There comes a time when there's nothing anyone—not even former Miami passing greats Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar or Steve Walsh—can say that will make a difference. For 19-year-old Hurricanes quarterback Ken Dorsey, that time came with 1:32 left in Miami's game against No. 1-ranked Florida State in the Orange Bowl. For three hours the famous alums had operated as his sideline support network, offering tips and encouragement, but after the Seminoles, who had trailed by 17 points at the half, scored two touchdowns in less than two minutes to go ahead 24-20, the old stars hung back and watched to see what the kid would do.
In a drive that started at the Hurricanes' 32, Dorsey exhibited a poise that made his illustrious predecessors proud. He completed six of seven passes, including a 13-yard scoring strike to backup tight end Jeremy Shockey for the touchdown that put Miami back on top, 27-24, with :46 remaining. Moments later, in an unthinkable reprise of the Seminoles' 1991 and '92 last-second losses to the Hurricanes, a 49-yard, game-tying field goal attempt by Florida State freshman walk-on Matt Munyon veered just outside the right goal post as the final five seconds ticked away. The blinking WIDE RIGHT III! message on the Orange Bowl JumboTron and the earsplitting roar of 80,903 people confirmed that Miami, now 4-1 and ranked No. 4, was back in the hunt for a national championship for the first time in six years.
The victory snapped the Seminoles' five-year winning streak against the Hurricanes as well as Florida State's 17-game overall winning streak. In the process Dorsey, who completed 27 of 42 passes for 328 yards and two touchdowns, joined the quarterback crowd in the Miami record book with his 163 consecutive passes without an interception, bettering Gino Torretta's eight-year-old record of 123. That is an outstanding achievement for any sophomore, certainly, but of particular significance for a player whose errant passing and tentative decision-making weighed heavily in the Hurricanes' only loss, 34-29 at Washington on Sept. 9. "I think I grew up a lot today," said the 6'5", 195-pound Dorsey before retreating to his customary postgame navel-gazing. "The offensive line fought hard, and with all the hype about [ Florida State's defensive] ends—well, our tackles got the job done."
Like Shockey, who was playing junior college ball at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M a year ago, several Miami players gave their stock an uptick. Senior defensive tackle Damione Lewis, though listed as doubtful on the morning of the game, battled through the pain of a broken right toe and made two tackles in helping the Hurricanes hold the Seminoles to 69 yards rushing. Senior wideout Santana Moss, a preseason All-America, used his magnetic touch and 4.3 speed to amass 115 yards on seven catches, including a 19-yard reception that set the stage for Shockey. "I've been criticized a lot this year," said Moss, who had been hampered for weeks by tendinitis in his left ankle and had averaged only three catches a game, "but when you work as hard as we do, you're bound to have this kind of game."
Then there was senior middle linebacker Dan Morgan, who was cheek-to-cheek with the bathroom tile three days before the game, suffering from a lingering stomach flu. The bug was nothing, however, compared to suffering through three straight losses to Florida State. In the first of those defeats, a 47-0 rout in 1997, the Hurricanes' nadir since winning their last national title, in '91, Morgan, a freshman starter, had eight solo tackles. On Saturday he led Miami with 15 tackles, including two for losses, and his end-zone interception at the close of the second quarter punctuated the Hurricanes' 17-0 first-half shutout—the only time the Seminoles had been blanked in the first 30 minutes since an '88 loss to Miami on the same field. Dehydrated to the point of wooziness after the opening half, Morgan was hooked up to an IV drip in the locker room and remained there while his team took the field for the second half. "I shook the IV bag, trying to make it go faster," said Morgan. "Those were the longest 10 minutes of my life."
By the time he returned to the field, Florida State had snapped out of its first-half funk, during which it had passed on two field goal attempts and failed to score on three drives inside the Miami 16. ("We probably should have kicked those times, but we wanted to get some early momentum," Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden said.) In the game's final 23 minutes, though, quarterback Chris Weinke, who would complete 29 of 58 passes for a career-high 496 yards, threw for three touchdowns, including the 29-yarder to Atrews Bell with 1:37 to go that put Florida State ahead for the first time.
Even after Dorsey's near flawless performance on the ensuing drive, it looked as if Weinke might pull off the biggest comeback of his career. He drove the Seminoles 46 yards in five plays but was slow to signal a timeout. Instead of having 10 seconds left, Florida State had five—not enough time to get off another play that might have moved the ball closer to the goal line. Thus, the outcome fell on the narrow shoulders of Munyon, who had missed four other field goal attempts and three extra points this season, and hadn't booted a field goal longer than 44 yards. The botched timeout request was the last of several instances of clock mismanagement by Weinke and the Seminoles' coaches that proved costly. Before the majority of Florida State's snaps he had shouted last-second audibles, and once he was even slapped with a delay-of-game penalty after a timeout.
Dorsey, on the other hand, called only three audibles all day. "I have that much trust in my offensive coordinator [ Larry Coker] and that much trust in the guys on this team," he said. "I did what I was told, and it worked for us."
"That sounds familiar," said his mother, Meg, still giddy an hour after the victory. She and Ken's father, Tom, who divorced when Ken was a child, had flown from California to watch the game with their 22-year-old son, Adam—a Florida State junior. "When Ken was 10 years old," said Meg, "he'd scream at me when I so much as parked in a [no parking] zone. He has always played by the rules."
That's in stark contrast to a program whose indiscretions cost Miami 31 scholarships from 1996 through '98. Ten months before Miami went on probation, Butch Davis left the Dallas Cowboys after six years as a defensive assistant to become head coach. The Hurricanes have made strides every year since. "When I got to Miami, we were operating like a junior college program," said Davis. "This [win] has been a three-year project involving the players on this field and the players who preceded them."