As we continue our Miami Hurricanes Games We Love feature, we have to turn our attention to the Florida State Seminoles. A tough team with a history of success, Miami has routinely ruined great FSU seasons, and I love that about us.
I take you back to my junior year of college, the fall of 2002. I can remember my seat in the student section as I write this piece. Man, what a great day this was. And now, my friends, we begin:
As they entered their annual rivalry game in October 2002, the Canes and Noles were both highly ranked, as was standard at this time of the rivalry. The defending National Champion Hurricanes were ranked #1 in America, 5-0 on the year and on a 27 game win streak, dating back to 2000. On the other sideline, the Noles were 4-1 on the year, having lost to Louisville 2 weeks prior to this game, and ranked #9 in America.
Miami entered the 2002 game against Florida State on a 2-game win streak against the rival Seminoles, having ended an FSU streak in the series with a win in 2000, and followed that up with a win in Doak Campbell Stadium in 2001, as well.
Oh, and I almost forgot: this was the Homecoming Game in 2002 as well. Which, I’m sure, Florida State took great exception to. Usually, teams try to schedule also-rans for homecoming to get an easy win and let the party begin. They don’t bring in the likes of Florida State for homecoming.
But Miami isn’t most teams.
Early on, both teams were keyed up, and the defenses came out extremely strong. The Canes and the Noles traded punts before Miami was able to put together a drive and take the lead. Nearly halfway through the first quarter, star RB Willis McGahee was able to power in from 4 yards out, propelling Miami to a 7-0 lead on the XP by Todd Sievers.
After that, however, things were not all roses and sunshine for the Canes. Desiring greatly to ruin their rival’s season, the Seminoles kicked things into high gear. Though sophomore QB Chris Rix was largely unable to get things going through the air, the thunder and lightning Seminole run game featuring Greg Jones and Nick Maddox, respectively, gashed Miami over and over and over again.
Maddox was the first of those RBs to find the endzone, scampering 30 yards to paydirt at the 9:32 mark of the 2nd quarter. The extra point by Xavier Beitia would tie the game at 7.
Starting with Maddux’s touchdown, Florida State embarked on a 17-0 run, all in the 2nd quarter, which included a 45 yard Beitia field goal and a 10 yard TD pass from Rix — his only one of the day — to Talman Gardner. That gave FSU a 17-7 lead and all of the momentum heading into the half.
Or so they thought.
Heisman trophy candidate Ken Dorsey got the Miami offense together for the first time in quite a while and took the Canes down the field for a late TD just before the half. Dorsey hit TE Kellen Winslow II over the middle from 5 yards out with just 26 seconds left before halftime. Sievers tacked on the extra point to make it 17-14 FSU heading into the half.
The 3rd quarter was a slugfest, with both defenses playing at the elite level we expect from Miami and Florida State. The only points scored in the 3rd came on another Xavier Beitia FG, this one from 42 yards out, which pushed FSU’s lead to 20-14.
Undaunted by the task of facing the defending National Champions who were loaded with talent, FSU went for the kill early in the 4th quarter. Already leading by 6, the Seminoles stymied Miami’s offense, which had 3 turnovers on the game, and again leaned on their power run game. This time, the FSU drive ended on a 12 yard Greg Jones TD run, and things looked bleak for the Canes. With the XP by Beitia after Jones’ score, FSU pushed their lead to 27-14 with just under 12 minutes left.
All game long, Miami struggled to find their rhythm. With Dorsey having an uncharacteristically poor game throwing the ball — he had 345 yards and 2 TDs (which was fine) on just 20-45 with 2 costly INTs on the day — and the team committing 14 penalties, AND giving FSU 3 turnovers, this had all the makings of the game that ended the 27 game win streak, and Miami’s hopes to repeat as National Champions.
But the Canes didn’t let the 13 point lead break their spirit. With their backs against the wall, Miami came out firing on all cylinders, moving the ball quickly down the field by mixing the run and the pass. Dorsey worked the pass game with Andre Johnson, Ethenic Sands, Kevin Beard and Kellen Winslow II to get the Canes into scoring position. The ensuing drive after Jones’ TD for Miami ended when Dorsey threw his second TD of the game, a laser to WR Kevin Beard in the back of the endzone. Beard used all of his 6’3” frame to grab the ball, then tap his toes as he was diving out of bounds to secure the score. After the XP by Sievers, Miami trailed 27-21, and had new life.
As I said before, FSU struggled passing the ball — Chris Rix was 8-19 for 83 yards and 1 TD on the day — but found all the room they wanted in the run game. The powerfully built Jones ran 31 times for 189 yards and a TD, while the smaller, quicker Nick Maddox ran 19 times for 74 yards and a TD. Add in another 33 yards on 8 carries by the mobile Rix, and FSU had nearly 300 yards rushing on the day. That’s A LOT, and it played well into Bobby Bowden’s ball control gameplan.
With FSU trying to slow the tempo and drain the clock, Miami’s offense had to step up and stop the Noles. They were able to do that, but a good FSU punt pinned Miami at the 21 yard line with just under 6 minutes to go in the game. As Miami got the ball back, this seemed like the last chance for Ken Dorsey and the Canes to find the magic to keep the undefeated season alive, as FSU would surely look to milk the clock and win the game if they got the ball back.
