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 is in the final year of his first term as president. The week of September 29th, 2012 saw Goodies by Ciara featuring Petey Pablo top the Billboard Hot 100 list. And The Dark Tower by Stephen King was #1 on the New York Times fiction best seller list. Gas was $2.04 a gallon. The big news story was the recent concluded final presidential debate between Bush and John Kerry. The first debate was held on the campus of the University of Miami.
Miami entered the game at 4-0 and was ranked #3 in the country.
Louisville entered the game 4-0 and was ranked #17 in the country.
Miami had beaten FSU in OT to start the season and had rolled since then. There was very little doubt that this was a national title contender (that presumption turned out to be wrong as the season unfolded). The Canes, fresh off a “disappointing” Orange Bowl winning season that fell short of a National Championship, were looking to make amends. This was also the Canes first year in the ACC.
Louisville was in Conference USA, a conference that they were way too good for. No one was sure how good Louisville was, but this was the opportunity for them to test themselves. In the BCS Era, for Louisville, winning this game would allow them to attend a major bowl game.
The Canes were heavy favorites for this Thursday night clash in the Orange Bowl.
The game started as expected. The Canes forced a 3-and-out, with Louisville losing 15 yards. After a poor punt, the Canes drove inside the Louisville 5. But perhaps the first time there was an indication that this would not be a walk in the park came when the Canes were stuffed on 4th-and-1 and turned i t over on downs.
The Canes forced another punt, and this time cashed on on field position, with Greg Olsen catching a TD to put the Canes up 7-0.
On the next possession, Miami forced a 3rd-and-10, and then Louisville’s offense turned on like a light switch. They completed a pass of 14 yards to convert the 1st down, then followed that with plays of 10, 25, 24, and 1 yard for the TD to tie the game.
Miami then threw an interception, which allowed Louisville to hit a FG and take a 10-7 lead on the first play of the 2nd quarter.
After a 3-and-out, Louisville immediately marched 76 yards on 9 plays, including converting a 3rd-and-9 and a 3rd-and-7 for the TD that put Louisville up 17-7.
Keep in mind that there was very little confidence in the Canes’ offense, so a 10-point lead felt substantial. We knew this was a game.
And after a few punts, Louisville pushed the lead out further. The Cardinals once again converted multiple 3rd downs, including a 3rd-and-9 and a 3rd-and-3 for the TD that put Louisville up 24-7.
Heading into the half, Louisville was dominating. In addition to converting several 3rd downs, the Cardinals had outgained Miami 249-103. After the Canes TD to go up 7-0, their next 5 drives were -5, 3, 5, 18, and -1 yards.
The game did not feel over, but the Canes did look a bit helpless.
Devin Hester returned the opening kickoff of the 2nd half for a TD, igniting the crowd, bringing Miami back into the game…except it was called back on a penalty. But the Canes still built off of it. Berlin hit Roscoe Parrish for a critical conversion on 3rd-and-14. Then Quadtrine Hill took over, carrying on 4 of the next 6 plays to take the Canes inside the Louisville 15. Berlin hit Parrish for the TD on the next play to cut the lead to 24-14.
New half, new Miami. Louisville would surely crumble from here…except they did the opposite. After a holding penalty backed up the Cardinals into 3rd-and-19, they threw underneath for 10 yards. On 4th-and-9, the Cardinals faked a punt, and Lionel Gates ran for 39 yards. The Canes defense once again stepped up, forcing Louisville into a 3rd-and-12…but again couldn’t make the critical play. Stefan LeFors hit Tiger Jones for 22 yards and a TD that pushed the lead back out to 17.
But the Canes offense was now in rhythm, and responded back with another TD drive, this time on the strength of Berlin hitting Akieem Jolla twice, first for a critical 3rd down conversion and again for the TD to cut the lead to 10.
Now the Canes D stepped up, forcing a punt. Miami’s offense went 82 yards, but stalled inside the 5. Unlike earlier, where they went for it inside the 5, this time the Canes decided to kick the FG and cut the lead to a one-possession game at 31-24 at the start of the 4th quarter.
Then, it seemed like Louisville would finally crumble. LeFors fumbled on the next possession, and the Canes took over at the Louisville 22. LeFors was also injured on the play and Brian Brohm, a true freshman, would play out the rest of the game. But Louisville would not crumble, instead, forcing the Canes to 3rd-and-2, and stuffing Frank Gore for a 1-yard loss. Larry Coker decided to kick the FG, and the Canes were down 31-27.
