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 2009. President Barack Obama is in the first year of his first term in office. The week of October 31st, 2009 saw I Gotta Feeling by the Black Eyed Peas top the Billboard Hot 100 list, which it had done so since July 11th. And The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown was #1 on the New York Times fiction best seller list. Gas was $2.64 a gallon. The top news story in America was the so-called “Balloon Boy Hoax” where parents claimed their child was in a homemade hot air balloon that had been mistakenly released. After a search found the balloon with no child inside, the parents were found to have fabricated the entire story.
Miami entered the game at 5-2, and 2-2 in conference.
Wake Forest was 4-4, and 2-2 in conference.
The previous week, Miami had essentially thrown away their best chance at an ACC Coastal title, and without a standout powerhouse team in the conference, they had also likely lost a chance at an ACC title. In a classic game that included several Hurricanes mistakes, including playing Sean Spence with a torn ACL while trying to cover CJ Spiller with him and a botched squib kick, the Canes ultimately fell in OT.
The Canes were still officially in the ACC title race (they would be eliminated 2 weeks later with a loss at North Carolina), but they now needed a lot of help. The disappointment of a team that started the season brightly and then threw away a special season on a mistake-filled afternoon was palpable. The Canes started the year with 4 consecutive games against ranked teams, and went 3-1, with the only loss being at Virginia Tech. The Clemson loss was in an easier stretch of games and was a shock to the system.
For Wake Forest, they were coming in on a losing streak, and needed 2 wins for bowl eligibility. They came into this game on a 2-game losing streak, including a disappointing 3-point loss to Navy. They were looking to turn that around here.
We were worried about a Miami hangover from the Clemson game, and boy did we get one.
Or, more succinctly put: Wake Forest was by far the better team on the day.
After a Miami punt, Wake Forest marched down the field going 78 yards, but the Canes held inside the 10-yard line and forced a FG. After another Canes’ punt, Wake Forest went the full distance going 53 yards to take a 10-0 lead with 2:23 left in the 1st quarter. But they weren’t done yet, going 80 yards for their 3rd consecutive score, and now were up 17-0 with 10:21 left in the 1st half.
At this point, in addition to being up 17-0, Wake Forest had outgained Miami 211-87.
To try and change momentum, the Canes went to a no-huddle offense. The change of pace caught Wake Forest off guard, and the Canes went 67 yards in 5 plays to pull within 10. Aldarius Johnson caught the 35-yard TD pass after the Canes went no-huddle and snapped it against a confused Wake Forest defense.
Wake Forest did respond, however. After both teams exchanged punts (the first Miami had forced all day), Wake Forest once again drove, this time for a FG.
The Canes got the ball with 33 seconds at their own 36. A FG seemed like a long shot with the way they’d failed to move the ball, but Jacory Harris hit Thearon Collier for 29 yards, then Graig Cooper rushed for 29 yards before Harris hit Collier again down to the 3-yard line with 8 seconds left. Miami still had a timeout, and therefore the luxury to attempt a run, which they did and which Damien Berry scored on with 3 seconds left to cut the lead to 6 at the half.
Wake Forest had thoroughly dominated the game, but Miami’s quick strike ability had kept them in the game. Ultimately, those themes of Wake Forest minimizing points and Miami’s ability to score quick would decide the game.
The second half looked like it would follow the first half when Wake Forest immediately strung together a drive, taking the ball inside the Canes 35-yard line. But, on an 11-yard completion, Sam Shields stripped the ball and Vaughn Telemaque recovered, keeping the deficit at 6.
After 3 consecutive punts (2 by Miami, 1 by Wake Forest), the Demon Deacons got the offense going again. Wake Forest went 82 yards in 9 plays, capped off by a 44-yard TD pass to go up 27-14.
When Harris followed that up with an interception, this game felt over. But Miami’s defense held without giving up yardage for one of the few times on the day, and Miami continued to hang in the game. After more punts, Wake Forest received the ball near the start of the 4th quarter and promptly drove to the Canes 27-yard line. But they missed the FG, and miraculously, the lead was still only 13.
After yet another Miami punt (the offense was going nowhere), the Canes were bailed out by a muffed punt. The ball bounced inside the Wake Forest 5-yard line where Sam Shields recovered. One play later, Harris hit Tervaris Johnson in the back of the end zone to cut the lead to 27-21.
The total yardage in the 2nd half at that point was Miami 24, Wake Forest 186…and yet the score for the 2nd half was 7-7.
The Demon Deacons went on the march again, hoping to restore a 2-possession game. But after crossing midfield, Riley Skinner threw a pass into coverage which was batted in the air and intercepted by DeMarcus Van Dyke.
