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 2008. President George W. Bush is entering the final few months of his presidency. The week of November 1st, 2008 saw Whatever You Like by T.I. top the Billboard Hot 100 list. And The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly was #1 on the New York Times fiction best seller list. Gas was $2.40 a gallon. The top news story was the upcoming Presidential election, which would take place 3 days after this game.
Miami came into the game at 5-3 overall and 2-2 in conference. They had lost games to Florida (who would eventually win the National Championship), North Carolina by 4, and Florida State by 2.
Virginia was also 5-3 but 3-1 in conference. They started the year with an expected blowout loss to USC, then had surprising consecutive road losses to Connecticut and Duke to start the year 1-3. But they’d since won 4 consecutive games, and entered the Miami game having won consecutive games against ranked opponents.
Both teams were on win streaks. For Miami, it was 3 games and for Virginia, it was 4 games.
The big story for the Canes was the QB controversy. Both Robert Marve and Jacory Harris had split time. Early in the year, Marve took a majority of the snaps and played a majority of the downs. But increasingly, Jacory Harris was eating into Marve’s time. Marve was still the starter, but it was now week-to-week to determine who would be the “main” quarterback.
For both teams, the ACC Coastal was there for the taking. The Canes had 2 conference losses, but only one was in division. At this juncture, both teams were in the mix, with Miami still to face Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech (2 of the teams in front of the Canes) and with Virginia only having the one conference loss, both teams virtually controlled their own destiny.
This was actually a big game, and it showed with nerves early in the game. On the opening kickoff, Virginia fumbled but recovered.
The Canes were not as fortunate, as Travis Benjamin let a punt bounce, and the punt hit him for a muff, recovered by Virginia. But Miami held the Cavaliers to a FG, and only trailed 3-0.
Robert Marve got the first drive and delivered. He hit Thearon Collier on his first throw for 43 yards on a diving catch, and after Graig Cooper carried the Canes into the red zone, Marve ran into the end zone on 3rd and 5 from the 6 on a fantastic scramble where he eluded several defenders for the go ahead TD to put Miami up 7-3.
It didn’t take long for Virginia to take the lead again. On the next possession, Virginia ripped off 3 chunk plays in a row: (1) a 33 yard completion, (2) a 16 yard run by Cedric Peerman, and (3) a reverse to Kevin Ogletree to put the Cavaliers up 10-7.
The teams then exchanged 4 punts, but Miami had Matt Bosher, and he was (and still is in the NFL) a weapon. That 4-punt exchange allowed the Canes to start a drive at the Virginia 43. And into the game came Jacory Harris. Harris hit Davon Johson for 18 yards, but the drive stalled a yard short of the 1st down when Jacory Harris hit Kayne Farquharson for 7 yards on 3rd and 8. Bosher did make the 33-yard FG to tie the game at 10.
Once again, Virginia immediately responded behind Ogletree, Peerman, and QB Mark Verica. The 9 play, 80-yard drive ended with Verica throwing a 2-yard TD. The Canes only forced one 3rd down on the drive, which was converted via a pass interference. Virginia would take that 17-10 lead into the half, with Jacory Harris finishing the half.
At the half, Virginia was moving the ball well, and Miami really just had the one drive. Neither Miami QB was playing well, but they did have some success on the ground through Graig Cooper.
Marve started the second half, and threw an interception on the first possession near midfield. The Miami defense was strong, however, and forced a punt after the Cavaliers only gained 4 yards despite taking over at the Canes’ 44-yard line.
The next Miami drive was a disaster. after a completion to move the ball out to the 20, Graig Cooper fumbled and and it was recovered at the Canes’ 33 by Virginia. The back-to-back turnovers should have sunk the Canes. But once again, the defense held strong and forced a 38-yard FG, which Virginia missed.
Miami had escaped 2 turnovers in their own territory, still down only 17-10. Miami’s offense didn’t respond, but Bosher did, uncorking a 58-yard punt that gained the Canes some valuable field position and at least had the Cavaliers starting at their own 30.
After Virginia punted, pinning the Canes inside their own 10 again, Jacory Harris entered the game, and Marve would not play again. But that didn’t solve the Canes problems as a sack after one first down had Miami punting again.
Virginia put another drive together, but this time missed a 48-yard FG at the beginning of the 4th quarter. This time the Canes drove to midfield, but punted again. UVA’s next drive took them to the Canes 27. But Allen Bailey had a huge sack on 3rd-and-2 which pushed Virginia out of FG range. The Cavaliers punt was perfect, and they downed it at the Canes 5-yard line.
At this point, with 8:01 left in the game, Miami was 95 yards from the tying TD. Virginia had 4 drives into Canes’ territory in the 2nd half, and hadn’t scored.
Randy Shannon had no good choices, but his choice, to give the true freshman Harris the ball in the shadow of his goalposts, lead to one of the great forgotten drives in Miami history.
