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 2012. President Barack Obama is in the final year of his first term in office. The week of September 22nd, 2012 saw We Are Never Getting Back Together by Taylor Swift top the Billboard Hot 100 list for the 3rd week in a row. And Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James was #1 on the New York Times fiction best seller list. Gas was $3.83 a gallon. In addition to the ongoing US Presidential Election, the top news story was worldwide attacks on several US Embassies, with the most notable being in Benghazi, Libya, where 4 Americans were killed.
The Canes entered this game at 2-1, with the loss being a 39-point blowout at Kansas State.
Georgia Tech was 2-1, having lost an overtime game to Virginia Tech.
For the Canes, the story was Al Golden. The Nevin Shapiro scandal was the new normal, but even with that context, the previous season’s disappointing record did have one silver lining…all 6 losses were one possession games. The thinking was that with marginal improvement, the Canes could turn those losses into wins.
That narrative collapsed in the second game of the season when the Kansas State Wildcats demolished Miami. The gap between Miami and a decent team (which is what Kansas State was at the time) was startling.
In hindsight, all the signs of Golden’s demise were present, but at this juncture, it was still a situation where most fans were trying to balance the scandal with the play on the field and figure out what represented the true quality of an Al Golden team.
This game is absolutely crazy.
For Miami, this game was about Stephen Morris, Mike James, and Phillip Dorsett.
Morris got going early, and threw a 65-yard TD pass to Dorsett on the game’s 3rd play. The Canes would then drive for a FG, which was set up by another 40-yard completion to Dorsett.
And this is where Georgia Tech had a mental breakdown. On the kickoff, the GT kick returner broke the plain with the ball and knelt it, resulting in a safety and putting the Canes up 12-0. With the short field (the Canes started at the GT 48 yard line), Miami drove for Mike James’ first TD of the game to put the Canes up 19-0, literally on the last play of the 1st quarter. That drive also featured the injury that would short-circuit Malcolm Lewis’ career.
On the subsequent kickoff, once again, the Canes stuffed GT, this time inside their 10-yard line. Up by 19 on an option team, the Canes appeared to be in control. But D’Onofrio happens.
In a stunning 2nd quarter explosion, The Yellow Jackets started to methodically destroy the Miami defense. The Canes caught a seeming reprieve when offsetting penalties wiped out an 80-yard run. But it didn’t matter as GT capped off a 91-yard drive with a TD.
The Canes offense appeared to get back in gear on the next drive, but Dorsett fumbled at the end of another long catch (this one for 32-yards) and GT immediately had the ball back. They went 57 yards in 6 plays to cut the lead to 5 at 19-14.
Next it was time for Miami special teams to fail. On the next possession, Miami punted and it was returned 56 yards to the Canes’ 23. The defense shut down GT’s option, and put the Yellow Jackets in 3rd and 11…where they promptly gave up a 17-yard completion to a team that could not pass. But they weren’t done giving up long 3rd down plays. 3 plays later, on 3rd and goal from the 10, the Canes allowed the GT QB to run, Tevin Washington, to walk into the end zone, almost untouched. To rub salt in the wound, GT went for 2 and completed a pass on it, to go ahead 22-19.
The rest of the half featured Stephen Morris forcing a deep ball into coverage for an INT, and the half essentially running out from there. Miami won the first quarter 19-0, but somehow lost the 2nd half 22-0 and was down 22-19 at the half.
If you expected an inspired halftime reaction, adjustments to stop the offense that everyone knew GT would be running, or even a competitive response coming out of the half, you would be disappointed. It took only 4 plays for GT to go 65 yards and go up 29-19.
The Canes did finally put a solid drive together, but had to punt from midfield. Once again, the Canes did a poor job in punt coverage, and GT returned it to their own 40. On the next play, they completed another long pass, this one for 58 yards, and were in the end zone one play later.
From 12 minutes left in the 2nd quarter to 10 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, the Yellow Jackets scored 36 points in a row, and took a commanding 36-19 lead.
But the Canes did not sink. They embarked on a long, methodical drive that went 74 yards on 17 plays, culminating in a FG that cut the lead to 14 points and at least stopped the 36 point streak.
Miami’s defense also finally settled in, and forced a GT punt. 82 yards from the end zone, the Canes went on another long drive, this time all the way to the end zone, with Mike James picking up the TD, and cutting the lead to a one TD game at 36-29.
It seemed like Miami was back in the game, and immediately forcing another punt put the Canes in great shape to tie the game. Starting from their own 8, the Canes once again put together a long drive, going 88 yards in 10 plays. But they couldn’t punch it in despite having 1st and goal at the 3-yard line. And then Jake Wieclaw missed a 22-yard FG.
