For years, the Miami Hurricanes have been one of the favorite feature teams for ESPN’s Thursday Night CFB games. A premium program with national name recognition, the Canes have helped drive ratings for ESPN game broadcasts for years.
In 2004, Miami’s Thursday Night game featured a pair of ranked teams. The Canes, still trying to hold on to their well-earned elite status, were 4-0 and ranked #3 in the country, having already beaten rival Florida State, Louisiana Tech, Houston, and Georgia Tech on the year while only allowing 1 touchdown — total — in those games.
Opposing the Canes on this warm October night were the Louisville Cardinals. Under then (and current) coach Bobby Petrino, the Cardinals were also 4-0 and an offensive juggernaut having beaten rival Kentucky, Army, #24 North Carolina and #22 East Carolina by a combined 173-28. Louisville’s biggest game of the year was this trip to Miami, and the Cardinals had big plans to make a major national impact by defeating the Canes in the Orange Bowl.
The game started as most expected: Miami dominated Louisville’s offense, sacking star QB Stefan LeFors, controlling the running game, and forcing a punt. Now with the ball, the Miami offense, led by QB Brock Berlin, took the field and went to work.
Using both the run and the pass, Miami marched down the field into the red zone. Their first foray into scoring territory ended when star RB Frank Gore was stopped on 4th and goal from the 3. That was a big win for Louisville’s defense, but also showed that Miami could get into scoring position whenever they wanted.
After another 3 and out for Louisville — their dynamic offense held to -11 total yards on their first 2 possessions — Miami broke the seal on the scoreboard. Brock Berlin used play-action to open up space for his favorite target, TE Greg Olsen, who ran a perfect crossing route to find the endzone, and give Miami a 7-0 lead with 5:22 left in the first quarter.
Louisville was game for the challenge presented by the #3 ranked Canes, and finally got their offense going on their 3rd possession. After being stopped at the 16 yardline on the kickoff return, Petrino’s high octane offense made a methodical march down the field against the vaunted Canes’ D. Mixing the run with RB Michael Bush and the pass to a variety of targets (including Bush), Louisville went 84 yards in 9 plays, capped by a 1 yard TD run by RB Lionel Gates, tying the game at 7-7 with 1:53 left in the quarter. The Cardinals found a chink in Miami’s armor, and they were now comfortable and engaged in the game.
Disaster stuck for Miami on the next drive when Berlin was intercepted by S Kerry Rhoades on the 2nd play, putting Louisville in prime scoring position. The Canes’ D held the Cards out of the endzone, but a short FG gave Louisville a 10-7 lead 1 play into the 2nd Quarter.
Now with the momentum, Louisville kept the pressure on Miami, who were suddenly unable to do anything on the field. The Canes’ next possession was a 3 and out, ending with a punt to give Louisville the ball 75 yards away from the endzone. That yardage made little difference to the Louisville offense, who took only 3:10 of game time to go those 75 yards, ending with a TD pass from LeFors to WR Tiger Jones to extend the Cards’ lead to 17-7 with 10:03 left in the 1st half.
Following this score, the teams traded punts — Miami had 2 sandwiched around one from Louisville — before the Cards took over on their 20 yard line with just over 5:00 left in the half. But, with Petrino never one to sit on a lead, the Cards offense kicked things back into gear, slicing and dicing their way through the talented Canes defense.
With several chunk (10+ yard) plays on the drive, Louisville found the endzone yet again, this time with a 17 yard pass from LeFors to RB Gates, giving the Cardinals a dominant 24-7 lead. Struggling mightily and in need of answers, Miami chose to run take 3 knees once they got the ball back, running out the clock and sending the teams to the Orange Bowl locker rooms, one loud, brash, demonstrative, with all the bravado in the world, hyping up the crowd and confident of a forthcoming victory, and the other being the Canes.
Not exactly the way Miami had envisioned things going.
Needing a spark in the worst way, Miami turned to one of the best and fastest playmakers to ever set foot on the Orange Bowl turf: KR Devin Hester. The All-American return man fielded the 2nd half kickoff in the endzone moving to his left, but wasn’t going to take a touchback. Hester gathered himself, cut to his right, and made his way up the field. Once he was on his way, Hester made a man miss, cut back slightly against the grain and then saw the most beautiful thing a kick returner can see: open grass (and maybe a slow kicker in the periphery). Herster used his 4.2 speed to make the Louisville disappear in the rearview mirror, sprinting the rest of the distance for a clutch, and much needed, 100 yard KR-TD to breathe new life into the Canes.
But there was a flag.
Holding was called against Miami during Hester’s return, which wiped the points off the board, and gave the Canes the ball back at their own 20 yardline. Talk about a buzzkill.
