Hurricanes fall 45-42 on last-second interception, drop to 2-4

Head coach Manny Diaz watches a replay on the video board during the third quarter of Miami’s game versus the University of Virginia at Hard Rock Stadium on Sept. 30, 2021. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

Down by three with seconds left on the clock, freshman quarterback Tyler Van Dyke’s pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage and intercepted to end what could have been an 18-point, come-from-behind Hurricanes victory.

The Miami Hurricanes dropped their fourth game of the season on Saturday to North Carolina, falling 45-42 at Kenan Memorial Stadium in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

The game came down to the wire, with Miami controlling the ball on the last possession.

“We’re an imperfect team,” Miami head coach Manny Diaz said. “There’s a lot of imperfect teams in college football, but the one thing this team has is that it’s got fight.”

While the Hurricanes (2-4, 0-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) only trailed 14-10 in the second quarter, a deeper look into the first half stats showed domination from North Carolina (4-3, 3-3 ACC). The Tar Heels out-gained UM by over 100 yards in the entire half, but the Hurricanes were able to stay in the game by taking advantage of their opposition’s mistakes.

After trailing 7-0, defensive end Jahfari Harvey read an under-thrown screen pass from UNC quarterback Sam Howell and returned the pass 33 yards for a touchdown to tie the game. It was Harvey’s first interception and first score as a Miami Hurricane.

“I saw the bubble screen and just put my hand out, trying to get the ball,” Harvey said. “Then, it was full speed to the end zone.”

UNC piled more points on the Hurricanes later in the quarter. Three penalties (illegal use of hands, offsides and pass interference) for 40 yards pushed Miami’s defense down the field. The drive stalled just outside the red zone after Tar Heels linebacker Tomon Fox’s sack, but freshman kicker Andres Borregales sunk a 44-yard field goal to keep the Canes alive.

Dominating the second quarter, UNC scored 17 of the 24 points posted during the frame. A pair of Van Dyke interceptions benefitted the Tar Heels’ attack, as safety Cam’ron Kelly and Cedric Gray contributed to the next 10 Tar Heel points.

Following Gray’s interception, UNC kicker Grayson Atkins drilled a 48-yard field goal to open up a 14-point cushion at halftime, 31-17.

At the end of the first half, a comeback looked bleak for Diaz and company. UM was out-gained by 195 yards, had one touchdown drive and had averaged only 1.9 yards per carry.

Both coaches made their halftime adjustments, and UM seemed to figure out North Carolina.

Despite an injury to starting running back Cam’Ron Harris on the opening play of the second half, the Hurricanes exploded on the ground for the remainder of their 25-point half.

Freshman running back Jaylan Knighton missed the first four games of the season due to a team-related suspension, and made up for lost time in just one half. Knighton scored a trio of touchdowns, his first coming in the second quarter, but two important plays followed in the second half.

With UM trailing 38-27 in the third quarter, Van Dyke found “Rooster” in the flat and Knighton did the rest, breaking a tackle and running down the sideline for a 60-yard touchdown to bring Miami within four. In just his second game back, Knighton finished the contest as the Hurricanes’ leading rusher with 92 yards on 17 carries and tied for the leading receiver (73 yards on two catches), averaging 5.4 yards per carry.

“Anything I try to do, I stay humble,” Knighton said. “I stepped out today…I ran downhill, make the first man miss, and keep going. That’s my mindset when I get on the field.”

Trailing by four in the fourth quarter, Miami elected to go for it on fourth-and-3 at UNC’s 42-yard line, but was unable to connect, giving the Tar Heels good field position. UNC would cash in, leading an eight-play, 58-yard drive ending with Howell running in an 11-yard touchdown to increase the deficit to 45-34.

After being pinned down at their own 3-yard line, the Hurricanes led their best drive of the game.

A 12-play, 97-yard drive capped off on Knighton’s third touchdown sparked UM back into the battle. With all of the momentum, the Hurricanes’ defense held Carolina to punt, resulting in one last chance to win.

UM’s final hope came down to a third-and-4 play at the UNC 12, and with under fifteen seconds remaining, everyone at Kenan Stadium knew it was the game. Redshirt junior wide receiver Charleston Rambo ran a slant into the middle of the field, but Van Dyke’s intended pass was tipped at the release. As it hung in the air for two seconds, Gray sprung to the ball for his second interception of the game, sealing the Hurricanes’ fate.

“There’s a really good team in that locker room,” Diaz said on his Hurricanes. “We don’t have a good record, and we are what our record says we are.”

UM’s record now stands at 2-4, 0-2 in its first two conference games. With Pittsburgh’s win at Virginia Tech, the Hurricanes remain three games back of the Panthers for first place in the ACC Coastal division.

Up next, UM welcomes Atlantic division opponent North Carolina State to Hard Rock Stadium next Saturday, still looking for their first conference win of the season. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.