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 2004. President George W. Bush had been re-elected to a second term 11 days prior. The week of November 13th, 2004 saw My Boo by Usher and Alicia Keys top the Billboard Hot 100 list for the 3rd week in a row. And Metro Girl by Janet Evanovich was #1 on the New York Times fiction best seller list. Gas was $1.96 a gallon. In addition to the recently concluded election, the Middle East topped the headlines, as the War in Iraq saw insurgents capture Mosul, while in an unrelated Mideast matter, Iran was working on a deal over their nuclear arms program (some things stay the same).
This was a Top 20 matchup.
The Canes were 6-2, with 2 conference losses.
Virginia came into this game at 7-1.
The Canes were reeling coming off consecutive losses. Having peaked at #4 in the polls, the Canes had lost consecutive games to North Carolina by 3 on a last-second FG and to Clemson by 7 in overtime. They had fallen to #18 in the AP Poll.
Virginia had only one loss, to Florida State.
But the Seminoles had already lost twice. With Virginia Tech leading the ACC, but also having a loss, and with both teams still having to play Virginia Tech, the winner of this game controlled their own destiny in the ACC.
This was the last year before the ACC switched to divisions, so whoever finished on top of the regular season standings won the conference. This was also Miami’s first year in the ACC.
The best word to describe this game is intense. Miami actually never trailed, and yet the entire game felt like it was on razor’s edge.
Miami had 2 long drives in the 1st quarter. The first resulted in a missed FG, but the second lead to a Frank Gore TD.
Virginia answered immediately with a TD to tie the game. Roscoe Parrish (much more from him later) returned a punt 45 yards to set up another Canes TD.
The Canes took the 14-7 lead into the half, but one of the themes of the day began to present itself as the Canes drove to the UVA 27, but went for it on 4th down and got stuffed. That, coupled with the earlier missed FG, meant the Canes had left at least 6 points on the field.
The second half saw both teams exchange punts before UVA tied the game late in the 3rd quarter with a 3-play, 67 yard drive capped off by Alvin Pearman’s 34-yard TD run.
Miami answered with a 43-yard FG (a similar distance to the FG that the Canes neglected to kick earlier) to take a 17-14 lead into the 4th quarter. After forcing a punt, the Canes had an opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the Cavaliers, but Larry Coker chose to punt from the UVA 34-yard line. Miami’s John Peattie was a reliable kicker, and the overall decisions to pass on FGs, as well as an uncharacteristic miss, saw the Canes up by 3 instead of 9.
On the next UVA punt, Roscoe Parrish once again got loose, breaking a few tackles, and this time took the return all the way to the house, putting the Canes up 24-14 with 7:38 left. On the next play, Brandon Meriweather picked off a pass and that sealed the game, except it didn’t.
Instead, the Canes lost 4 yards on 3rd and 1 at the UVA 41 and punted. Then UVA scored a TD in 4 plays and 79 yards in less than a minute to cut the lead to 3. All of a sudden, it was game on with 3:22 left.
Frank Gore had been the Canes’ offense on the day carrying 28 times for 195 yards and a TD. But with UVA stacking the box, he netted 5 yards on 2 plays. Brock Berlin, who was having an efficient, conservative game, was called on. His play-action completion to Talib Humphrey not only got the first down, but picked up 34 yards after Humphrey ran through several tackles. The Canes picked up 6 yards on 3 plays, getting down to the UVA 25 with 58 seconds left and the Cavaliers out of timeouts.
Miami had the option of kicking the FG, throwing underneath to ice the game, or…going for broke and throwing it to the end zone.
At first, Coker sent out the FG team, but was waiting to take a timeout with 1 second on the play clock. He did so, but Peattie took and missed the FG anyway. The play didn’t count because of the timeout, but perhaps that convinced Coker to go for it, because he, and his team went for it all.
On a play action pass, Parrish showed up again, making a twisting 25-yard TD reception, which this time finally ended the game, with the Canes winning 31-21.
Why is it Memorable?
This was the first time since 1999 that the Canes were out of the National Championship picture, so there is certainly that element. The game had an odd feeling.
Miami’s 2 big time players carried them. Frank Gore, playing with a bad ankle, carried 28 times for 195 yards and a TD, and also had a reception for 4 yards, which means 29 touches and 199 yards…while injured. It’s hilarious to look back on this game and hear the commentators talk about how Gore’s 2 ACL injuries have slowed him down. They were almost nostalgic about what could have been. 16 years later, Gore is still playing and is a lock for the NFL Hall Of Fame. And you know what? He actually COULD have been better. Gore is ridiculous.
And if this series of articles is about anything, it’s about greatness forgotten, and Roscoe Parrish fits that bill. Roscoe is an all-timer at Miami, but he lived in Devin Hester’s shadow as a returner, and was a little too diminutive to be a true NFL superstar, which is often how Miami’s players are measured. Yet this game showed just how great Roscoe was. Parrish had 4 yards rushing, 50 yards receiving, and 121 yards in returns for a total of 175 yards.
This game was also a throwback to when the Canes used to know how to effectively use the FB. Talib Humphrey had 3 critical receptions for 49 yards, including a huge late 4th quarter 3rd down conversion and a TD reception.
But this was also just a great college football game, and a reminder of why we love the sport. Packed house, perfect football weather. Both teams kept trading blows, the momentum swung wildly back and forth, and eventually, the Canes landed the knockout blow.
As color commentator Tim Brandt exclaimed toward the end of the 3rd quarter, “What a football game!”
Oh, what could have been.
For the Canes, this was their best chance to win the ACC. The Canes jumped up to #9 in the polls, and subsequently crushed Wake Forest setting up a de facto ACC title game at home against Virginia Tech.
But Miami lost that game 16-10, and with it, the ACC. With the ACC switching to divisions and 2004 being a transition year, this was the last time there was not a conference championship game.
At the time, the assumption was Miami would be a regular participant in that game, but it would be 13 years until the Canes made that expected appearance, and in the 15 years since the 2004 VT loss, they’ve been unable to win the conference. A home win against Virginia Tech could have ended that narrative before it started, and if it had, this 2004 Virginia game in particular would be pointed at as the game that propelled them.
The Canes would recover to beat Florida in the Peach Bowl, and finish the year ranked 11th, but in hindsight, the ACC was there for the taking.
For Virginia, the season crated a bit from here. They did recover to win against Georgia Tech in Atlanta, but lost badly to Virginia Tech and then lost in overtime to Fresno State in the MPC Computers Bowl. A footnote to this game is that both of Virginia’s coordinators would go on to be head coaches, and fail miserably.
Ron Prince went to Kansas State, where he was fired after 3 years. He’s currently the head coach at Howard. And Virginia’s Defensive Coordinator is a major contributing factor to both the Canes’ 13-year ACC Title Game drought and overall inability to win the ACC. Suffice it to say that those are 5 years of our program we’re never getting back.
Probably the most ridiculous oddity surrounding this game is that the Canes head coaches from 2001-2015 were all coaching in this game with Larry Coker (Miami HC), Randy Shannon (Miami DC), and Al Golden (Virginia DC) all participating.