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No. 9 Miami Earns Comeback Win at Virginia Tech

by David Villavicencio

BLACKSBURG, Va. – Winning is never easy and earning victories on the road is even more difficult, but No. 9 Miami found a way on Saturday at Virginia Tech.

Despite a top-10 ranking, the Hurricanes (7-1, 6-1 ACC) entered Lane Stadium as an underdog against the unranked Hokies (4-4, 4-3 ACC). With 13 players unavailable, including multiple starters, Miami had to battle back from a double-digit deficit to come away victorious in Blacksburg, 25-24.

“Some of things that we encountered this week and some of the things that we had to overcome this week just to get here, just to play, and the attitude that our guys kept and the way that they wanted to go play, I’m so proud of them."

Manny Diaz

“What an effort. The resilience of this team week in and week out is special and it’s not shown for the three and a half hours on gameday,” head coach Manny Diaz said. “Some of things that we encountered this week and some of the things that we had to overcome this week just to get here, just to play, and the attitude that our guys kept and the way that they wanted to go play, I’m so proud of them. Week in and week out, with all of the adversity that they have to face, they find a way to make it. They play for each other so hard.

“Obviously, we had to grind it out,” Diaz added. “Offensively, we struggled to protect D’Eriq [King] today, but you know, it’s like what we found out last week, defensively, sometimes you are not going to have your ‘A’ game and you have got to find different ways to win games. It’s what we’ve been talking about all year; that is what we are learning how to do and we did it. We made the plays in the fourth quarter when we felt like we would. We’ve been strong in the fourth quarter all year and we felt like that would be telling and sure enough it was. I’m very proud, very proud to be 7-1. All of the credit goes to the players and they’ve earned it. They’ve earned what they’ve got, every bit of it.”

Down five with 9:38 left to play, Miami marched 82 yards to the end zone to take its first lead of the game. Quarterback D’Eriq King found Mark Pope for a 36-yard touchdown that put Miami ahead, 25-24. The Hurricanes went for two, but King’s pass to Donald Chaney Jr. fell incomplete and Miami would hold a one-point advantage with 5:59 left to play.

“It actually felt great putting the team on my back for a moment like that,” Pope said. “[Mike] Harley did it the last time, so I wasn’t really shocked by that. I just saw everybody blitzing, King looked at me, gave me a signal and made it happen.”

Te’Cory Couch, who had several big plays for the Hurricanes in Blackburg, made his biggest of the day on the first play of the Hokies’ ensuing drive. The sophomore cornerback secured his first career interception, picking off quarterback Hendon Hooker to give Miami the back on its own 35.

“Te’Cory has done a great job on the nickel blitz, but the play he made in coverage, that was straight man coverage and they were throwing a post and so many guys almost make that play,” Diaz said. “They lay out and they almost have it but the ball kind of squirts out and hits the ground. To make that play at that moment in the game, that is competitive greatness. I think what is happening is that he is getting comfortable being in the game and having a large role and starting to make those plays. The play he made on punt coverage, sprinting down the field 55 yards and whacking the dude down there just shows his effort and the want that Te’Cory has. I’m really proud of his development and his role will only increase because of it. He’s playing as good as anybody that we have in the back end right now.”

The Canes could not capitalize off the turnover, but Miami punter Lou Hedley booted a booming kick 52 yards that was downed on the VT 9 with 5:48 remaining in the game.

Jaelan Phillips, who had 2.5 sacks and four tackles for loss, continued his dominance for Miami when he sacked Hooker for a five-yard loss on first and 10 from the VT 28. Two plays later, Hooker slipped as Miami’s pass rush closed in on him and the seven-yard loss forced another Virginia Tech punt.

“First of all, I got to give all the credit to Hendon Hooker. I think he’s a great quarterback,” Phillips said. “I think Virginia Tech is a very dynamic team. We came into the game, game-planning, expecting him to run the ball and for them to get active like that. In the first half, had a couple mistakes. I know I had a couple mistakes. But then just honing in, really just sticking to the game plan and just kind of taking a deep breath and relaxing and playing Canes football like we know how.”

