Freshman lead comeback against Cavaliers, win in overtime 24-17

For a young man who has been doing this since high school, this game wasn’t a comeback.

True freshman quarterback Jacory Harris threw two touchdown passes, one to tie the game in the final minute and the other to defeat the Virginia Cavaliers, 24-17, in overtime.

The game was sealed by safety Lovon Ponder stripping the ball from Virginia running back Cedric Peerman and linebacker Romeo Davis recovering the fumble in overtime.

This win gives the Miami Hurricanes (6-3, 3-2) four straight ACC wins and leaves them tied for second in the ACC Coastal Division.

“I just knew I had to go out there and execute for my team,” said Harris, who finished 12 for 21 for 160 yards and scored two touchdowns. “Everybody was behind me. You have to do things to help your team out. As long as I went out there and trusted my O-line, receivers [and] running backs, I knew it would work out somehow, some way.”

Head coach Randy Shannon added about Harris, “He did a tremendous job. He did the same thing when he played Deerfield,” referring to last year’s high school state semifinal game, in which Harris led a 99-yard drive to win the game. “He stays poised and makes plays.”

In overtime, a composed Harris faced a third and five when he threw a perfect 9-yard fade pass to his number one target, wide receiver Aldarius Johnson. On the first play of the Cavaliers’ following drive, Peerman was stripped of the football, ending Virginia’s (5-4, 3-2) chances to win their homecoming game.

“Unbelievable,” Shannon said. “We never quit, kept fighting, trying to press on. Every time we put ourselves in bad situations with penalties, they found a way. It was a tremendous effort by our football team.”

By making enough plays to eventually defeat the Cavaliers, Harris and the Hurricanes proved why the Hurricane nation holds four fingers for the critical final quarter.

Trailing 17-10, Harris orchestrated a 15-play drive for 95 yards, leading to the tying 26-yard acrobatic touchdown pass from Harris to wide receiver LaRon Byrd that capped Miami’s longest drive of the season. Harris went 7 for 10 for 88 yards on the drive.

However, 55 seconds still remained in the game. On the first play, Virginia struck quickly into Miami territory with a 22-yard pass. Two plays later, linebacker Sean Spence ripped away the ball from Virginia quarterback Marc Verica, giving the Canes the ball. The Hurricanes were able to get into field goal range with a 30-yard pass to wide receiver Travis Benjamin, but Matt Bosher shorted the 51-yard field goal, forcing overtime.

The forced fumbles have been something the Hurricanes have been working on.

“All year we’ve been working on the strip drill, every day,” Davis said. “Every day we work on that before practice. It paid off big time.”

Said Shannon, “The first play [of overtime], it was a tremendous strip and recovery. It worked for us.”

The Hurricanes piled up 448 total yards and running back Graig Cooper had career highs with 24 carries for 131 yards.

The Canes held the ACC’s third leading rusher, Peerman, to only 71 yards, with only five yards coming in the second half.

But Miami also had their worst day of the season penalty wise, with 12 infractions called, totaling 81 yards.  Virginia had one penalty for five yards.

“They’d been killing us on the run game, the short passing game underneath,” said Shannon, whose team was down 17-10 at halftime. “We had too many penalties, and it killed us on some big plays.”

Still the Hurricanes were able to escape with a win, become bowl eligible and get a little revenge for last year’s 48-0 blowout at the Orange Bowl finale.

“This program and team is taking that next step,” Shannon said. “You don’t want to bring up the past, but these players understand what we’re trying to get done. Pride played a [factor] in this game. These guys weren’t going to be denied today. It was a total team and coaching staff effort.”