Chips in the bag
No. 1 Miami is Fiesta-bound after beating Va. Tech 56-45Posted: Saturday December 07, 2002 4:57 PM
Updated: Sunday December 08, 2002 2:23 AM
MIAMI (AP) -- From the start of the season, the goal was simple for Miami: win every time out and return to the national championship game.
After some twists and turns and a few closer-than-expected games, the Hurricanes accomplished their mission.
With Willis McGahee running for a school-record six touchdowns and career-best 205 yards, the top-ranked Hurricanes outlasted No. 18 Virginia Tech 56-45 Saturday to set up a national title game of unbeatens: 12-0 Miami against 13-0 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3.
"It feels great to go undefeated and earn our way to play for a national championship," said quarterback Ken Dorsey, who threw for 300 yards and two TDs while improving to 38-1 as a starter.
Now for the next step: repeat as champions.
"Everybody expected to be here," said center Brett Romberg. "We're not ecstatic, but we're definitely happy that the goal is coming closer and closer. It's not finished yet. We've still get one more game, and that's when we'll celebrate -- when we win that game."
The 'Canes will take a 34-game winning streak to Tempe, Ariz., a run that matches Penn for the sixth-longest in Division I-A history. Miami's streak is the longest since Toledo won 35 straight from 1969-71.
"I may be the luckiest coach in the world," said Miami's Larry Coker, who was doused with a bucket of water as he ran off the field.
Miami will attempt to become only the second team to repeat as national champions since 1980 and first since Nebraska won back-to-back crowns in 1994-95. The Hurricanes have won five national titles since 1983, under four coaches.
The 'Canes put themselves in position for another title by winning a game that Coker called "quite a crazy attraction."
Miami seemingly had control with a 49-21 lead early in the third quarter, but the Hokies (9-4) came up with three big plays to pull within striking distance and then hung in until the end.
Willie Pile returned an interception 96 yards for a score -- on a play in which Dorsey was the intended receiver. Then DeAngelo Hall returned a punt 71 yards to set up a field goal, and Roynell Whitaker ran 56 yards with an interception to set up the second of Lee Suggs' three TDs -- a 9-yarder.
And just like that, Virginia Tech whittled away Miami's lead to 49-37 entering the fourth quarter.
Miami regrouped, though, thanks to Heisman Trophy contenders Dorsey and McGahee, who finished with 39 carries to tie a school record. On the opening drive of the fourth quarter, McGahee ran nine times for 31 yards, and Dorsey went 2-of-2, hitting Kellen Winslow Jr. with an 11-yard TD pass with 10:06 left to give the Hurricanes breathing room.
Suggs scored from 4 yards with 1:51 left, and the Hokies added a 2-point conversion pass to close the scoring. But Miami's firepower was just too much.
"We hung in there. We got some big plays," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "They are real good. The offense is great and the defense is solid. They just sit there and pound you."
McGahee had TD runs of 1, 4, 3, 10, 1 and 31 yards in his final Heisman audition, and he finished the season with school records in rushing (1,686 yards) and scoring (27 touchdowns). McGahee broke Miami's single-game TD record set by Bill L'Italien in 1933.
Dorsey also did his best to stay in the running for college football's top individual prize.
When he connected with Andre Johnson for 68 yards on the first play of the third quarter to set up McGahee's fifth TD, the quarterback was 9-of-13 for 261 yards and a touchdown -- and Miami was ahead 42-21.
Dorsey finished 12-of-20, with one interception. Johnson had six catches for 193 yards and TD.
"It was a lot of fun. The running game really came up big here in the second half, and we had to have that in order to get to the Fiesta Bowl," Dorsey said. "I couldn't be more happy with my guys."
Virginia Tech, which came into the Orange Bowl with five wins in its last seven games against the Hurricanes, made Miami work hard to complete a second straight unbeaten regular season. After McGahee's 31-yard scoring run put Miami up 49-21, some fans in the crowd of 76,108 started tossing foam rubber corn-chip hats onto the field to celebrate a trip to the Fiesta Bowl.
Miami reacted by blocking a punt and moving to the Hokies 1. But a trick play designed to have Dorsey catch a TD pass backfired. Jarrett Payton took a handoff from Dorsey and tried to throw the ball back to the quarterback. Pile stepped in front of Dorsey, picked off the pass and scored at the other end.
"We went brain-dead," Coker said of the strange call. "It was a bad call. We learned a big lesson: there are no safe leads."
On Hall's punt return, Maurice Sikes made a touchdown-saving tackle at 18-yard line, and the Hokies settled for a 20-yard field goal by Carter Warley. Whitaker picked off a pass by Dorsey and returned it 56 yards to the Miami 9. On the next play, Suggs scored his second TD of the game.
Virginia Tech quarterback Bryan Randall was gallant in defeat. He carried 25 times for 132 yards and completed 15 of 26 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown. He left briefly with a bloody mouth after a hit by linebacker Jonathan Vilma, and Grant Noel came in and threw a 7-yard TD pass to Ernest Wilford to bring the Hokies to 35-21 at halftime.
The final Bowl Championship Series standings will be released Sunday, but they'll be a mere formality when it comes to deciding who plays for the national title.
Ohio State completed its season Nov. 23 and accepted an invitation to play in the Fiesta Bowl. The Hurricanes received their invitation from Fiesta Bowl officials at midfield after Saturday's game.
As the player ran off the field wearing Fiesta Bowl caps, Romberg noted the celebration wasn't as wild as it could have been.
"I'm glad to see we're not going crazy, because that would make
me worried a little bit," Romberg said. "We've got the feeling
like we belong, and we've got another win to get."