With a 10-2 regular season—and conference title game—in the books, seemed a good time to revisit the biggest moments on the Miami Hurricanes’ 2017 comeback tour.

From the season-opener against Bethune-Cookman, to the Hurricane Irma 21-day layoff, rescheduled games against Florida State and Georgia Tech, College GameDay on campus and spirited primetime showdowns against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame—as well as winning an elusive Coastal Division title—it was a much-needed breath of fresh air for a program wallowing in mediocrity for the the past decade-plus.

A regular season-ending loss to Pittsburgh was made worse by an ACC Championship game blowout against Clemson—but neither should define the season or diminish the progress this Miami program made year two under head coach Mark Richt.

The Canes are Orange Bowl-bound—something easy to take for granted decades back, but a huge step forward present day. With a win over Wisconsin, an 11-2 season and momentum going into National Signing Day—and 2018, as a whole—Miami’s future is looking bright.

Before looking a head, a quick revisit of the season that was:

Honorable Mention — Trajan Bandy’s Fourth Quarter Almost-Grab At Pittsburgh — Hate to start on a down note, but based on a two-game losing streak to end the season, the pivotal play deserves mention as it could’ve changed the game’s outcome—as well as momentum going into the ACC Championship.

Down 17-7 with 6:47 remaining in the fourth quarter, Miami forced a 3rd-and-9 situation and was primed to get the ball back—on the heels of back-up quarterback Evan Shirreffs replacing the struggling Malik Rosier; who was set to return the next possession.

Freshman quarterback Kenny Pickett dropped back for Pitt, looked left and fired at go-to Quadtree Henderson. Trajan Bandy was in prime pick-six position—or at minimum, set to bat the pass down, forcing a punt. Instead, the ball sailed through his hands and into Henderson’s for a 19-yard gain. While the game wasn’t over-over, there had been enough Miami misfortunate the previous three quarters to underscore this wasn’t the Canes’ day.

A Bandy interception and return would’ve made it 17-14 with just under seven minutes remaining—as well as a brand new ball game motivation-wise.

Instead, the Panthers extended the drive eight more plays, chewing off roughly four minutes of precious time. Insult to injury; Pittsburgh skipping the 39-yard field goal attempt on 4th-and-6—with Pickett running it in from 22 yards out, pushing the lead to an insurmountable, 24-7.

Rosier returned rejuvenated the next possession; finding Braxton Berrios for a 39-yard score, but Miami stalled moments later after recovering an onside kick when Rosier fumbled—ending any notion of a comeback. A week later, Clemson rolled hard.

Does a Canes win at Pittsburgh change the outcome against the Tigers? Probably not—but it’d have been nice to roll in with momentum based on how flat and off Miami looked against Clemson early. Plus, 11-1 has a nicer ring than 10-2—and Richt would’ve had his first-ever undefeated regular season, which simply wasn’t meant to be.

No. 7 — Travis Homer Closes The Door On Upset-Minded Syracuse — The Orange rolled into South Florida a week after their home upset of Clemson; instantly putting Miami on guard.

The Canes harassed gutsy quarterback Eric Dungey into four first half interceptions, but Miami couldn’t capitalize—only leading 13-3 at the half. The teams traded a few second half scores, though the stalled Hurricanes’ offense was in a bit of a bind late in the fourth quarter after a 53-yard field goal from Cole Murphy cut the Syracuse deficit to a point at 20-19.

Travis Homer was making his second start for the injured Mark Walton and had 19 carries for 62 yards on the afternoon, before tearing off a 33-yard score on 2nd-and-10 with 2:48 remaining in the fourth quarter—pushing the lead to eight and for the most part, putting the game away.

Rosier hit a few passes on that final scoring drive, but three runs in a row with Homer netted 17 yards and showed the back ready to bust loose. On that fourth run of the drive, he did—another big time moment from the quiet back-up thrust into the spotlight.

Syracuse’s ensuing drive ended on downs—when playing for a touchdown and two-point conversion simply to tie. Safe to say a different energy would’ve been in the building had the Canes settled for three and nursed a 23-19 lead, had Homer not punched it in when he did.

No. 6 — Joe Jackson Forces North Carolina Fumble After Miami Turnover — A week after surviving Syracuse, Miami took on a one-win North Carolina squad treating the match-up like their national championship game.

The Hurricanes’ defense came up big in the first half; forcing an early goal line stand on 4th-and-Goal from the one-yard line, while holding the Tar Heels to two field goals and a handful of first half punts.