King and the Hurricanes started their next possession near midfield at the UM 43 with 2:13 left to play, but Miami ran off just 28 seconds before Hedley kicked another 52-yard punt that was downed on the VT 3. The redshirt junior had six punts of over 50 yards Saturday afternoon.

“D’Eriq is a great leader. He leads the pack,” receiver Dee Wiggins said. “Coming into the fourth quarter, he is always focused. He doesn’t change. You always face adversity in a game and he stays focused during every quarter.”

D’Eriq King: Heisman Candidate

With the Hokies moving toward midfield, Miami striker Gilbert Frierson came up with a big seven-yard sack of Hooker with under 30 seconds left to play. VT’s final play was unsuccessful, as the multi-lateral effort ended with Hooker tackled by Phillips at the VT 38 and Miami closed out its third ACC road win.

After winning the toss and deferring their choice to the second half, Miami saw its defense step up in a big way on VT’s opening drive. Phillips set the tone with a tackle for loss and the Canes forced a three-and-out by the Hokies.

Miami’s offense got off to a fast start, racing to the VT 30 after just eight plays. The Canes sent out kicker Jose Borregales for what looked like a 57-yard field goal, but the Hurricanes ran a fake and Borregales was stopped two yards shy of the line to gain and Miami turned the ball over on downs.

The Canes forced another punt, with Phillips making some more noise behind the line of scrimmage. The redshirt junior dropped Hooker for a seven-yard sack on third-and-2 from the VT 43 that led to another punt by Oscar Bradburn to close out the six-play drive.

Virginia Tech’s offense finally broke through on its third drive of the game. A pass interference penalty by Al Blades brought the Hokies near midfield and Hooker took the next snap 53 yards for a rushing touchdown that put VT ahead, 7-0, with 6:01 remaining in the opening quarter.

“Virginia Tech played very well today. Their quarterback is a problem,” Diaz said. “Obviously, they played a lot better on defense and they really got after us up front, which we thought they would. This was going to be their big response game after a loss, which Coach [Justin] Fuente has done an amazing job his entire career here at Virginia Tech. That was two good teams. Virginia Tech is a really good team that had to deal with some real bad adversity early in the year, with the pandemic going through their defense. There is a reason why they were picked where they were picked. We expected great effort from them and we got it.”

Miami’s offense charged p into Hokies territory on its ensuing possession reaching the VT 18. But King was sacked on third-and-10 for a seven-yard loss and the Canes settled for a 42-yard Borregales field goal to get on the scoreboard, 7-3, just before the end of the first quarter.

The Hokies attempted a 54-yard field goal to try and push their lead back to seven points, but Brian Johnson’s kick never came close to the uprights and Miami took over possession on its own 37.

After Miami’s offense went three-and-out, the Hokies responded with a seven-play, 80-yard drive that ended with an eight-yard rushing touchdown by Jalen Holston that put VT up, 14-3, halfway through the second quarter.

King and the Canes answered with a touchdown drive of their own. The redshirt senior led Miami on a 10-play, 84-yard drive that ended with a 10-yard run into the end zone by the quarterback. King put Miami in the red zone on the previous play, throwing a dart that required some fancy footwork by Wiggins to complete the catch near the Miami sideline. One snap later, King’s touchdown brought the Canes within four points with 5:11 left to play before halftime.

“I think Dee Wiggins is a great player. It’s going to happen. It’s football, it’s college football. You got to make contested catches,” King said. “He had a drop early in the game, but you got to move forward. I told him I was going to keep coming back to him and he played really big for us down the stretch. Shout-out to ‘Wigs.’”

King, who finished with 225 passing yards and a touchdown, completed passes to six different targets on Saturday. Wiggins finished the game with a career-high eight catches for 106 receiving yards, bouncing back from a drop earlier in the game to have one of his best games as a Hurricane.

“No matter what goes on in the game, you have to play the next play,” Wiggins said. “If you stick with that play, you are going to play bad the whole game. I just had to stay focused on keep playing.”

