MIAMI -- The recent series between Miami and Florida Stat has been filled with memorable plays and even more memorable games. It has been, with few exceptions, a game that lived up to the hype.
It was also a game that the Hurricanes usually won.
Things didn't change much yesterday at the Orange Bowl. In a game that went from a clunker during the third quarter to another classic down the stretch, second-ranked Miami continued its mastery over third-ranked Florida State with a come-from-behind 19-16 victory.
A 33-yard touchdown pass from Gino Torretta to Lamar Thomas with a little less than seven minutes to go, a botched punt return by Corey Sawyer that turned into a Miami safety with a little less than three minutes left, and a 39-yard field-goal attempt by Dan Mowrey that went far to the right with three seconds remaining enabled the Hurricanes to keep several streaks going.
Aside from beating their intrastate rival for the seventh time in the past eight years -- thus making it difficult, if not impossible for Florida State (4-1) to win the national championship -- the Hurricanes (4-0) extended the nation's longest Division I-A winning streak to 22 games and their home-field domination to 48 games.
"I really don't know what to say, but you saw a football game out there where both teams played their rear ends off," said Miami coach Dennis Erickson, whose team survived a last-second kick for the second week in a row. "We have guys in our locker room who can hardly walk. Coach Bowden got the same kind of effort from his guys, but it boiled down to the same play as last year, and we came out on top again."
After Florida State took over at its 19-yard line with 95 seconds and one timeout remaining, junior quarterback Charlie Ward marched the Seminoles to the Miami 22. With eight seconds left, it was left up to Mowrey. His kick sailed wide right, the same direction as Gerry Thomas' 34-yard potential game winner did last year in Tallahassee.
"Wide right again," said Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who seemed less upset yesterday than he did a year ago. "It comes down to one play, same as last year. Miami was one play better than us last year, and they were one play better than us today."
In retrospect, the Hurricanes might have been one play smarter than the Seminoles. That play involved Sawyer, a sophomore defensive back and punt returner. After fielding a punt at his team's 2-yard line, Sawyer was carried into the end zone by his momentum. He could have downed it, with the ball coming out to the 20.
Instead, Sawyer tried to run it out. After getting grabbed in the end zone, Sawyer tried to pitch the ball ahead to teammate Derrick Brooks. After first ruling the play a touchdown, the all-Atlantic Coast Conference officiating crew called it an illegal forward pass and ruled it a safety.
"I think Corey Sawyer was trying to make something happen," said Bowden, defending a player whose 50-yard punt return had set up a field goal earlier in the game. "We didn't want the ball on our 2- or 5-yard line. We needed a big play. I was yelling at him to make something happen."
Said Sawyer: "I just wanted to make something happen. I lost my concentration. I didn't know the rule [about downing the ball]. I just made a bad decision."
A game that ended with big plays started with one, too. But after Tamarick Vanover ran back the opening kickoff 94 yards for a Florida State touchdown, the ensuing 52 minutes turned into what many had expected: a defensive tug-of-war. There were more botched plays that big plays.
In fact, at one point early in the fourth quarter, there were two blocked field-goal tries (one by each team), two missed field-goal attempts, three interceptions (two against Ward, one against Torretta) and three fumbles (two by the Seminoles, one by the Hurricanes).
"It was going to come down to which team made the least mistakes and which team made the plays when they needed to," said Miami linebacker Micheal Barrow.
The biggest plays were made by Torretta, who at one point was 0-for-11 on third-down passes. After overthrowing some receivers, under-throwing others and having several passes dropped, Torretta converted on two straight third-down plays before the touchdown.
The first was a 14-yard scramble on third-and-12 to the Florida State 46. The second was an 8-yard completion to tight end Coleman Bell on third-and-five to the Seminoles' 33. Then came the touchdown pass, which came with four receivers on the field.
"I just laid it up there for him [Thomas] to run under," said Torretta, who finished 20 of 48 for 252 yards, with one interception and two touchdowns. "After I threw it, I got the wind knocked out of me. I didn't know what happened. When I heard the cheering, I knew we had scored, but I couldn't get up."
After Sawyer's botched punt turned into a safety, the crowd of 77,338 at the Orange Bowl began to celebrate. But after Miami's subsequent possession was quickly stopped, and Ward began weaving his magic, the party stopped. When Mowrey stepped up to try to tie the game, the Hurricanes held their collective breath.
"I would have taken the tie," said Bowden, standing against the back wall of his team's dressing room.
Said Ward, "Good teams find a way to win."
As usual, Miami found a way to beat Florida State.