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SOTU Awards: Game of the Year — Miami 28, Florida State 27

Miami’s comeback win was undoubtedly 2018’s high point

In every sport, on every team, one goal seems to rise above the rest; beat your rival. Of course in Miami, one half of one of the best rivalries in sports, that expectation is especially true. Every year, second only to competing for a National Championship, Canes’ fans want to see their team stomp out the Florida State Seminoles. And in a 2018 season that was as abysmal as they come, Hurricanes Nation got to at least claim bragging rights over it’s most-hated rival.

Miami seemed on the upswing heading up to this game, ranked 17th and rebounding well following the horrendous loss in the opener against LSU. N’Kosi Perry was entrenched as the starter and showed great upside in his first game leading Miami, the previous Thursday versus UNC. But now it was the biggest game of the redshirt freshman’s life to date, up against a struggling Seminoles’ team that still had talent and an experienced QB in Deandre Francois.

The game started off ugly. While many expected a rout it seemed like that expectation would turn out true. Just not the way they expected. Florida State, as always, came to play against a Miami team that seemed disjointed in every phase of it’s game. After getting out to an early lead, thanks to the passing of Francois, Miami tied it up on a fourth down touchdown pass to Lawrence Cager. The bleeding seemed to have been stemmed there and Miami looked to get control the rest of the way. Only that didn’t happen.

Florida State kept up the offensive assault, grabbing a field goal off a Miami fumble and another touchdown off a short field to make it 17-7. One more field goal as time expired sent the Canes into the locker room down 20-7 to an opponent that had thus far squeaked out wins over Louisville and Samford and already lost big to Virginia Tech and Syracuse.

Despite a half to try and change things, a dismal day for Miami’s special teams was made even worse not four minutes into the third quarter. D.J. Matthews took a Cane punt back 74 yards to the house, making it a seemingly insurmountable 27-7 lead. Even with 30 minutes of game time left, the Canes looked dead in the water. ESPN’s win probability tracker gave FSU a 90.5% chance to win.

But, one of the best coaching decisions Mark Richt made all season, the Hurricanes stuck with N’Kosi Perry and let the young QB put the offense on his shoulders. Although Miami punted on the ensuing drive, the defense also stepped up, the front seven playing perhaps their best game of the entire season. Gerald Willis, Joe Johnson and Jon Garvin feasted on a weak and banged-up Noles line, recovering a fumble after Sheldrick Redwine blitzed Francois. Cager caught another TD on fourth down to close the gap to 27-14.

The defense kept it up, sacking Francois on the next drive’s first play before Michael Pinckney grabbed an interception immediately afterwards. The next play? A Jeff Thomas back-shoulder catch to cut the lead to 27-21. Just like that, in a span of 42 seconds, the defense forced two turnovers, Perry threw two touchdowns, and Miami was within one TD with an entire quarter left.

Florida State v Miami Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The wet field conditions made the rest of the game a mess, more punts ensuing and Florida State missing a critical 43-yard field goal that could’ve put the Noles up two scores. Miami took advantage on the very next drive, grabbing 73 yards on just two plays, finished off with a gorgeous 41-yard touchdown pass from Perry to Brevin Jordan to give Miami the go-ahead score. It was their first lead of the day.

The Seminoles would be unable to get back into Miami territory and, after a few scary plays like Jeff Thomas’ muff on a punt return and a Bubba Baxa missed field goal, the Hurricanes would come away from this one victorious. Coming back from down 20 points, a resilient effort by N’Kosi Perry and an unstoppable second half by the Canes’ front seven made this game just another memorable chapter in the Miami-FSU record books and, the Hurricanes’ game of the year.