Miami 41, Louisville 38
The No. 18 Louisville Cardinals flummoxed the No. 3 team in the nation Thursday night. They forcibly seized the notice of the college football world. They overwhelmed the University of Miami on its hallowed home turf at the Orange Bowl, taking a huge lead midway through the third quarter.
But what they did not do was finish the job.
Louisville's hopes of making a major surge in the polls dissolved as it let Miami climb back into a wild game, succumbing with less than a minute remaining.
A one-yard touchdown run with 49 seconds left by Frank Gore concluded a night in which Miami (5-0) overcame a 17-point deficit to win, 41-38. The Hurricanes kept their national title hopes alive while handing the Cardinals (4-1) a crushing -- and, as the game unfolded, unexpected -- defeat.
"We came back in the second half of the game," Miami Coach Larry Coker said. "They didn't flinch. They didn't give up. . . . These guys really, really fought to the end."
Quarterback Brock Berlin, the most criticized player in recent Hurricanes history, sparked the improbable comeback, leading the team on six second-half scoring drives including the 10-play, 56-yard game-winner in the final four minutes that sent the crowd of 63,715 into delirium.
Berlin, who hit 25 of 37 passes for 308 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception, completed a five-yard pass on a crucial fourth-and-four with 1:46 remaining.
Gore punched it over one play later and the Cardinals' hopes expired when cornerback Antrelle Rolle, considered one of the nation's best, intercepted a final heave from Louisville freshman Brian Brohm with five seconds left.
"We've been here before in this situation," said Berlin, who has led Miami to five fourth-quarter comebacks in his two seasons with the Canes. "Again, we proved what type of character our team has . . . It just comes down to character, drive and determination."
The loss brought respect to the Conference USA Cardinals, who accumulated 214 yards on the ground and 293 through the air, but saw their hopes for a Bowl Championship Series appearance practically evaporate with the late collapse.
"We're hurting and we're down," Louisville Coach Bobby Petrino said. "Anytime you go out and compete as hard as you can and lose, it hurts. [But] we hold our heads high and our chests out."
Return man Devin Hester capped Miami's first comeback of the night. Turned out, the Hurricanes needed two in a game that featured 938 yards of total offense. Hester, who compiled 184 yards on returns despite having a 103-yard return called back on a penalty, gave the Hurricanes their first lead since the first quarter, returning a punt 78 yards with 8:11 remaining to put Miami up, 34-31.
"After the first one was called back, my teammates told me to keep my head up because they knew I would get another chance," said Hester, whose 33-yard punt return average entering the game led the nation. "I told myself that if I got another opportunity I was going to make another play."
The score completed a massive turnaround for Miami, which scored on every possession of the second half.
The Cardinals, however, ended Miami's 21-point scoring run with an 80-yard drive led by Brohm, who completed a pair of 15-yard strikes before Lionel Gates scored from a yard out. That gave Louisville a 38-34 lead with 4:30 remaining.
Brohm had replaced starter Stefan LeFors midway through the fourth quarter after LeFors suffered a concussion. The senior quarterback had frustrated the nation's top-ranked scoring defense before his departure, throwing three scoring passes and completing 17 of 22 passes for 242 yards, at times making Miami look like a practice squad.
A flurry of mistakes -- penalties, a costly turnover and a dropped interception -- hurt Louisville in the fourth quarter as it strove to hold its precarious leads. Perhaps the biggest miscue came from free safety Kerry Rhodes, who had intercepted Berlin in the first half. Rhodes dropped a Berlin pass that hit him in the chest on Miami's winning drive.
Louisville's undefeated mark entering the game was tainted only slightly by the subpar quality of the competition: Kentucky, Army, North Carolina and East Carolina. Thursday night, however, the Cardinals proved a match for Miami, which began its season with a victory over Florida State.
"We took them for granted and they really came out and outplayed us in the first half," Gore said. "We were able to come back in the second half and take it one play at a time."