That should have been game over. One gut punch too many. And when GT was able to run 8 plays before punting, and drop the ball inside the Canes’ 10-yard line again, Miami found themselves 91 yards from the tying TD with only 2 minutes left.
Stephen Morris promptly completed 4 consecutive passes to Davon Johnson, totaling 50 yards and taking Miami to the GT 41. From there, Morris hit Duke Johnson for 25 yards. Two Yellow Jacket penalties took the Canes to the GT 10-yard line with 27 seconds left. Mike James scored his 3rd TD of the game on a middle screen pass from Morris and miraculously, the Canes had tied the game at 36 and sent it into OT.
On the first possession of OT, GT drove inside the Canes 5-yard line. On 2nd and 5 they got 2 yards, then another yard on 3rd down, setting up 4th and an inch at the 1. GT trusted their option attack…and shouldn’t have. Eddie Johnson destroyed GT QB Tevin Washington and stopped him just short of the 1st down.
Miami just needed a FG, but Mike James ended the festivities on the 2nd play of the Canes’ possession, going 24 yards for the game clinching TD, his 4th of the game. The Canes won 42-36.
First Half: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMTktztcA8A&t=2s
Second Half: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCeMf1wMMYg
Why is it Memorable?
Where to start? First, I linked the half highlights above because it a “no huddle” cut, meaning you get through both videos in roughly an hour and fifteen minutes. I encourage anyone with some spare time to do that.
This game featured huge performances from Stephen Morris and Phillip Dorsett, who totaled 436 and 184 yards, respectively. Mike James scored 4 TDs (3 rushing, 1 receiving). Duke Johnson also had an impact on the ground and through the air.
Davon Johnson came out of nowhere to step up. He had 107 yards receiving, but 50 came on 4 consecutive plays on the last drive of regulation.
And time and again, both teams look like they were down and out, and then came back. Eddie Johnson had the highlight reel hit in OT to stop GT, but in regulation, on GT’s last true possession, Anthony Chickillo made 2 consecutive, huge tackles to hold GT short of the 1st down or they would have run the clock out without Miami having the opportunity to drive for the tying TD.
On the negative, yet uplifting side, this game will also be remembered for the horrific injury that Malcolm Lewis sustained, and Al Golden’s compassion in that moment. That moment was Golden’s finest as the Miami Head Coach.
In the end, this was a game that saw the Canes score the first 19 points, GT come back and run off 36 points in a row, and then the Canes digging deep to score the last 23 and win OT. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a game that streaky and one in which a team lost despite scoring 36 points in a row. But that is what happened on this day.
Neither team was good, and this would show up repeatedly. The Canes would run their record to 4-1 before imploding with 3 straight losses, tacking on a heartbreaking loss at Virginia late in the year, and finishing 7-5.
This was the “transition” year in the Al Golden tenure. One in which the Canes took their final bowl ban, and entered the offseason for the last time not knowing what their sanctions would be. It was also the year that Golden transitioned from close losses to blowout losses. In addition to the aforementioned Kansas State blowout, the Canes lost badly to Notre Dame and Florida State.
For Georgia Tech, they would recover to “win” the ACC Coastal, but ultimately finish 7-7, losing the ACC Championship game to Florida State.
Miami, North Carolina, and Georgia Tech ended up in a 3-way tie atop the ACC Coastal. North Carolina had the tiebreaker, but received a postseason ban from the NCAA. This made it a 2-way tie between Georgia Tech and Miami, and this 42-36 OT classic could have conceivably sent the Canes into a rematch with FSU and their first ACC title game. Ultimately, Miami opted (correctly) to self-impose a postseason ban. At 7-5, getting slaughtered by FSU for a 2nd time and then losing a bowl game didn’t seem wise when they could sacrifice those games for less restrictions later (this worked as the Canes received a slap on the wrist less than a year later).
So, Georgia Tech was the last team standing for not being banned from postseason play, and ended up making it to Charlotte. 2 years later, Georgia Tech would win the ACC Coastal again, this time with a much better team. They lost a nailbiter to FSU there, 37-35, but recovered to blowout Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl, which was the best season of Paul Johnson’s tenure.
For Miami fans, this was probably Al Golden’s second best season, and perhaps the one that most filled the fans with a false sense of optimism. Performances like this were a mirage that made everyone feel good about wins, but were ultimately huge warning signs of an impending implosion, particularly on defense.