With Miami’s run game effective early but not efficient — star RB Willis McGahee had 95 yards on the day but most came in the first half — the Canes looked to find a way to move the ball against FSU’s fast, attacking defense.
The call: a simple slip screen to McGahee on the first play of the drive.
With FSU’s defenders singularly focused on hitting Dorsey, which they had done all game long, the Noles’ defense flew up the field...just like Miami wanted. With a bevvy of blocker and blazing speed, McGahee got the ball on the 16 yard line and looked to turn up the field. With a couple key blocks, the field opened up in front of McGahee, and he knew what to do. Using his 4.3 speed, McGahee turned on the jets, ran past 3 defenders, racing toward a game-winning score. He was caught from behind at the 11 yard line after a gain of 68 yards, but instantly, Miami had new life.
The Canes wasted no time in cashing in their final scoring opportunity. With McGahee winded after that explosive screen play, utility WR-turned backup RB Jason Geathers came into the game. On that next play, Geathers took the shotgun handoff from Dorsey, ran to his right, made a cut to his left, sped up the middle of the field, shrugged off a FSU defender, then dove into the endzone for an 11 yard score to tie the game. The XP by Todd Sievers gave Miami their first lead in forever, 28-27. And wooooo buddy the Orange Bowl (RIP) was rocking then!
But, the game was not over, and there was still work to be done. FSU’s offense, though not prolific overall due to Rix’s inability to throw the ball, was still formidable, and able to get yardage on the ground.
Over the course of the next 5:16 of gametime, FSU got the ball, stalled, and punted it back to Miami. The Canes, unable to get traction and end the game on offense punted the ball back to FSU.
And that was when things almost fell apart.
Punter Freddie Capshaw, a senior who was 1st team All-Big East in 2000 and 2001, and had been a finalist for the Ray Guy award as the Nation’s top punter in 2001. Despite his long career of punting excellence, Capshaw came in and shanked the worst punt of his college career — and one of the worst you’ll ever see. The kick went just 3 yards, and instead of being pinned deep in their own territory, FSU got the ball at their own 46 yard line with just over 2 minutes left.
With the ball near midfield and new life, FSU methodically marched the ball down to the Miami 26 yard line. Rix hit his favorite target Gardner for a big 3rd down conversion, then hit Gardner again while nearly being sacked by a blitzing Antrel Rolle to move the ball down to the 25 yard line and give FSU a shot at a game winning FG.
After an inside run to center the ball for a FG attempt, Miami players laid on the ground to have the clock run out. Despite the fact that Rix snapped the ball with 1 second left, he spiked the ball....with 1 second remaining. I still question who the clock operator at the OB was to have the longest second in Miami-FSU history go AGAINST MIAMI at home that day, but I digress.
Now, the game turned to FSU’s kicker: Xavier Beitia.
A highly coveted recruit from Tampa Jesuit HS, Beitia had turned in a stellar freshman season and was in the midst of a solid sophomore campaign. Beitia had made 13 of 14 FGs as a freshman, and had similar success as a sophomore. Having already made 3 XPs and long FGs of 45 and 42 yards on the day, the FSU kicker came onto the field with confidence that he would make another kick, this one to win the game.
Unless you’ve been under a rock, you know the history of FSU kickers missing crucial kicks against Miami. These kicks, affectionately named “Wide Right I” and “Wide Right II” (and even “Wide Right III” but I dispute that one bc it only would have tied the game) stand out in the memories of all Miami and FSU fans. It did not stick out to Beitia, however.
“I was not nervous,’’ Beitia said after the game. ‘’ I was thinking, `Just make the kick, just make the kick.’”
Should have thought harder, I guess.
As he lined up for the kick, the Orange Bowl was raucous. FSU fans looked on, hopeful that their All-American kicker would deliver them a huge win against a hated rival. Miami fans yelled and screamed, and hoped Beitia, who had been automatic up until this point, joined the list of FSU kickers to miss Wide Right.
Neither group got their desires fully fulfilled.
After a low snap, FSU holder Chance Gwaltney got the ball down on the spot for Beitia’s kick. Beitia struck the ball strong and true. And for a second, it appeared as though FSU had beaten Miami.
And then the ball started to turn.
And it went a little left.
And it went a little further left.
AND THEN IT WENT WIDE LEFT OF THE UPRIGHT!!!!
The kick was no good! And, now, FSU fans were able to be fully ambidextrous in their solemn regret. Now, “Wide Left I” was in the record books, and the Miami Hurricanes pulled out an epic 28-27 win over their rivals.
Miami players flooded the field as the kick sailed wide, the rapturous joy apparent on even the most stoic face. The comeback was complete, and the Championship dream was still alive. All at the expense of Florida State’s season.
When asked if his team had dodged a bullet similar to those of the Boston College or Virginia Tech games of 2001, Canes’ Head Coach Larry Coker said “that was more like a missile. They’re an awfully talented team. They gave us their best shot, we knew that. They played a great football game, they’ve got great talent, and it’s just a great win for us.”
And by “us” Coker meant the Canes’ team, but we, the fans, relish in this victory as well. What a wonderful game, not perfect, but still great, and another win against the Seminoles.
Here’s a link to the full game video. And here are the highlights.
Man, I love this game! And I know you do, too. And that’s why Miami’s 28-27 win over Florida State in 2002 is a Miami Hurricanes Game We Love!