Miami’s defense got back to work on third down on the next VT drive, as Couch and Sam Brooks split a six-yard sack of Hooker that forced a three-and-out to give the Canes the ball back with a chance to add some points before the intermission.

The Hurricanes reached the VT 18, but King was dropped for a five-yard loss on third-and-6, sending Borregales out for a 40-yard field goal. The kicker split the uprights and sent Miami into the locker room trailing by a point, 14-13.

The Hokies opened the second half with a sustained scoring drive, marching 74 yards over 11 plays to go back ahead by eight points when Holston ran into the end zone from a yard out to go up, 21-13.

“The way the game went defensively, we had one poor drive where we didn’t tackle very well in the third quarter that led to a touchdown. In the first half, we really felt that there were a lot of good signs for a good defensive performance because we were stopping the inside zone and we were stopping the stretch,” Diaz said. “We misplayed the power read and let the quarterback loose and Hooker is good enough to take that for a touchdown. In the other drive, they had a critical third down conversion that got them going and then their tempo just unnerved us that drive. As I recall, those were really the three drives where they got the majority of their points. We did feel like we were winning the battle up front and we were playing than we have played on some of those run plays. We feel like our run defense has started to improve here in the last couple weeks, just in terms of the way that we are playing blocks. I think that was a part of it. In those five drives, there was no margin for error because it was a two-score game for a lot of that time.”

On Virginia Tech’s next possession, a big sack by Frierson on third-and-10 from the 15 held the Hokies of a 38-yard field goal by Johnson. But VT extended its lead to 24-13 with 6:14 remaining in the third quarter.

Facing an 11-point deficit, Miami marched 75 yards over 13 plays on a scoring drive that ended with a six-yard touchdown run by Cam’Ron Harris. The Canes went for two and ran a throwback play to left tackle Zion Nelson, but the big man was stopped short of the goal line and the Hokies clung to a five-point lead with 1:27 left in the third.

The Canes’ defensive front continued to pressure Hooker, with Phillips dropping the quarterback for a six-yard sack. But a personal foul after the play by Bubba Bolden gave the Hokies 15 yards and a fresh set of downs.

Virginia Tech continued to drive into Miami territory, but the Canes made another play behind the line of scrimmage when they needed it. Nesta Jade Silvera dropped Hooker for a loss of one on third-and-6 from the UM 37 and forced a punt by knocking the Hokies out of field goal range.

Miami’s offense could not build off the stop, going three-and-out, but the Hurricanes’ defense forced a three-and-out by Virginia Tech to give the Canes the ball with 9:38 left to play and that is when King led Miami’s offense on the game-winning 10-play, 82-yard scoring drive.

"Everybody said we’ll go out there in the second half and just find a way to win... Everybody just came out and we found a way.”

– D'Eriq King

“I think with any great team, you’ve got to find ways to win,” King said. “Obviously, this week was really tough for us, missing a lot of guys, but we found a way to win. And I think [there] was no doubt in the locker room. Everybody had each other’s back. Everybody said we’ll go out there in the second half and just find a way to win. Defense stepped up really, really big today. Receivers made plays when they had to. Running backs made plays when they had to. And I think the O-line did a fine job. So, everybody just came out and we found a way.”

Miami has battled back to win in four consecutive games dating back to its 31-19 victory over Pitt on Oct. 17. Despite being in tight games, the Hurricanes have maintained their composure and found a way to come away with a victory in each of those games and that is a sign of growth that Diaz sees in his team.

“You have got to learn how to win these types of games and I think part of the way that you do it is, when you’re down 11, is to not panic and just play the next play,” Diaz said. “You have to believe that something good is about to happen and play for each other. I thought the defense really started to stand up in the second half and make some stops. We got the big interception from Te’Cory and that’s how you pick each other up. You don’t believe that you have to play perfectly, you just have to find a way to get the job done. Obviously, over the last four weeks we’ve done that and really almost in four different ways.”