Rosier eventually found tight end Chris Herndon for a 51-yard touchdown late in the second quarter, giving Miami a limp, 7-6 halftime lead—which it extended on the first play of the second half as Rosier found a streaking Jeff Thomas for a 78-yard score on the first play from scrimmage.

By mid-third quarter, Miami’s lead shrunk to four points—though a Michael Jackson interception put the Canes back in the driver’s seat. Facing a 4th-and-13 from the UNC 37-yard line, Miami turned it over on downs—choosing against a field goal just outside of the range of Michael Badgley.

Charles Perry immediately got the ball back for Miami, intercepting Nathan Elliott—but it was another three-and-out for the Canes. A possession later, Berrios was there recipient of a Rosier touchdown pass—set up both a 49-yard hook-up with DeeJay Dallas—while a Sheldrick Redwine haul-in from Elliott had Miami set-up to deliver a knockout blow in a 24-13 ball game.

Instead, another Rosier turnover and two possessions later, North Carolina put together a nine-play, 57-yard touchdown drive that cut the lead to 24-19 after a failed two-point conversion.

With 2:56 remaining, Homer fumble on the UNC 48-yard line and inexplicably the Tar Heels were in prime position to pull off the upset.

On 2nd-and-15, linebacker Zach McCloud popped an out of bounds Elliott late and North Carolina had new life on the Miami 37-yard line when Joe Jackson got a hand in on running back Jordan Brown, forced the fumble—the Canes recovering and closing out a gritty road game.

A loss to a 1-7 North Carolina team going into primetime showdowns at home against Virginia Tech—with the Coastal Division on the line—as well as Notre Dame; could’ve seriously taken the win out of the Canes’ sails and changed the season.

Jackson’s strip saved Miami from having to play the “what if” game and trying to re-motivate going into the meat of the schedule.

No. 5 — Trajan Bandy’s Pre-Halftime Pick-Six Against Fighting Irish — Miami was riding a magical wave entering the primetime showdown against Notre Dame. The Canes were 8-0 for the first time in what seemed like a lifetime and the battle against the third-ranked Fighting Irish truly felt like a throwback to vintage days—right down to a raucous HardRock Stadium and pre-game reports of Miami faithful tossing a bottle through the window on Notre Dame’s team bus.

The Canes got out to a fast start with a Berrios touchdown, a Rosier run-for-score and a pair of field goals—though the second a bit defeating after Miami lost four yards on three attempts after a Malik Young interception on the 13-yard line had the Canes in prime position to deliver a knock-out blow.

Two possessions later, Bandy did what the Miami offense failed to do.

Ian Book entered for the struggling Brandon Wimbush—the back-up quarterback moving the ball 54 yards on nine plays, in position to cut the lead to 13 entering halftime. Instead, facing a 3rd-and-6 from the Miami 38-yard line—Bandy jumped the route, reading Book’s pass and reeling in the interception—where he scampered 65-yards muddy-badger-style for a house call that put the Canes up, 27-0 going into the locker room.

It was another big moment in a storied rivalry—and the first time all season a Miami player earned the Turnover Chain after scoring on a big-time takeaway.

Add in the fact it was insult to injury for Notre Dame—getting shamed by Miami on national television—and this was as good of a moment this season as any.

No. 4 — Jaquan Johnson’s Pick Squashes Out Virginia Tech Rally — The Canes’ 14-3 halftime lead over the Hokies felt good, but not great as a lot of ball was left to be played. Virginia Tech cashed in on a Rosier interception on the opening drive of the third quarter—but made good with a 43-yard touchdown to Herndon two possessions later.

Late in the third quarter, the Canes—leading 21-10—punted and the Hokies were in Miami territory a few plays later. Facing an 4th-and-3 from the UM 34-yard line, Johnson made a one-handed grab and returned the errant Josh Jackson pass just shy of mid-field.

Two plays later Rosier found Ahmmon Richards for a 42-yard gain and then scampered in from 13 yards out, pushing the lead to 28-10 in the first minute of the fourth quarter—the game’s final score.

21-17 would’ve made for a much tighter ball game, but Johnson’s haul-in sucked all the life out of the Hokies’ offense—which did virtually zero the rest of the evening.

Virginia Tech oft has Miami’s number in key moments; dating back to the Big East days and putting together a much more impressive ACC resume than the Canes have since both made the conference jump in 2004.

