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Canes Comeback Falls Short in Cheez-It Bowl

by David Villavicencio

ORLANDO, Fla. – A resilient Miami team battled back from a three-touchdown deficit, but could not overcome the early Oklahoma State lead on Tuesday evening.

Down 21 points after the opening quarter, the No. 18/18 Hurricanes outscored the No. 21/RV Cowboys, 34-16, over the final three quarters. But Miami could not climb out of the early hole, falling to OSU, 37-31, in the Cheez-It Bowl inside Camping World Stadium.

“That was probably an outstanding ballgame, highly competitive,” head coach Manny Diaz said. “At no point did I think we would lose that game, and I don’t think our team did, either, until it hit triple-zeros. The way we battled, the way we fought, the way we played for each other was inspiring. However, we just made too many mistakes to win a football game. There were some red zone issues that got us. You know a two-point conversion that was and then it wasn’t. In a game when you lose by three, a touchdown that was and then wasn’t, some of those things that took points off the scoreboard, and we ended up not being good enough to overcome, but we continued to fight.”

Oklahoma State struck first, electing to go for it on fourth-and-6 from the Miami 30. Quarterback Spencer Sanders extended the play with his legs until receiver Brennan Presley snuck behind the defense for a 30-yard touchdown reception that gave OSU a 7-0 lead just three minutes into the game.

After forcing a Miami punt, the Cowboys (8-3, 6-3 Big XII) put together an eight-play, 82-yard scoring drive that ended with a two-yard touchdown run by redshirt senior LD Brown, doubling their lead to 14 points.

Miami (8-3, 7-2 ACC) turned the ball over on downs on the ensuing drive, going for it on fourth-and-2 from the UM 49. Tight end Brevin Jordan appeared to have been interfered with by cornerback Christian Holmes, but no penalty flag was thrown and OSU took over possession at midfield. Six plays later, Sanders hit Presley for their second touchdown of the night. The 32-yard pass and catch gave Oklahoma State a 21-0 lead with under a minute left to play in the first quarter.

“We knew they were going to pass the ball,” safety Bubba Bolden said. “They have one of the best receivers in the country. We knew it was coming. We took away the deep balls. They started throwing it at short on check downs, in zone coverage, they start picking apart that. We just had to make adjustments.”

The Hurricanes got some momentum going offensively, with Jordan hauling in a 13-yard pass from quarterback D’Eriq King and the tight end returning the favor with a 15-yard pass to Miami’s quarterback. King then hit freshman running back Donald Chaney Jr. for a 27-yard gain before finding Jordan in the end zone two plays later for a 10-yard touchdown that got Miami on the scoreboard two plays into the second quarter.

“Very disappointed in the fact we didn’t come away with a win, but I’m also very humble to be a part of this team,” Jordan said. “I mean, these guys did not — they never quit. And just the way this team carries itself, like we just keep going. It’s always — it’s always play the next play with these guys. So it’s very — it’s a little disappointing but I’m just happy to be on this team. There’s no quit.”

OSU kicker Brady Pohl missed a 33-yard field goal try, giving Miami’s defense its first stop of the game and the Hurricanes’ offense returned to action on their own 20.

“I think we were a little caught off guard on how pass-heavy compared to what their normal MO had been,” Diaz said. “But it just didn’t look like — in the first quarter, it’s not that it didn’t look like it but we didn’t play defensively and whether it was a lack of confidence from the game previous, which should not be; shouldn’t be an excuse, but for whatever reason, just took us awhile to settle down and finally got a stop. Then we relaxed and started playing.”

Chaney gave the Hurricanes a boost on their first play of the drive, bouncing outside for a 27-yard run to the Miami 47. On second-and-goal from the OSU 14, King rushed for a five-yard gain before going down following a hit by safety Tre Sterling.

King left the game and was replaced by N’Kosi Perry at quarterback and Miami came away with three points when kicker Jose Borregales converted a 22-yard field goal attempt that made it 21-10 with 3:55 remaining in the first half.

“The team rallied behind N’Kosi. Didn’t flinch,” Diaz said. “And proud for N’Kosi the way he went in there and played hard. And so many guys that played well, but ultimately, like I said, too many mistakes to boat a good Oklahoma State team.”

Miami’s defense brought some pressure on Sanders, as defensive end Jahfari Harvey forced a fumble on a seven-yard strip-sack on second-and-12 from the OSU 23. The Cowboys punted the ball away two plays later, but Miami returner Mike Harley muffed the punt and Oklahoma State recovered the loose ball on the UM 41.

“It was a blessing, definitely,” Harvey said of the sack. “I’ve been thinking about this since middle school, elementary, being able to get a sack, help the team, just a blessing.”

The Canes’ defense responded to the sudden change, forcing a three-and-out and the two teams went into the locker room after a Miami punt with Oklahoma State ahead by 11 points.