On the first 2 plays of what would eventually be a 15-yard play, 95-yard TD drive, Miami threw incomplete and then lost 2 yards on a run. At 3rd-and-13, and facing the prospect of another punt, Harris hit Sam Shields (still playing WR at this point in his career) for a big conversion at the sticks.
After a false start once again put Miami behind the sticks at 1st-and-15, Harris hit Shields for 6 yards and fullback Patrick Hill for 10 yards to move the Canes to their own 26. There was still time to punt if the drive went wrong, but when Harris hit Davon Johnson for 17 yards on the next play, this drive went from a chance to tie the game to the chance to tie the game.
Consecutive Cooper runs took Miami into Virginia territory at the Virginia 47 before Reggie Youngblood false started to knock Miami back again. But on 2nd-and-14, Harris hit Aldarius Johnson for 18 yards and a 1st down.
But once again, the Canes lost yards on 1st down, this time falling back to 2nd-and-12 on the UVA 35 before before Cooper ran for 14 yards and took the ball to the Virginia 21 with 1:15 left. The Canes called a timeout.
If you thought the Canes were done going the wrong direction, you’d be wrong. Miami false started to go backward to the 26, and then Harris threw consecutive incompletions. Miami called a “planning” timeout with 1:04 on the clock and 3rd-and-15 on the Virginia 26.
Whatever the plan was, it worked. Harris hit Laron Byrd in the corner of the end zone who made a leaping catch while being interfered with to tie the game at 17.
Virginia still had a chance to win in regulation, and drove to the Canes’ 42 yard line, but Sean Spence forced a fumble and miraculously, the Canes now had a chance to win. And Harris immediately hit Travis Benjamin for a huge gain to the Cavaliers’ 38 yard line. After Cooper got the Canes closer. Bosher had a chance to win the game from 51 yards away. But he missed and the game went to OT.
In OT, after one first down, the Canes once again false started and found themselves at 1st-and-15. After Cooper got the Canes to the 9-yard line and a convertible 3rd down, Jacory Harris hit Aldarius Johnson for a TD in the corner of the end zone to put the Canes up 24-17.
On Virginia’s first play, Peerman broke into the clear for 10 yards but Lavon Ponder stripped the ball out, Romeo Davis recovered, and the Canes had miraculously won 24-17.
Full Game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHc9pMHqwJ8
Why is it Memorable?
Honestly, this game is pretty much ho-hum and borderline garbage until there are 9 minutes left in the game. Then it got crazy. Allen Bailey’s sack prevented a FG that would have put the game out of reach. On the full game highlight, you might want to start with the Bailey sack.
What else can be said about the Canes offense, and in particular, Jacory Harris on the last drive and OT?
The Canes earned 1st downs after being at 3rd-and-13, 1st-and-15, 2nd-and-14, 2nd-and-12, 3rd-and-15, and 1st-and-15. You’re not supposed to be able to do that, period, and especially not with a true freshman QB.
So many of the Canes young players stepped up and made plays. There wasn’t really a pecking order, so many players rotated in and made plays. 10 players had catches, with no player having more than 3 catches. The only star on the day offensively was Cooper, who had 24 carries for 131 yards.
This game was also memorable for being a classic ACC affair. The estimable, late, great Mike Hogewood was on the sideline. And who can forget Doc Walker in the booth? The effusive Walker just loves football, and makes those watching his games love it as well. He labeled half the players on each team a “Baller” and even upgraded Graig Cooper to “Primetime Baller.” Walker closed the game by yelling “checkmate!” when the Canes recovered the winning fumble.
To cap off the ACC-ness of this game, Ron Cherry was on the field, reffing the game.
This just felt like a classic ACC game on Raycom Sports…which is something we’ve lost with the ESPN family of networks holding the entire broadcast package at this point.
The Canes won the following week against Virginia Tech at home, and found themselves one win away from their first ACC Coastal title, with a team primarily leaning on freshman.
Miami went to Atlanta and got absolutely destroyed by Georgia Tech. They could not stop the option (the last and only time that would happen until Al Golden broke the Miami defense).
But for this week, after this game, with the youth on the team, and the character they showed, this really felt like the beginning of something special. As the players came off the field, they were celebrating, throwing up the U. And that includes Robert Marve, who was benched in the 4th quarter. This team was growing together and it’s really hard to imagine this would end in so much failure a few years later.
This season would end on a 3-game losing streak, with a loss to NC State after the GT game, and a bowl loss to Cal. Marve was gone at season’s end, transferring to Purdue. This was technically as close as the Canes came to playing in the ACC Championship Game under Randy Shannon. The 2009 was better and more mature. But these 2008 Canes played a game in Atlanta to win the ACC Coastal (an NC State loss would not have mattered had they defeated GT because of tiebreakers).
For Virginia, this game was part of a complete collapse. The Cavaliers never recovered from this loss, and would drop their last 3 games to finish 5-7 and miss a bowl game.
But that drive…we should never forget that drive and that moment when a bunch of young kids, fresh out of high school, disproportionately from South Florida, went 95 yards and restored our hope in this program. That the hope was fleeting, that the dawn was false, does not diminish this moment.