Even with the points being taken off the board, Miami used the first possession of the 2nd half to get on the board and back into the game. A 10 play, 76 yard drive was capped by a 14 yard TD pass from Berlin to WR Roscoe Parrish, bringing the Canes within 24-14 with just under 10 minutes left in the 3rd.
Louisville, tested but not defeated, came out on the ensuing drive and pushed their lead back to 17 points. Using the pass effectively, and helped by a personal foul by Miami, the Cards capped an 80 yard drive with a 22 yard TD pass from LeFors to Tiger Jones — their 2nd TD connection of the game — to make the score 31-14 Louisville.
Having previously orchestrated several comebacks, Canes QB Brock Berlin began the quest to add another comeback to his resume. Berlin passed o 6 of the 8 plays on Miami’s next drive, finding WR Darnell Jenkins for an 11 yard score to cap the drive. Miami was now back within 10 points at 31-21, and hoped the defense would be able to stop Louisville’s offense yet again.
Miami’s wish came true on the next drive, as Louisville went 3 and out, and punted the ball back to the Canes. Miami’s drive started at the 6 yard line, and the Canes drove the length of the field. Their drive, which spanned the 3rd into the 4th quarter, ultimately stalled at the Louisville 6 yard line, and forced Miami to settle for a 24 yard Jon Peattie FG to make the score 31-24 in favor of the Cardinals.
Miami got a big break on the next possession, when Louisville QB LeFors fumbled the ball, and it was recoverd by DT Santonio Holmes at the 22 yard line. Miami was unable to move the ball, failing to pick up a 1st down on 3 Frank Gore carries, and instead settled for another Jon Peattie FG to make the score 31-27. Nice job by holder Matt Carter — a personal friend of mine who was shouted out by Mike Tirico on the broadcast, by the way — for getting the ball down on a less-than-perfect snap to make that FG possible.
After a short, 8 play 17 yard drive, Louisville lined up to punt the ball to Devin Hester. While he’d had a KR-TD called back earlier, there would be no stopping #4 this time. Hester fielded the ball at Miami’s 22 yard line, and the rest was history. He cut quickly up the middle of the field, put a little shimmy move on the punter around the 50, and was off to the races. 78 yards later, Miami had scored a huge TD to finally retake the lead at 34-31 with just over 8 minutes left in the 4th quarter.
This is what Hester’s return looked like from the upper deck of the Orange Bowl:
Louisville continued something they’d done all game and all season — rotating QBs. Superstar freshman QB Brian Brohm was a local Louisville kid whose brothers had played for UL, and a 5-star recruit. He was much more the prototypical player than the shorter and left-handed LeFors, and he came into the game again, this time with Louisville trailing.
Brohm, however, proved he was up to the task (this time) by directing Louisville on a 9 play, 80 yard drive that was capped by a 1 yard Lionel Gates TD. That TD gave Louisville the lead 38-34 late in the 4th quarter, and felt like it could be the end of Miami’s hope of winning the game.
Louisville had to kick the ball to Devin Hester again, and Miami used that to their advantage. After fielding a short kick, Hester returned the ball 34 yards out to the 44 yard line — and I KNOW Louisville was scared he was going to score again — to give Miami the ball in great field position.
Miami moved the ball down to the Louisville 8 yard line, where they were faced with 4th and 3. Brock Berlin, with ice in his veins, hit Darnell Jenkins for a gain of 5 and a big conversion to give Miami 1st and goal on the 3.
RB Tyrone Moss tee’d it up with a 2 yard run on 1st down, and Frank Gore sealed the deal with a 1 yard TD on the next play. And, just like that, Miami had taken a 41-38 lead with 49 seconds left in the game.
And the crowd went wild.
BUT, Louisville was still getting the ball back with a last chance to find the endzone and secure a program-changing victory for the Cardinals. And, much to the surprise of many, Louisville left LeFors — who went 17-22 for 242 and 3 TDs — on the bench in favor of the ballyhooed freshman Brohm, who had played the majority of the 2nd half.
That decision proved to be a poor one for Louisville.
After moving the ball to their own 49 yard line, Louisville’s drive stalled as Miami’s defense was too much for the freshman to handle. His last throw was his worst (or best, depending on your viewpoint). Brohm’s hail mary attempt didn’t come close to the endzone and was intercepted by All-American CB Antrel Rolle, sealing the Miami win.
In the end, the teams combined for nearly 1,000 of total offense, nearly 80 points, more than 20 penalties (Louisville had 11 to Miami’s 10 before you cry foul) and one epic game. I remember being in the Orange Bowl for this game, and man, that was a wild ride. And, that wild ride will be remembered as a Miami Hurricanes Game We Love classic.
Full game video is here, and the highlights (including both Hester returns) can be seen below: