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 1991. President George H.W. Bush is in the 3rd year of his presidency. The week of November 23rd, 1991 saw When a Man Loves a Woman by Michael Bolton top the Billboard Hot 100 list. And Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley was #1 on the New York Times fiction best seller list. Gas was $1.11 a gallon. The top news story was Magic Johnson’s HIV diagnosis. Freddie Mercury would pass away from AIDS the day after this game and announced he had AIDS on this day.
Miami came into the game at 10-0 overall and ranked #1 in the country.
Boston College was 4-6. This was their last game of the season.
This game was about Miami. The Canes were the number one team in the country, and coming in off a thrilling 17-16 win over a Florida State, a game known as “Wide Right I.” Miami had San Diego State at home the following week, then the Orange Bowl between them and a 4th National Championship.
Boston College was in their first year under head coach Tom Coughlin. They had struggled record-wise, but out of their 6 losses, 4 were to ranked teams.
Miami was favored by 20-25 points depending on the bookmaker, and was expected to blow threw Boston College.
The game started as expected. Michael Barrow intercepted the ball on BC’s first possession, and a few plays later, Gino Torretta hit Coleman Bell in the back of the end zone for a TD. The Canes failed to convert the Extra Point, when the snap was fumbled and Carlos Huerta picked it up and tried to do a drop kick. The lead was 6-0.
BC immediately responded. The Eagles converted a critical 3rd-and-9 on their own half of the field (which came after a 2nd-and-19 after a holding penalty) to get deep into Canes’ territory. After a few runs, BC QB Glenn Foley hit TE Mark Chmura for the go-ahead TD as BC took the lead 7-6.
The Canes came right back, this time for a FG and took the lead back at 9-7.
After several punts were exchanged, BC drove to the Canes’ 1 yard line, but fumbled on a pitch that the Canes recovered. 2 drives later, the Canes would extend their lead. Martin Patton was the big hitter for the Canes, in place of Stephen McGuire, who had been injured earlier in the game. Patton had big runs and receptions to help lead the Canes inside the BC 20. On 1st-and-goal from the 2, Patton finished the drive with a TD.
The half ended with a Ryan McNeil interception on a Hail Mary and the Canes took a 9-point lead into the half, tracking to cover the spread.
The second half saw both teams struggle offensively. BC had one decent drive into Miami territory, but couldn’t cash it in. Miami returned the favor getting stuffed on 3rd-and-1 just across midfield and had to punt.
Finally, BC put together a drive late in the 3rd quarter. On 2nd-and-17 from the Canes 20, BC QB Glenn Foley evaded a rusher and threw across his body to the corner of the end zone for a diving TD that cut the lead to 16-14.
At the start of the 4th quarter, the Canes had the ball near midfield after gaining only 4 yards in the 3rd quarter. Going for it on 4th and inches. Patton looked to be stopped short, but his second and third efforts earned the first down. On 2nd-and-10, on the edge of FG range, Gino Torretta eluded multiple rushers, spun out of a tackle, and flipped to Patton for a huge gain inside the BC 20…but it was wiped out by a penalty so the Canes had to punt, which they did for a touchback.
After another BC punt, the Canes took the ball into BC territory with Patton and Kevin Williams making key plays. The Canes’ drive stalled at the BC 21, but Carlos Huerta hit the FG to put the Canes up 19-14 with 5:22 left.
The Canes D forced a 3-and-out and the offense tried to run the clock out and ice the game. A huge run by Patton was wiped out by a holding penalty. On 3rd and long, Torretta hit Lamar Thomas for a 1st down, as Thomas tiptoed on the sideline past the marker, at the Canes 45. But the officials completely blew the spot and marked him a yard short (there was no replay). Dennis Erickson made a gutsy (possibly crazy) decision to go for it. Not converting would have given BC an opportunity to score the winning TD on a short field. But Larry Jones did convert. The Canes then converted another 1st down and with a running clock, and 1:40 left, the game appeared over with the Canes inside the BC 40.
But inexplicably, the Canes threw on 2nd down, which stopped the clock. On 3rd and long, the Canes had the perfect play call. They threw a screen pass to Patton, which Torretta timed perfectly, but as Patton cut back for the first down, he fumbled. BC recovered and with 1:20 left, they were somehow still in the game.
Foley immediately hit Chmura to the BC 45 with about a minute left. On 3rd and long, Foley rolled out and threw another strike to the Canes 25-yard line. Here, Michael Barrow and Kevin Patrick combined for the play of the game. With BC out of timeouts, Barrow flushed Foley, and Patrick sacked him at the BC 40. The clock wound down, and BC was only able to snap it with 9 seconds left, when BC false started. In modern football, this would result in a 10-second runoff and the game ending. But BC was able to line up and snap it after the ball was reset. They snapped it with 2 seconds left, and threw an unsuccessful Hail Mary.
The Canes won 19-14 to survive.
Full Game (no huddle): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGuOktEvkZM
Why is it Memorable?
How is it not? This Miami played 3 one-possession games in 1991. One is the Penn State game, another is Wide Right I, and the 3rd is this.
It’s eerie how similar this game is to the much more famous 2001 BC game that ended with the iconic Mike Rumph to Matt Walters to Ed Reed TD. Both games involve Miami not playing well, but seemingly doing enough to just stay ahead. Both involve the Canes hanging onto a 5-point lead late in the game. Both involve the Canes offense, which had struggled most of the game, putting together a methodical drive that seemed destined to end the game with a victory. Instead, it was the backup RB, in the game because of an injury, who fumbled at a critical time to breathe new life into BC. The Eagles then moved into scoring range with plenty of time to spare, only for the Canes’ D to step up with one last, big play and end the game.
Martin Patton is a forgotten name when Canes’ RBs are discussed, but this win, and with it a National Championship, don’t happen without him.
We also must remember how recent the “Hail Flutie” miracle was at this point. And as the Hail Mary floated towards the end zone, all of the Canes Family watched in horror with fear of a repeat.
The context of this game informs its stature as hidden. The week before was Wide Right I. After it, the Canes would demolish San Diego State and then easily win the Orange Bowl. Because there were no other competitive games after this, and because the stature of the Florida State game is so big, the narrative after the fact has been that the title was won in Tallahassee.
But this game also paved the way for the Canes to win the National Championship, and should really be remembered more fondly.
Let’s dispense with BC first. This game was actually seen as a turning point for the BC program. Coughlin would turn them into a winner starting in the next season, and would obviously go on to great success in the NFL.
For the Canes, this was the last test in a National Championship season. For whatever reason, this National Championship is probably the most overlooked for Miami. Perhaps because it was book-ended by two famous bowl seasons, the infamous Texas Cotton Bowl and losing the 1992 National Championship to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Perhaps because it was a split title with Washington.
The 2001 team is considered the greatest team in College Football history. But the 1991 team is not far off. They rolled through almost all competition. They had only 3 games decided by one possession, with this game being one of them.
The 1991 team also featured a Heisman Trophy QB (he would win it the following year), NFL players all over the team, and the best LB corps in college football history. No one was going into the Orange Bowl and beating this team, so this was truly the last test, and one they passed.
Miami would drill Nebraska in the bowl game to win a share of the National Championship. The only disappointment was that they did not get a chance to play Washington and claim sole ownership of the title. The next year, the Canes would go undefeated again before losing the bowl game to Alabama.
This 1991 Championship is the last the Canes would win for a decade, making this win even more important in hindsight.