Last year, a painful loss in Blacksburg while the Hokies rolled to a Coastal title. This time around, Miami took down a division rival and officially clinched a week later when Virginia lost at Louisville.

No. 3 — Jaquan Johnson Pick-Six Gives Needed Momentum Against Virginia — Coming on the heels of nationally televised primetime games against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, there was understandable concern surrounding a high-noon kickoff and let-down game against the Cavaliers.

Try to guard against it as much as one might, another situation where a good-not-great team could save their season with a win over Miami. Kurt Benkert was 28-of-37 for 384 yards and four touchdowns—starting out 18-of-19 for 288 yards; all four scores coming by the 12:21 mark in the third quarter.

Miami fell behind 14-0 early, got it to 14-14 but gave up a late score before the half—again down by seven. The first possession of the second half; utter disaster by way of a Rosier sack, a fast start and a partially-blocked punt on 4th-and-19—download at the Miami 21-yard line.

Two plays later, a brilliant pass from Benkert to an outstretched Daniel Hamm pushed the lead back to 14—resulting in a spirited Cavaliers’ sideline, while the Canes were in their worst position of the season.

Rosier remained cool, leading Miami on a seven-play, 63-yard drive—capped by a 24-yard hook-up to Berrios on 3rd-and-9 before a nine-yard touchdown pass to Lawrence Cager at the 10:04 mark, making for a 28-21 ballgame.

By the 9:57 mark, the game was knotted at 28-28 and all momentum had swung back Miami’s way, courtesy of Jaquan Johnson reading Benkert’s eyes, jumping the route and returning an interception 30 yards for a touchdown that left HardRock shaking like the vintage Orange Bowl days.

The Canes rattled off 16 more points from there—a total of 30 unanswered after trailing 28-14. The house call from Johnson proved to be the ultimate cool-off tactic for Benkert, who was 8-of-12 for 67 yards from that point on—while the Miami defense sacked him four times over that stretch, courtesy of the momentum shift and shot in the arm from No. 4.

A loss to Virginia on the heels of convincing wins over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame—outscoring both 69-18, while forcing eight turnovers; it’d have been disastrous on Senior Day and the home finale.

No. 2. — Darrell Langham Hauls In Tipped 4th Down Pass Against Georgia Tech — Having achieved hero status a week prior with his game-winning haul-in at Florida State a week prior, Darrell Langham seemed the least-likely go-to guy in a 4th-and-10 situation with the game on the line—but damned if he wasn’t the target and didn’t reel in the grab in epic fashion.

Miami was in trouble against Georgia Tech early; falling behind early, giving up long, sustained drives and watching the Yellow Jackets bleed the clock as they have so many times before. Even with the Canes managed to slow down the option; the Ramblin’ Wreck would hit a rare big pass to keep things rolling.

14-3 became 14-6 and eventually 14-13 after Rosier dumped off to Homer—who laid out his body for a brilliant pylon tap and 17-yard touchdown going into halftime. Miami got cute with its opening second half kickoff—looking to catch Georgia Tech off-guard—but the onside kick went awry and resulted in a 42-yard touchdown return for the other guys.

Down 21-13 to a dangerous group team with a PhD in bleeding the clock—every possession from this point on was crucial. Miami held Georgia Tech to three after a 13 play, 68-yard drive bled 6:34 off the clock; extending the lead to a dangerous, 24-13 with 5:52 left in the third quarter.

Miami answered with a disheartening field goal on its next drive—after a 70-yard hook-up from Rosier to Thomas was stopped at the 3-yard line; the Canes losing a yard over the next three plays—red zone woes continuing.

Still, the defense responded—holding GT to 16 yards and six plays over three minutes before forcing a punt. Miami then marched 75 yards over six plays—in a torrential downpour—capped with a 27-yard scamper from Homer on 2nd-and-5. The two-point conversion failed, but the Canes were alive, albeit trailing 24-22.

Over the next five series, Miami defense forced three punts—while Georgia Tech pushed the Canes’ offense in two of their own; nothing seemingly working for UM’s offense … until Richt and crew tosses in a new wrinkle.

Over the next several plays, Rosier worked the bubble screen and found both Berrios and Herndon seven times; the last—a six-yarder to Berrios, called back for an illegal block. 2nd-and-1 from the Georgia Tech 34-yard line became 2nd-and-11 from the 44—and after an incompletion to Herdon and a one-yard Homer run, Miami was staring down the barrel of 4th-and-10 from the 43-yard line and in need of a miracle.

