed down to the solitary title, and a team that is widely considered the best ever.
But, this comeback changed everything. This game actually was the first game in a streak of games where Miami would go 50-2* starting on this date of October 23, 1999 and ending in Blacksburg, VA on November 1, 2003. Over that 4-year period, the Canes would lose twice, legitimately, and this was the start of the streak.
A game of great importance, a true turning point, the start of an absurd 4-year run….yet oddly forgotten. The perfect game to hold the top spot in our Recollected Dozen.
*Around these parts, BS pass interference calls after the game is already over are not acknowledged.