Louisville converted one first down, but a penalty stymied them and they punted from the 37.
That punt lead to one of the iconic plays in Miami Hurricanes’ history, as Devin Hester took the punt back right past the Louisville coverage team, faked the punter out, and went to the end zone to put Miami up 34-31 with 8:11 left. Mike Tirico’s call of the return is perfect.
With the stadium rocking, the loss inevitable, and a backup QB in the game, certainly Louisville would finally go away. Instead they marched right back at the Canes, going 80 yards in 9 plays, scoring the TD with 4:35 left that put them up 38-34.
Hester, once again, was determinative. He returned the kickoff to the Miami 44, setting up a shorter field. After Berlin scrambled for 11 yards and threw 2 incompletions, the Canes converted a 3rd-and-10 by Lance Leggett making a catch for 26 yards. After the Canes ended up in 4th-and-4 at the 8, Berlin hit Darnell Jenkins for 5 yards, just getting the first down.
Tyrone Moss gained 2 yards and Frank Gore scored the TD with 53 seconds left to put the Canes up for good at 41-38.
Louisville was able to move the ball some, including getting out to midfield after gaining 18 yards on on 4th-and-4. But they ran out of times and downs, and with 5 seconds left, the Hail Mary came up short and Antrel Rolle intercepted to seal the game.
There was a minor kerfuffle as Louisville slammed Rolle down and there was some jawing, but Miami gratefully escaped with a win.
Full Game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mL7bUo_pNoY
Why is it Memorable?
So many reasons. But I think we could argue this game is memorable, so I almost disqualified it from this series. Certainly the Hester punt return is.
But I don’t know that we remember this game as we should. For one, this game is as memorable for the losers as much as the winners. Most comebacks involve the losing team imploding, making mistakes. Louisville did the opposite.
The Canes kept coming, and the Cardinals kept responding. When Hester delivered what seemed like the knockout blow, Louisville retook the lead.
Coming into this game, the Canes hadn’t even allowed a passing TD. Mike Tirico talked in the opener about how the Canes were targeting shutouts…and Louisville put up 38.
This game was distinct from a comeback like the UF 33-10 comeback in 2003 in that UF built that lead on the back of Canes’ errors, and once Miami got rolling, it was obvious that the Canes were superior. In this game, it felt like if Louisville had more time, they would have scored again. This game could have gone back-and-forth forever.
And what else can we say about Brock Berlin. His uncanny ability not just to lead comebacks, but to have the entire team believe in his ability to do so is something that has been lacking since. This game always felt alive because Brock Berlin was always able to win games.
Last but not least, this was the last great game in the Orange Bowl. In 2007, the Canes beat Texas A&M in a night game, but that was nothing like this. We didn’t know at the time that the Orange Bowl would be gone in 3 years. But when we look back at great nights in the OB, this was really the last one.
And Tirico added to the moment from start-to-finish. When the Canes came out of the tunnel, he opined about how it lacked luxury boxes but had so much more than that. And, as Hester took the punt into the end zone and ESPN prepared to break for commercial, Tirico’s off the cuff remark that “he takes it to the house, and what a house it is” captured the spirit of what the OB was.
Tirico, one of the transcendent voices of college football, didn’t know he was sending off the Old Girl, but he gave it a fitting tribute.
This was actually a changeover for the Canes. Coming into this game, the narrative was that the Canes offense, and in particular Brock Berlin, were the problem and that the defense was one of the best in the country.
That changed with this game. This ended up being the only year that Randy Shannon did not have a Top 10 defense as Defensive Coordinator, and Brock Berlin ended up as one of the more respected QBs the Canes have had this century.
The Canes would stay undefeated for another week, beating NC State 45-31, but it was obvious that the defense was not up to standard. That cost the Canes the next game, in a 31-28 loss to UNC.
Miami ended up not winning the conference for the first time since 1999, but did recover to beat Florida in the Peach Bowl.
For Louisville, this game cost them a shot at a BCS bowl. They absolutely crushed everyone else they played, and then beat Boise State in the Liberty Bowl. But this loss prevented them from going to a better bowl game than that.