Rosier dropped back, looked right, put it up for Langham—in double coverage—and the pass went off an outstretched group of hands and a facemark, before No. 81 reeled it on on the way down.

A 12-yard run from Homer put Badgley in position to drill the 24-yard field goal—which he did, for the thrilling, 25-24 comeback victory.

No. 1 — Darrell Langham Breaks Losing Streak To Seminoles With Late Score — Impossible to not call Langham’s number again as his game-winner over Florida State felt like a thousand-pound weight lifted off the Miami program’s collective shoulders.

Seven consecutive losses to the Seminoles had taken its toll on the Hurricanes program; putting more program on the annual showdown every time these two faced off. This season, the pressure was even greater due to Florida State’s ugly start, coupled with personnel issues.

After losing to Alabama in the opener and seeing starting quarterback Deondre Francois lost for the year, the Noles also slipped at home against North Carolina State—in the inaugural start for replacement James Blackman.

Originally slated for September 16th, the game was rescheduled for October 7th—allowing Miami a warm-up opportunity against Toledo on September 24th and a road start at Duke for Rosier; the lone venue he served as a starter two years prior in favor of injured starter Brad Kaaya.

As expected, Florida State looked none the part of a 1-2 team when Miami rolled in. A defensive battle early, the Canes trailed, 3-0 at the half—the pressure to beat a wounded rival growing drive-after drive.

Miami opened the second half with a 31-yard field goal; the drive stalling a few plays after a brilliant 43-yard pick up from Rosier to Richards on 3rd-and-20. Dee Delaney picked off Blackman on the ensuing drive, which Rosier gave right back—intercepted by Stanford Samuels III in the end zone for a touchback.

The Canes took a 10-3 lead a possession later after Berrios returned a punt 44 yards to the FSU 21-yard line. One player later, Rosier went at the speed receiver with a touchdown strike.

Florida State soon answered; a clutch pass from Blackman to tight end Ryan Izzo, tying the game, 10-10. Miami’s next possession stalled, but an eight-play, 44-yard drive by Florida State culminated in a 38-yard field goal and three point lead with 6:55 remaining.

Any notion that 21 more points would be scored over that span seemed far fetched, but that’s precisely what happened—the Canes ultimately going on two game-winning drives. Rosier worked Berrios and Herndon five times on the six-play possession—Berrios grabbing a six-yarder to give Miami the 17-13 lead.

Miraculously, Blackman upped the ante and led Florida State on a nine-play, 75-yard drive—ending with a 20-yard strike to a banged-up Auden Tate, putting the Seminoles ahead, 20-17.

Hope was still alive for Miami with 1:24 remaining—but things were looking bleak. Doak Campbell Stadium had come alive and memories of the Canes late-game unraveling over the past decade in this rivalry was hard to ignore. Despite that, Rosier and the offense went to work—everyone ultimately playing their part in the comeback.

Rosier to Berrios for 17 yards on 3rd-and-10 was the first strike, followed by back-to-back runs from Homer for 10 and 14 yards, putting Miami just across midfield. A few cracks at Cager sailed long; the second, Rosier simply looking for a safe place to get rid of the ball.

On 3rd-and-10, back to Berrios—who made a nifty move that got him a few extra yards; 11 total—to keep the chains moving with :11 remaining in the game.

As cameras panned to Richt on the sideline, tapping the side of his head and advising Rosier to, “be smart”. Langham streaked up the right side and Rosier delivered a perfect back-shoulder fade—allowing No. 81 to twist his way to a catch, before stretching his way into the end zone.

A few nerve-racking minutes passed as the booth checked to see if the knee was down—a drastic overturn hanging in the balance as Miami had already been hit with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty (which would’ve pushed the Canes back to the 16-yard line, bringing out Badgley for a game-tying field goal.)

Instead, the ruling on the field stood, Badgley knocked down the extra point and Miami’s special teams stopped any miracle finish from taking place—leaving Langham the hero and the Hurricanes the victor over a hated rival that had their number.

Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties and launched allCanesBlog.com soon thereafter. After being poached away by BleacherReport as a featured columnist, Bello launched ItsAUThing.com to scratch that orange and green itch. In his day-to-day Bello works with icon Bill Murray and humor website theCHIVE on the William Murray golf apparel line—but all free time is spent reminding the masses that it’s a Canes thing and they wouldn’t understand.

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