With just under 9 minutes left, and the ball in decent field position starting at their own 36-yard line, now was the time for Miami to seize the game. They promptly gained a solitary yard on 3 plays and punted. Wake Forest put together a decent drive, eating clock and moving out of deep in their territory. A holding penalty killed the drive at midfield, but a solid punt put Miami at their own 18 with 2:36 left and only one timeout.
Miami had to go the end zone on this drive, or it was game over. Jacory Harris fired 2 incompletions, then hit Collier for 29 yards on a beautiful corner route. On the next play Harris was sacked, and then threw 2 more incompletions. It was 4th and 16 at their own 41, but the Canes had to go for it anyway with only 1:32 left. Harris stood in the pocket, taking a hit as he lofted the ball to Aldarius Johnson, who made a leaping catch for 29 yards at the Wake Forest 30. The stunned Demon Deacons struggled to lineup as Harris hit Travis Benjamin on consecutive plays for 17 and 13 yards, the latter of which resulted in Benjamin making a sliding catch in the front corner of the end zone to score the go ahead TD and put Miami up 28-27 with 1:08 left.
With backup QB Ryan McManus having replaced Riley Skinner (who left with a concussion on the previous drive), Wake Forest tried to get the ball into FG range. Wake Forest did move the ball, but was fighting the clock. When McManus scrambled to the Canes 43-yard line, then fired an incompletion on the following play, Wake Forest had 4 seconds left. Rather than try the Hail Mary, they opted for a 60-yard FG, which was nowhere close.
The Canes had escaped, 28-27.
Why is it Memorable?
It’s hard to imagine a less deserving win. Miami stole this game. We’re actually used to be on the wrong side of one-sided games, where the Canes gain a ton of yards but can’t finish drives. This was the opposite.
Wake Forest outgained Miami 555-356. They had ample opportunities to put this game away.
Yet the Canes made a handful of plays that ultimately finished drives and won them this game. The names contributing to this win…Jacory Harris, Travis Benjamin, Aldarius Johnson, Graig Cooper, Thearon Collier, Damien Berry…they bring back memories of hope and what could have been. On the day, Miami ran 21 times for 26 yards, Jacory Harris was sacked 6 times, and yet they persevered.
Perhaps, the most shocking stat is the combined time of possession on Miami’s 4 TD drives was a total of 3 minutes and 55 seconds. And they literally did nothing the rest of the game. They had multiple drives that gained negative yards. Meanwhile, Wake Forest had multiple 40+ yard drives that yielded no points.
Jacory Harris did throw for 330 yards, but it was really a handful of drives where those yards came. We also should not forget Aldarius Johnson, who ended up never playing another down for Miami in the aftermath of the Nevin Shapiro scandal. He was fantastic in this game, and his leaping catch on 4th and 16 by itself makes this game memorable.
In the end, Miami converted multiple 3rd and 4th and longs, had 14 of their 28 points come via 2-minute drills at the end of halves, another 7 on a 2-yard drive off a muffed punt, and the final 7 come via a no-huddle attack…and Wake Forest basically dominated everything else and lost.
The Canes didn’t deserve to win, but did.
Miami blew the 2019 season. There’s no other way to put it. They somehow navigated this start to the schedule:
Still can't believe Al Golden complained about playing at FAU when Randy Shannon once started the season like pic.twitter.com/E7cQQn7NYA
— Vishnu Parasuraman (@vrp2003) March 29, 2020
In position to win the ACC Coastal and probably the conference, and then imploded against Clemson. In a game in which the Canes’ outgained Clemson, they gave it away with 4 turnovers, a botched squib kickoff, and a busted coverage…and found themselves in overtime. In OT, Miami drove inside the Clemson 5, couldn’t punch it in and kicked a FG. They then somehow gave up a 26-yard TD pass on 2nd-and-11 when it looked like they might force a long FG. That really blew the season.
In the aftermath of that, this Wake Forest game became a footnote, but likely balanced out the record since Miami did not deserve to win this game. The real question is, had they held on against Clemson, do they then win this Wake Forest game more easily, do they win at North Carolina later in the year, do they win the ACC Coastal and the ACC? We’ll never know.
In hindsight, the 2009 Clemson game was the one that told the story of the Randy Shannon Era. He brought in talent, got it to the precipice, and blew it at inopportune times. The Wake Forest game was a reminder of the heart of those teams, and their ability to make plays.
This team ended up being the best of the Randy Shannon Era, losing the Champs Sports Bowl to Wisconsin. But on paper, and the way they played much of the year, they were the ACC’s best team. It’s unfortunate that the results didn’t show it.
For Wake Forest, they were midway through a 5-game losing streak that ultimately saw them miss a bowl game at 5-7. In addition to this loss, they had two 3-point losses, and 2 overtime losses. So all told, 6 of their 7 losses came by a FG or less, with 2 in OT. This was likely not even Wake Forest’s most heartbreaking loss of the year.