Miami's miracle at Duke? The 'Canes wanted a different play
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) Robert Wright is permanently scarred from Miami's win over Duke last season .
And he was on the winning side.
Anyone familiar with Miami's game-ending kickoff return for a touchdown at Duke last season knows all about the eight laterals, the wild scene when Corn Elder reached the end zone, the lengthy review from the replay booth, the officiating mistakes and the Hurricanes' wild celebratory reaction when they were declared winners.
Turns out, there was so much more than what was seen on the field that night. With the Hurricanes set to host Duke on Saturday in the teams' first meeting since that still-debated 30-27 win by the Hurricanes, some of the principals involved in ''The Miami Miracle'' recalled this week how it happened.
SETTING THE SCENE
Miami was at its lowest point that week.
Coach Al Golden was fired on Sunday, a day after the Hurricanes lost to Clemson 58-0. Star defensive back Artie Burns' mother died in the days before the Duke game, and quarterback Brad Kaaya was ruled out with a concussion.
''It was a rough week,'' said Kaaya, who didn't even make the trip to Duke.
There was more, too. A backup player was arrested that week on suspicion of domestic battery, and police came to practice on Tuesday to talk to some graduate assistants after the home they shared was burglarized on Monday night.
But practice went on and something Miami installed that week was a throwback-pass kickoff return that the Hurricanes had run a couple of times in Golden's tenure, including in his first game at Maryland in 2011.
The plan was to run it at Duke. They ended up running something else .
''We wanted to run what we called `Music City,' for the Music City Miracle,'' said Wright, a graduate assistant coach for Miami last year and now an assistant at Illinois, referring to the throwback-pass kickoff return that lifted Tennessee over Buffalo in an NFL playoff game in January 2000. ''But when we called it, the GA who was on the field lost the card and we couldn't show it to players.''
So they scrambled and came up with a new play on the fly.
''I just remember thinking, `It's going to work,''' Elder said. ''We were going to win.''
Duke scored its go-ahead touchdown with 6 seconds left – some at Miami still say the Blue Devils didn't cross the goal line – and everyone knew the ensuing kickoff would put the Hurricanes in a desperate spot.
With Music City off the table since the card was lost, Miami set up a different throwback return. It's now known as Desperado, though that name was apparently given after the fact.
Dallas Crawford fielded Duke's squib-kick at the Miami 26. Crawford was a last-second addition to the unit, after Miami scrambled to come up with something to replace Music City. His job was to get the ball across the field to Elder, which he did – twice, actually, the second of those being the eighth and final lateral.
Elder took that last one 91 yards to the end zone. The play wound up taking 49 seconds. What happened next took nearly 9 more minutes.
''When Corn cut inside of the last defender, my natural instinct was just to like run, so I ran out of the coaches booth and started running around going crazy,'' Wright said. ''We all took off down four stories to get to the field.''
That's when they saw the flag.
Miami got called for a block in the back, with Mark Walton being flagged at the Duke 25. The game wasn't over. Miami was getting an untimed down.
''They're going to have to bring him back,'' Duke offensive lineman Casey Blaser remembers thinking, as he watched from the sideline. ''Even if they get one play, our defense will stop them.''
Maybe he would have been right. But that play never happened.
Confusion reigned, but after a few minutes – with replay still going on – Miami figured that at worst, it would have a 57-yard field goal attempt to try to tie the game.
Kicker Michael Badgley was told to get ready. There was so much chaos on the sideline, though, that Badgley didn't have enough space to warm up by kicking into the net behind the bench.
So he kicked into the woods.
''I don't know what happened to those footballs,'' Miami sports information director Tom Symonds said.
Finally, the word came from referee Jerry Magallanes: ''After review, there was never a knee down by any of the runners of Miami. However, the block in question was from the side, not from the back. It's a legal play. Touchdown. Game's over.''
The officials and those in the replay booth were suspended for two games for botching how the play was handled, but the score stood.
Miami 30, Duke 27.
''There had to be 35 people watching with us on TV,'' said Kaaya, who was watching in Coral Gables at a teammate's apartment. ''Trick-or-treaters kept coming to the door. I was having all the candy I could eat. And then Corn took off and the whole house went crazy. People threw stuff everywhere. Dudes were running outside. It was awesome.''
An hour after the game, Wright was changing out of his coaching attire to get ready for the joyous flight home – one on which everyone was taking photos with the football that Elder carried into the end zone (and should have been returned to Duke, technically, since it was the Blue Devils' ball).
That's when he saw the blood.
Turns out he smashed his shin into a metal bench during the chaos and didn't even realize it.
''I now have a permanent scar right there,'' Wright said.
An unneeded reminder, from a game he'll never forget.
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