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At halftime, it appeared as if the Miami Hurricanes would get blown out by the Florida State Seminoles in one of college football’s greatest rivalries.
That is, until something sparked the Canes in the second half.
Facing a 24-3 deficit, the Hurricanes managed to cut the Seminole lead to two at 34-32, but a 20-yard touchdown run by Florida State’s Antone Smith with 3:57 left to play dashed Miami’s hopes.
Smith finished with a career-high four rushing touchdowns as the Noles beat the Canes, 41-39.
“It was a tough loss tonight,” head coach Randy Shannon said. “It was a great game. We are stressing the point to finish and never quit. We never quit tonight.”
FSU (4-1, 1-1) controlled the clock for nearly 40 minutes and kept the Hurricane offense off the field while racking up 440 total yards – 281 of which came from the ground game. The Canes (2-3, 0-2) mustered only 126 total yards, yet still had an opportunity to win.
“It’s tough and it hurts, back-to-back losses,” said quarterback Robert Marve, who finished 17-for-40 for 122 yards and two interceptions. “It hurts because it’s against Florida State. We gave it everything we’ve got. We just came up short.”
Down 21 at the half, Miami’s offense gained just 52 yards as the defense allowed 272. Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder rushed for over 100 yards in the first half alone.
However, on the first defensive play of the third quarter, the Noles fumbled and true freshman receiver Travis Benjamin took a 19-yard end around for his first touchdown on the next play.
After a Seminole muffed punt led to a safety, offensive coordinator Patrick Nix dialed up a trick play, which saw running back Graig Cooper throw a 51-yard touchdown pass to Benjamin to make the score 31-22.
Benjamin, who also returned kickoffs and punts, earned 274 all-purpose yards.
“He is the type of player you want to get the ball into his hands,” Marve said.
True freshman Sean Spence finished with a team-high 10 total tackles and recorded his first interception and touchdown in his first start in the absence of linebacker Colin McCarthy.
Spence’s 7-yard interception return was the first for Miami since Sean Taylor’s visit to the end zone in 2003 and came at a critical time for the Hurricanes.
Marve had just thrown his second pick with the Canes trailing 34-22.
“Anytime I get the ball I’m trying to score,” Spence said. “Right now we are trying to stay positive. We had the chance to win.”
On the following possession, FSU botched another punt, which gave the Hurricanes possession at the Seminole four-yard line.
In what would turn out to be a shift in momentum, Miami failed to score a touchdown and settled for a field goal.
The Noles answered right back with Smith’s touchdown to seal the victory and revenge in a rain-soaked affair after last year’s loss in Tallahassee.
“This was one of the best Florida State-Miami games that I don’t want to see again,” Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden said.
Although the Hurricanes marched down the field in the final minutes with offensive lineman Jason Fox’s 5-yard touchdown with 14 seconds remaining, the Canes were unable to recover the onside kick.
“We’ve got to work on starting fast and finishing fast,” defensive lineman Adewale Ojomo said. “Anybody can start fast, but it takes a real man to finish.”
Shannon and his staff must go to the drawing board to get Miami back on track after consecutive home ACC losses and in time for next Saturday’s visit from Central Florida (2-3).
“We’ve got a long ways to go,” Shannon said. “We’re going to coach these guys hard, get them back to where we need to be at this program, getting them understanding what it takes to win.”