Christian Ponder ran off the field, momentarily jubilant along with 80,000+ fans.
In front of a national television audience on Labor Day evening, he drove the Seminoles inside the Miami 5-yard line with a few ticks left on the clock. Ponder rolled right on the game’s final play, throwing the ball in the direct of FSU wide receiver Jarmon Fortson. Fortson dove forward and reached for the ball. As he feverishly tried to scoop the ball of the ground, the Miami defense raised its arms and ran off the field. The clock read 0:00. The linesman signaled incomplete.
After a short replay review, the play was confirmed, and joyous Miami players flooded the field in jubilation. Miami prevailed 38-34. The date was September 7, 2009. Miami hasn’t won since, losing five in a row.
In fact, despite the closeness of the overall series (Miami leads 31-28), this rivalry has been marked by one-sidedness and streaks. From 1980, when Miami thwarted FSU when DT Jim Burt broke up QB Rick Stockstill’s would-be-game-winning 2-pt conversion pass in a 10-9 win, until 1992 – UM’s last appearance in a national championship game until 2001, Miami dominated the series, going 10-3 against FSU during that span. The matchup was marked by some of the closest and most unforgettable games in college football, including:
· 1987 – The Comeback. #3 vs. #4. Michael Irvin, Steve Walsh, and the Blades brothers vs. Deion Sanders and Sammie Smith. Over 60 NFL players on both sidelines combined. A national championship effectively on the line. On the strength of a dominating ground game featuring Smith, Dexter Carter, and Victor Floyd, FSU jumped out to a 19-3 lead. Then Walsh, who was almost pulled for Craig Erickson, led Miami on a furious comeback in the game’s final 16 minutes. In one of the more unforgettable plays in Miami lore, Walsh found Irvin for a 73-yard touchdown to push Miami ahead 26-19. FSU would drive 83-yards to pull within one, but Danny McManus’s 2-pt pass was knocked away by Bubba McDowell.
· 1991 – Wide Right I. #1 vs. #2. It seemed as though Casey Weldon had done it. After Larry Jones bulled his way into the end zone with 3 minutes left, giving UM a 17-16 lead, FSU countered and drove the ball to the Miami 18-yard line with 29 seconds left. With Gerry Thomas 3 for 3 on the day, Bowden sent him out, rather than trying to get closer. In an ironic game of inches, Thomas’s kick breathed on the outside of the goal past as it sailed wide right, starting the series of unfortunate (kicking) events in years to come for UM against FSU.
· 1992 – Wide Right II. This year’s goat would be Dan Mowrey. After Gino Torretta had his Heisman moment by absorbing a vicious shot while delivering a go-ahead touchdown pass to Lamar Thomas, Mowrey was set up for a chance to tie from 39 yards out. The ball sailed wide right into the open end of the Orange Bowl, setting off a wide celebration and sending Mowrey face-first into the turf.
While UM was the undisputed king of football in the 1980s, FSU, along with Nebraska, was on top of the mountain in the 1990s, claiming two national titles and winning 6 out of 7 over UM from 1993-1999. Miami, meanwhile, was effectively punch-drunk from NCAA sanctions imposed following the Pell Grant scandal. The low point of the rivalry came in 1997, when UM was leveled 47-0 in Tallahassee in the largest margin of victory in the series history. It’s the game that Ed Reed referenced in his passionate halftime speech to the team in the 2001 matchup.
And it was thanks to players like Reed that helped swing the rivalry back in UM’s favor in 2000, from which a number of memorable games emerged:
· 2000 – perhaps one of the most unforgettable games in the history of the Orange Bowl, Miami’s 27-24 win snapped a 5-game losing streak to FSU. After leading for the vast majority of the game and up 20-17 in the game’s final minutes, Najeh Davenport fumbled in FSU territory. Chris Weinke, who threw for 496 yards, led FSU into Miami territory, where he found Atrews Bell for the go-ahead score, seemingly breaking UM hearts again in the process. But sophomore sensation Ken Dorsey led Miami on a 73-yard drive, completing 6 of 7 passes, including a 13-yard touchdown to Shockey for the winner. Matt Munyon set up for a 49-yard kick to force overtime on the game’s final play, but the Orange Bowl scoreboard read the result “Wide Right III” as UM players flooded the field again in celebration.
· 2002 – Wide Left I. Trailing 27-14 in the fourth quarter, Miami’s hopes of repeating as champion were flickering. Then, Dorsey led the Canes on a 70-yard touchdown drive, followed by a 68-yard screen pass to Willis McGahee on the next series. After Jason Geathers’ 11-yard run put Miami up 28-27, FSU’s Xavier Beitia pulled the would-be game-winning FG wide left as the last second ran off the clock.
· 2003 – Miami bludgeoned Chris Rix and the Seminoles in a driving rainstorm in Tallahassee. Jarrett Payton took over for an injured Frank Gore and ran for a team-high 97 yards, also snaring a 14-yard touchdown. The teams combined for 10 turnovers. But, in an extreme rarity in college football, the teams met again in the Orange Bowl as respective conference champions. The kicking game, yet again, proved to be the difference, as Jon Peattie drilled a 51-yarder in the third quarter to give Miami the lead, while Beitia swung another kick wide with 5:30 remaining in the game that proved to be the difference.
· 2004 – Leading 10-3, FSU had a chance to effectively put the game way, with only 3:58 left. Once again, disaster struck the kicking game. Devin Hester came flying around the end and blocked Beitia’s kick. Miami stormed down the field and tied the game after Brock Berlin connected with Sinorice Moss with seconds left. Miami recovered a Rix fumble in overtime, and on the second play, Frank Gore broke free off tackle to the right and beat defenders to the goal line. The improbable win is Miami’s last home win in the series.
From 2005-2014, Florida State has controlled the series, shutting down the rivalry in the Orange Bowl with a 13-10 win in 2006. Miami bounced back in 2007 37-29 after Colin McCarthy returned a fumble in the final minute for a clinching touchdown following Kirby Freeman’s go-ahead TD pass to Dedrick Epps, in what amounted to a forgettable season for both teams. The first matchup in the Canes’ new stadium in 2008 was a defense-optional 41-39 loss. FSU ran for 310 yards on the ground, with Antone Smith scoring 4 touchdowns.
You know the rest. Miami escaped in 2009. FSU has dominated at SunLife. The rivalry is feeling less and less like one. Al Golden is likely down to his final chances (along w/Clemson game) to do something special to appease a (rightfully) vitriolic fan base, keep key in-state recruits interested, and stop the proverbial bleeding in a season that feels like it’s starting to slip away.
Can the Canes flip the script on this intense and incredibly important rivalry? We’ll find out in a few hours.