The Noles and Canes turned in one of the most memorable games of the decade in Miami’s 1991 17-16 triumph in Doak Campbell Stadium, which catapulted them to a split of the 1991 national championship and began a comical streak of kicking mishaps that would doom the Noles over the next decade-plus of the rivalry.
The 1992 game was an encore worthy of its own place in history. They say that sequels are never as good as the original? Hah. If so, the 1992 game was the Godfather II of 1990s college football.
As always, the stakes were sky high for both teams entering the game on October 3, 1992 in the Orange Bowl. Florida State entered the game ranked #3 in the AP poll, having dispatched ranked Clemson and NC State teams on the road in consecutive weeks. Miami had already proven its own road mettle, having opened the season with a 24-7 win at Iowa, but was coming into the game following a…..curious 8-7 win over Arizona in the Orange Bowl, an opponent which – given the stakes of this week – the Canes seemed to overlook. Miami survived a 51-yard field goal miss by the Wildcats as time expired to preserve their 21-game undefeated streak and their 47-game home winning streak.
In a game separated by almost nothing, it would be a story of kicks – again – the following week against FSU.
The game picked up with the excitement from the 1991 affair, with Tamarick Vanover taking the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown. Miami would take the lead back 10-7 in the second quarter on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Gino Torretta to tight end Coleman Bell. However, FSU would answer with the next 9 points, with FSU kicker Dan Mowrey drilling three field goals. With 9 minutes remaining in the game, FSU led 16-10.
As was the case in 1991, Torretta had to lead his team to another fourth-quarter score to secure victory in what had become the biggest can’t-miss rivalry tilt in the country. Once again, with the pressure of two championship-hopefuls in the balance, Torretta would deliver.
After scrambling for a 14-yard gain on 3rd and 12, Torretta stepped up in the pocket and made the play of the 1992 season. With a defender bearing down to deliver a slobber-knocker of a hit, he released the ball downfield. The ball landed in the arms of WR Lamar Thomas in stride, who found pay dirt for a go-ahead 33-yard touchdown in front of a shaking Orange Bowl capacity crowd.
I had the opportunity to talk with Torretta about that particular play in my book Game of My Life: Miami Hurricanes. Don’t take it from me….take it from the guy who made the play (and took the crushing hit in the process):
“I remember getting my head knocked off and the wind knocked out of me,” said Torretta. “Definitely won’t forget getting the wind knocked out of me. It was a situation where we had called a play and I had to call a timeout. The play got in late, the personnel groupings got in late. Came over to the sidelines and Coach Erickson said this is the play we’re going to run.
“We got back to the line of scrimmage and the play clock was running down. I looked to the outside. Lamar’s usually not where he was. He was on the right side when normally he’s in trips to the left side. I said OK. That was probably Lamar being Lamar. He was probably going to go where he thought I was going to throw him the ball. Then when they came down the line on a blitz, I knew I didn’t have time to audible, and I knew I didn’t want to spend another timeout. I knew Lamar had a size advantage on their DB over there.
“I remember when I dropped back I knew I was going to get smacked because we didn’t have it protected well. I dropped back, tried to throw it, high in the air. Just drop it in and let him run down the sideline. I didn’t have enough time to wait for him. Got hit. As I tried to get up, although I couldn’t breathe, I could hear the crowd. It was a frustrating feeling because you couldn’t celebrate with them, and then I’m on my back and the trainers are there over the top of me. Getting the wind knocked out of you is not a pleasant feeling. You think you’re going to die and all your hearing and sensory organs don’t work.”
Despite the pain, Torretta lobbed a perfect pass that Thomas, who’d blown past FSU corner Clifton Abraham, pulled in at the goal line in stride for the eventual game-winner. Torretta was absolutely blown up on the play by FSU linebacker Ken Alexander, having to be tended to by trainers as players dog-piled Thomas in the end zone.
But the gutsy pitch-and-catch from Torretta put the Canes up for good. Miami tacked on a safety when FSU punt returner Corey Sawyer made an illegal forward pass in the end zone. However, Miami couldn’t run out the clock and FSU had one final chance. After marching 59 yards, Mowrey had the chance from 39 yards out on the left hash to tie the game. The kick sailed off his foot and wide to the right as time expired, sending the beyond-capacity crowd into a fever-pitched frenzy.
Final, #2 Miami 19, #3 Florida State 16. The reward – a permanent place in college football lore and future ESPN Classic time slots. “Wide Right II” was born, and Florida State had further become the talented team that just couldn’t get it done when it really mattered. Miami would carry the momentum from the win to the 1993 Sugar Bowl against Alabama for the national championship. Although the Crimson Tide handled the Canes 34-13, the season produced the school’s second Heisman Trophy winner in Gino Torretta, and his pass to Thomas – much like Testaverde’s scramble and overall performance against Oklahoma in 1986 – served as Torretta’s Heisman moment.
And it produced a classic victory over the school’s biggest rival on the nation’s biggest stage.
Relive the full game here, or check out the highlights of the action instead