Secondary wins with seconds to play

The University of Miami secondary had been maligned the entire game until the waning seconds of the epic clash.

In a showdown that featured eight lead changes, the Canes were not about to make it nine.

“I can’t even remember the last five seconds,” head coach Randy Shannon said. “[Florida State] didn’t have a chance to call timeouts. They had the one run, had to call a timeout, then that was the last one. When it came down to those last seconds we knew they had to throw it.”

The UM defense rose to the occasion as the Noles had three opportunities to score from the two-yard line with 14 seconds left but were unable to prevail. The garnet and gold at Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium were left speechless.

Even though the Canes gave up 404 total yards, 294 passing yards from Florida State junior quarterback Christian Ponder, the orange and green secondary catapulted the Canes to victory when it mattered most.

“We played like men when it mattered,” said senior safety and captain Randy Phillips, who had six tackles and an interception in his return from tearing his lateral collateral ligament last year. “We didn’t change anything on defense [late in the game]. We just settled down a little bit.”

On first-and-goal with 14 seconds left from the two yard line, Ponder lofted a fade over sophomore cornerback Brandon Harris in the back left corner of the end zone but Harris reacted to swat the ball away.

“That’s what I mean by maturity factor,” Shannon said, referring to Harris’ goal line break up. “He was in the same situation last year [against FSU] and was nervous. They attacked him and he made a great play.”

One second-and-goal with nine seconds remaining, Ponder looked for his receiver but the pressure from sophomore linebacker Sean Spence forced Ponder to overthrow the pass in the back of the end zone. Senior cornerback Sam Shields had hand in face of the intended receiver.

On the final play Ponder rolled right and found receiver sophomore wide receiver Jarmon Fortson open but the off-balance throw was low and hit the turf as time expired.

Harris was awarded ACC Defensive Back of the Week after tallying a career-high nine tackles and deflecting two passes.

“Like they say, defenses win games,” said Graig Cooper who had 232 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. “I’m sure everybody was nervous when they were inside the five, but they pulled it out for us. I’m proud of the defense.”

Despite the fact the Canes were without defensive backs Vaughn Telemaque and Ryan Hill, each out with upper body injuries, they were still able to preserve.

“We had a great goal line stand, which shows you where we’re at last year to now,” Shannon said.  “North Carolina last year, Florida State, games like that when we had chances and didn’t capitalize. That gets the players to understand how important it is that we keep working to get better each week and not rely on what we did in the past.

Lelan LeDoux may be contacted at