No. 23 Miami 38, No. 16 Syracuse 31
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) _ Someday, Syracuse will beat Miami. Maybe after Tremain Mack graduates.
Mack, a junior, returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown with 35 seconds left in the first half Saturday to stun Syracuse just when it seemed poised to rebound from a disastrous start.
Instead, despite a valiant 21-point rally in the second half, the 16th-ranked Orangemen lost 38-31 to the 23rd-ranked Hurricanes and watched a major bowl bid slip away.
Syracuse had scored only 13 seconds before Mack’s return to get back in a game that quarterback Ryan Clement and the Hurricanes were dominating.
``When you do something like that totally unexpected it brings the other team down,″ said Mack, who last year blocked a field goal and intercepted two passes against the Orangemen in Miami’s comeback 35-24 win. ``They went in at halftime down instead of up.″
The kickoff return for a touchdown was Miami’s first since 1980.
The Orangemen (8-3, 6-1 Big East), who would have won their first outright Big East title and secured a berth in the Bowl Alliance with a victory, never gave up. Not after Clement shredded their defense with touchdown passes to Magic Benton, Yatil Green and Tony Gaiter in the first half. And not after Duane Starks returned an interception 35 yards for another touchdown early in the second half to put Miami up 35-10.
Syracuse, outscored 69-0 by Miami in the second half of the last three meetings, stormed back. Donovan McNabb, ineffective in the first half (3-for-9 for 38 yards), combined with Darryl Daniel on a 70-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter, then hit Kevin Johnson with a 15-yard scoring pass with 9:55 left to make it 35-24.
The Orangemen appeared set to pull off a miraculous comeback, but Deon Maddox fumbled just inside the Miami 45 with 6:36 left and Starks recovered for Miami. Trent Jones then ripped off a 58-yard run to set up Andy Crosland’s 25-yard field goal.
``We were really trying to fight back, but that really pushed a lot of guys’ confidence back,″ Johnson said of the fumble. ``We knew we could score 30 points in the half. But you go back in the second half and they bust open a run and score a another touchdown, it’s real difficult to bounce back and keep your momentum going.″
The victory gave the Hurricanes (8-3, 6-1) a share of the league title with Syracuse and Virginia Tech. The highest ranked team of the three in the next poll will go to either the Fiesta Bowl or the Orange Bowl.
This was supposed to be the year that Syracuse finally broke through against Miami. The Orangemen were riding an eight-game winning streak and the Hurricanes weren’t the Hurricanes _ they had lost three straight home games and had to play through the death of a player, several suspensions and a slew of injuries.
Instead, Miami defeated Syracuse for the sixth straight time in the 1990s.
``The loss hurts,″ running back Terry Morris said outside the silent Syracuse locker room. ``I don’t really think it’s fully hit us. There were a lot of guys just sitting quietly.″
Miami dominated the first half, outgaining the Orangemen 222-118 and taking a 28-10 lead. That proved too much to overcome, but Syracuse tried mightily.
``Our team never gave up, and that’s basically how we worked all season _ we never gave up,″ said McNabb, who was 10-for-24 for 203 yards but suffered three interceptions. ``We are down, obviously, but in particular this one since it’s the last game of the year.″
McNabb hit Daniel with a 5-yard scoring pass with 54 seconds left, but Miami recovered the onside kick and that was it.
``For some reason we rise up,″ Miami coach Butch Davis said. ``These guys have absolutely refused to give up and surrender. With the adversity this team has fought through all year long. These guys are going to play hard, they’re going to lay it on the line every time the ball is snapped.″
Syracuse has failed repeatedly to make a statement that it’s ready to join the top rung of college football. And it always seems to be Miami who has been there to thwart the Orangemen.
``That usually works against teams,″ said Clement, who was 14-for-28 for 218 yards and had two interceptions after sitting out a week with an ankle injury. ``You’ve got all these things to play for, you come out a little tight, don’t do the things you need to do when you’re playing a team that’s really got nothing to lose.″