The stage was set. The Hurricanes would debut their new “Miami Nights” jerseys, roll past a seemingly inferior opponent and move to 5-0 for the first time since 2017 in front of a raucous home crowd and several blue-chip recruits — including five-star wide receiver Jeremiah Smith.
At least that’s what was supposed to happen.
Instead, No. 17 Miami allowed a last-second touchdown and lost 23-20 to Georgia Tech in its ACC opener on Saturday night at Hard Rock Stadium as 19-point favorites.
The Hurricanes only had to kneel out the clock for the win but elected to run the ball with 33 seconds remaining. Running back Don Chaney, who finished with 103 rushing yards, fumbled and the Yellow Jackets had a chance — and they capitalized.
Quarterback Haynes King hurled a 44-yard pass to wide receiver Christian Leary for the game-winning touchdown with one second left. The four-play, 75-yard drive lasted 26 seconds.
“We should have taken the timeout right there at the end. Thought [Chaney] could get the first down,” head coach Mario Cristobal said. “We talk about two hands on the ball, but that’s not good enough. We should have told him to take a knee.”
Miami had five turnovers in the game, including quarterback Tyler Van Dyke’s three interceptions. Van Dyke, who passed for 288 yards and a touchdown, shouldered much of the blame after the loss.
“From my viewpoint, I can’t put us in those situations. Three interceptions, giving them those close fields, and they were able to capitalize on it,” he said. “I put us in those situations; I have to be better. I can’t force the ball and make dumb decisions. I just got to be better.”
Something was noticeably different about the Hurricanes (4-1) from the start, as they failed to score on their first four drives after averaging 43.8 points per game the first four games.
But Miami’s defense allowed just 14 yards in the first quarter and shut out Georgia Tech in the first half. Linebacker Francisco Mauigoa picked off King midway through the second, and the Hurricanes found the red zone thanks to a 25-yard pass from Van Dyke to wide receiver Jacolby George.
A few plays later, Van Dyke threw his first interception in the end zone and the game remained scoreless. The Yellow Jackets had just elevated Kevin Sherrer to defensive coordinator after their loss to Bowling Green the previous week, but Cristobal insisted the coaching change wasn’t responsible for Miami’s offensive issues.
“Both teams played hard, but we weren’t in sync,” he said. “That was obvious. The defense was playing lights out for the majority of that game, and they gave us great field position, and we ended up kicking field goals and not scoring touchdowns.”
Neither team scored until kicker Andres Borregales drilled a 30-yard field goal as the first half expired to give Miami a 3-0 lead at the break. The Hurricanes scored their first touchdown and went up 10-0 in the third quarter when freshman tight end Riley Williams broke tackles and lunged for the 22-yard score — his first as a Hurricane.
But Georgia Tech (3-3) scored touchdowns on its next two drives while Miami threw two interceptions. The Yellow Jackets added a field goal to take a 17-10 lead in the fourth before the ‘Canes used a five-play drive — highlighted by a 57-yard pass from Van Dyke to wide receiver Colbie Young — that ended with running back Henry Parrish’s three-yard touchdown to tie the game.
On Georgia Tech’s next drive, safety James Williams intercepted King and bolted down the sideline for a 44-yard return. The ‘Canes took a 20-17 lead off a field goal and forced a Yellow Jacket punt on their next possession, but Chaney’s fumble led to the last-second touchdown.
“We just have to keep our heads up,” Mauigoa said. “We just have to move forward. We have to erase this fast, and we have to move on. We can’t be stuck on one game.”
Miami has a week to recover before facing No. 14 North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.