Miami had known nothing but heartbreak against Florida State in recent years. Thus, with the Hurricanes ranked in the top 15 with expectations of finally winning the ACC Coastal Division for the first time, no game in their quest for a breakout season stood out as a more crucial test than their trip to Florida State.
They finally turned that heartbreak into a cathartic victory.
In a game delayed three weeks because of Hurricane Irma, No. 13 Miami beat Florida State 24-20 in Tallahassee on Saturday afternoon, thanks to a 23-yard touchdown strike from Malik Rosier to Darrell Langham, who caught the ball short of the end zone and broke over the goal line with just six seconds left.
Florida State had taken the lead less than a minute and a half earlier, when James Blackman found Auden Tate for a 20-yard touchdown to go ahead 20-17 with 1:24 to play.
It's a heated rivalry known for its miscues on kicks late in the game, including Florida State's victory on a blocked PAT late in last year's game. When Miami got the ball back at its own 25, it was hard not to thank about the potential for another excruciating loss on a missed kick. Instead, Miami didn't even put a field goal in play.
Rosier hit Braxton Berrios for a 17-yard gain on a third-and-down. Travis Homer ran twice for 24 yards. On third-and-10 at the 34-yard line, facing the possibility of a long field goal, Rosier completed an 11-yard pass to Berrios to move the chains. With time left for one play before kicking a field goal for overtime, Rosier and Langham came up with the game-winning play that finally pushed the Canes back over the top, their first win in the rivalry since Jimbo Fisher became head coach at Florida State in 2010.
With two young, unproven quarterbacks and shaky offensive line play against talented defenses, the game featured just six points in the first 37 minutes. The ugliness soon gave way to a scoring burst, however, one launched by Berrios. He returned a punt 44 yards, setting up his own 21-yard TD catch from Rosier to put Miami ahead 10-3 in the third quarter.
Florida State got back on the board with a touchdown and field goal in the third quarter, and Miami answered with another Rosier TD to Berrios with 5:09 left. Then, the teams traded touchdowns as the game went down to the wire.
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The Hurricanes struggled to run and Rosier completed just 19 of 24 passes, but he came up with big throws in big moments, especially to Berrios (eight catches, 90 yards, two TDs) and Ahmmon Richards (four catches for 98 yards). FSU had more success on the ground, getting 121 rushing yards from freshman Cam Akers and 91 from Jacques Patrick, and also had a few big throws from Blackman, but it wasn't enough to put the Canes away.
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Florida State is just 1-3 after opening the year ranked No. 3, losing to Alabama, N.C. State and now Miami (in addition to losing starting QB Deondre Francois in the opener) to end any playoff hopes before the midway point of the season. Nothing has gone as planned. Although the win won't be quite as meaningful on a resume as Miami expected, FSU's record doesn't change how big of a moment this is for the Hurricanes and their ascent in the second season under coach Mark Richt.
After another brutal loss to the Noles last year, Miami lost three more games in a row. It bounced back to win five in a row to the end the season, setting the stage for a 2017 season in which it hoped to make its first ACC title game appearance. Its winning streak extended to nine and counting, those hopes are even higher now, even if Virginia Tech especially poses a threat down the stretch.
For Miami to confidently take aim at ending a division title drought, it had to first end its rivalry drought with the Seminoles. That test has been dramatically passed, and the Canes can't help but be viewed as the Coastal frontrunner that they hoped to be.