Moments after Cedric Peerman fumbled the ball away for the first time in his career Saturday on the last play of Miami's 24-17 overtime win against Virginia, coaches and players from both teams moved to console him.
U.Va. left tackle Eugene Monroe put his arm around Peerman's shoulder. Miami linebacker Sean Spence patted the back of Peerman's helmet and offered a few words. U.Va. running-backs coach Anthony Poindexter hugged him. It was as if they all realized the rarity of what they'd just witnessed — a Peerman fumble.
"You can count on two fingers the number of turnovers (Peerman has) had," said U.Va. coach Al Groh, whose team watched a four-game winning streak vanish. "Cedric has had our backs for many weeks, and we have his back tonight."
Miami (6-3 overall, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) scored on a floating 26-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Jacory Harris to fullback Laron Byrd to tie the game with 55 seconds left in regulation. After Harris found wide receiver Aldarius Johnson on a 9-yard touchdown pass to put Miami ahead 24-17 in overtime, U.Va.'s hopes ended when Peerman was stripped at Miami's 18 by safety Lovon Ponder and linebacker Romeo Davis recovered the ball on the Cavaliers' first play of overtime.
It was the first lost fumble in 444 career touches for Peerman, who didn't speak with media after the game. He had only fumbled twice before Saturday's game, but hadn't lost either of them. He had gained 100 rushing yards or more in three of U.Va.'s last four games entering Saturday, but he finished with 15 carries for 78 yards against Miami.
With the loss, U.Va. (5-4, 3-2) fell out of first place in the ACC's Coastal Division. The Cavaliers are in a tie in the division loss column with four other teams that also have two conference losses.
U.Va., which had 318 yards and scored all 17 of its points in the first half, drove into Miami territory with less than 10 minutes left in the game while holding a 17-10 lead. On third-and-2 from Miami's 27-yard line, quarterback Marc Verica dropped back on a quick play-action play. Instead of throwing the ball away when he was pressured by defensive end Allen Bailey, Verica took a sack and a 12-yard loss that knocked U.Va. out of field-goal range.
"It's a terrible feeling," said Verica, who was 27-for-41 passing for 240 yards and a touchdown. "I'm going to work as hard as I can to not have this feeling again. It's disappointing, but that's what happens when you fail to take control of the game."
After Jimmy Howell punted to Miami's 5, the Hurricanes took over with 8:01 left. Harris hit receiver Sam Shields for a 13-yard gain on third-and-13 from Miami's 2 to get the Hurricanes in gear.
The Hurricanes were only 4 of 14 on third down conversions, but three of the conversions came in the final seven minutes and overtime. Miami finished the game with 448 yards, including running back Graig Cooper's 131 yards on 24 carries.
Harris, who replaced starting quarterback Robert Marve for the rest of the game midway through the third quarter, proceeded to complete 7 of 10 passes for 88 yards on its final scoring drive in regulation. On third-and-15 from U.Va.'s 26, Harris avoided pressure from linebacker Clint Sintim long enough to loft a high-arching pass to the end zone.
Byrd shook free from safety Byron Glaspy and cornerback Vic Hall and somehow made the catch for a touchdown to tie the game 17-17. A defensive pass-interference penalty on the play was declined.
"I can't get nervous because if I get nervous it's like a compulsion," said Harris, who finished 12 of 21 passing for 160 yards and two touchdowns. "Our offensive line, receivers and running backs; they see that (nervousness). If they look into your eyes and see that you're scared, then they're going to be scared themselves."
U.Va. had just 78 yards rushing in the game, including minus-3 in the second half. Peerman had just five carries for 12 yards in the second half behind an offensive line that struggled to open running room. Despite U.Va.'s troubles with the ground game, Verica's mobility almost put the Cavaliers in a position to win in regulation.
Verica scrambled for a 10-yard gain to get U.Va. down to Miami's 32 with 31 seconds left, but Spence stripped the ball loose from behind Verica and cornerback Bruce Johnson recovered it.
It took Miami five plays to get into the end zone in overtime. Johnson broke loose from Hall's coverage and caught the game-winning touchdown on third-and-5 in the left front corner of the end zone. The loss broke U.Va.'s two-game winning streak in overtime games.
"We've been on the other end of that type of deal before," Groh said. "It's heartbreaking to our team. There (were) real raw emotions in the locker room. (The players were) in a real emotional state."
MIAMI 24, VIRGINIA 17, OTMiami
First Quarter UVa—FG Reyering 23, 11:44. Mia—Marve 6 run (Bosher kick), 6:51. UVa—Ogletree 16 run (Reyering kick), 4:21.
Second Quarter Mia—FG Bosher 33, 9:23. UVa—Green 2 pass from Verica (Reyering kick), 5:04.
Fourth Quarter Mia—L.Byrd 26 pass from J.Harris (Bosher kick), :55.
Overtime Mia—A.Johnson 9 pass from J.Harris (Bosher kick). A—53,308.
MiaUVaFirst downs2218Rushes-yards40-19724-78Passing251240Comp-Att-Int18-33-127-41-0Return Yards1117Punts-Avg.6-43.77-42.7Fumbles-Lost3-23-2Penalties-Yards12-811-5Time of Possession32:1027:50INDIVIDUAL STATISTICSRUSHING—Miami, Cooper 24-131, James 9-55, Marve 3-16, McNeal 1-1, J.Harris 3-(minus 6). Virginia, Peerman 15-78, Ogletree 2-9, Team 1-(minus 2), Verica 2-(minus 2), Simpson 4-(minus 5).
PASSING—Miami, J.Harris 12-21-0-160, Marve 6-12-1-91. Virginia, Verica 27-41-0-240.
RECEIVING—Miami, Collier 3-64, Shields 3-32, D.Johnson 2-35, A.Johnson 2-27, Farquharson 2-12, Cooper 2-7, Benjamin 1-30, L.Byrd 1-26, P.Hill 1-10, James 1-8. Virginia, J.Phillips 7-36, Ogletree 5-71, Covington 4-54, Koch 4-41, Green 3-25, Peerman 3-12, Simpson 1-1.
Next game WHO: Virginia (5-4, 3-2 ACC) at Wake Forest (5-3, 3-2).WHEN: Noon or 3:30 Saturday.