“We had a huge sudden change stop right before halftime,” Diaz said. “But it felt like the key point in the game was when we fumbled the punt. It was a very close game and we lost the turnovers and that was the deal. We had a situation in the third quarter, where we had a pick that wasn’t, and then we had some other issues with penalties and then they got the long drive there. I think they were able to capture momentum back in the third quarter, which is important.”

With Perry at the helm of the offense, Miami added three points on its first drive of the second half. The veteran quarterback put Borregales in position to drill a 40-yard kick that brought the Hurricanes within eight points, 21-13.

The Miami defense announced its presence early in the second half, with Harvey and Nesta Jade Silvera tackling Dezmon Jackson for a loss of five and Bradley Jennings Jr. dropping Sanders for an 8-yard sack that led to a Cowboys punt.

The Canes continued their climb back from a 21-point deficit on their next drive, covering 80 yards on eight plays with running back Cam’Ron Harris exploding for a 42-yard touchdown that put Miami within two points. Harris led Miami with 52 yards on six carries and added 38 receiving yards on two catches.

The Hurricanes went for two and Perry completed a pass to Jordan, who appeared to fight his way into the end zone to even the score at 21. But the play was overturned after a replay review and Miami trailed, 21-19, with 8:38 remaining in the third quarter.

Oklahoma State got some help with three Miami penalties on its next possession, but the Hurricanes stepped up with the Cowboys in the red zone to hold OSU to a 26-yard field goal that kept it a one-score game, 24-19.

Miami’s offense got back to work, with Harley starting the drive with a 20-yard reception, but a fumble as Perry tried to pull back a handoff from Chaney resulted in an OSU recovery on the Miami 45.

The Cowboys capitalized on the turnover, as Dillon Stoner hauled in a five-yard touchdown pass from Sanders that put OSU ahead, 31-19, 41 seconds into the final quarter.

“There was a crucial turnover in the third quarter that put them on the short field and then we had — again, we had some, you know, some calls go against us, let’s just say, in our secondary where I thought we were just competing our asses off and out-competing them that were called as penalties,” Diaz said. “We had a crucial interception, had all the momentum taken away, and I think that was probably one of the most frustrating parts. But our guys didn’t flinch. They kept playing. But ultimately ended up being too much to overcome.”

Perry and the Hurricanes continued to battle, with the quarterback connecting with tight end Will Mallory over the middle for a 44-yard gain to the OSU 2. Two plays later, Jordan made a beautiful one-handed, over-the-shoulder catch for a two-yard touchdown that brought Miami back within five points, 31-26, with 12:03 remaining.

Oklahoma State quelled Miami’s momentum, putting together a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that ended in the third Presley receiving touchdown of the night. The freshman, who entered the game with one catch on the year, caught a 16-yard pass from Sanders. Pohl missed the PAT kick, but the Cowboys led by 11 with 9:50 left to play.

Miami refused to quit, with Chaney converting on fourth-and-1 from the UM 49 to keep the drive alive and Harris snaring a back-shoulder throw from Perry for a 25-yard gain to the OSU 26.

Three plays later, Perry hit Harley for a five-yard touchdown that put the Canes within five. Miami went for two and redshirt junior receiver Marshall Few caught a shovel pass from Perry and took it into the end zone to bring the Hurricanes within three points with 5:39 remaining in the game. Perry finished the game completing 19-of-34 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns.

“I think we took a positive step tonight, even though we didn’t come out with the W,” Perry said. “The whole game, the team, was acting like we had the lead the entire game. I think we’re really building something here and it’s going to be really great for us next season.”

The Canes forced a three-and-out and Oklahoma State downed the punt on the Miami 19 with 4:34 on the clock. But the Hurricanes punted four plays later after using just 20 seconds of game time, with Lou Hedley’s 51-yard boot sending OSU to its own 30 with 4:14 left to play.

Miami’s defense rose to the challenge and forced a second consecutive three-and-out, giving the Hurricanes another chance as Harley fair caught the punt on the UM 30 with 3:24 remaining.

Jordan, who led Miami with eight catches and 96 yards, stepped up again when his team needed him on third-and-8 from the UM 32. The junior caught a pass over the middle from Perry and barreled through multiple defenders for a 16-yard gain to give Miami a fresh set of downs near midfield.

Miami faced a fourth-and-9 from the UM 49, but Perry’s pass to Michael Redding resulted in a six-yard gain that was short of the line to gain and OSU took over possession on downs on its 45 with 1:36 left to play and the Cowboys ran out the clock to close out the bowl win.

“We don’t run from this, and I told the football team, look where we were 12 months ago,” Diaz said. “What you did is you go get to work. You fix what you have to fix and that sets the tone for the off-season program. And we talk about off-season, we basically told our team they have 24 hours to feel about this, and even though you won’t be back on campus until end of January, it’s time to get to work.

“So, I think that’s an instant refocus for us,” Diaz continued. “I’m proud of the players for improving our football program from where it was a year ago. I think we were at another level than where we were and there’s another level where we need to climb to next year and that will be the focus of the off-season program.”