Miami 31, Virginia 21
-- Virginia entered Saturday's critical ACC contest against Miami bound and determined to keep the football away from Hurricanes return specialist Devin Hester, who has run back three punts and one kickoff for touchdowns this season. Hester didn't touch the ball much, but the Cavaliers' problem was they couldn't keep the football away from Roscoe Parrish.
Parrish, a junior from Miami, returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown and caught a 25-yard touchdown pass with 51 seconds left, leading the No. 18 Hurricanes to a 31-21 win over the No. 10 Cavaliers in front of a sellout crowd of 63,701 fans, the largest ever at Scott Stadium.
The Hurricanes (7-2, 4-2) ended their two-game losing streak and kept alive their hopes of winning the ACC title -- and the Bowl Championship Series berth that comes with it -- in their first season in the conference. Virginia Tech, which was idle Saturday and plays Maryland on Thursday night, moved into first place in the ACC, a half-game ahead of Florida State, Miami and Virginia.
The loss was a devastating blow for the Cavaliers (7-2, 4-2), who lost for just the second time in their last 18 home games and were all but eliminated from the ACC championship race. Virginia, which plays at Georgia Tech on Saturday and at No. 18 Virginia Tech on Nov. 27, would now lose tiebreakers to the Seminoles or the Hurricanes.
Parrish is a big reason why the Hurricanes are still alive in the race. He replaced Hester on punt returns in the first half and quickly burned the Cavaliers' coverage team, returning a punt 45 yards to set up Miami's second touchdown. His 62-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter was a back-breaker for the Cavaliers. With about seven minutes left, Parrish caught Sean Johnson's punt at the Miami 38-yard line, picked up a questionable block from cornerback Antrel Rolle, and ran down the right sideline and into the end zone to give the Hurricanes a 24-14 lead.
"Special teams are always a big part of the game," said Virginia linebacker Dennis Haley, who was blocked by Rolle near where Parrish caught the punt he returned for a touchdown. "Special teams are the difference between winning and losing. If you make big plays on special teams, you win the game. They had some big plays on special teams."
Virginia tried to make it close, after quarterback Marques Hagans ran 47 yards to the Miami 3 with about four minutes remaining. Junior tailback Wali Lundy scored on a three-yard run two plays later, cutting the Hurricanes' lead to 24-21 with 3 minutes 19 seconds left.
It appeared the Cavaliers would get the ball back with less than one minute left and trailing by only three. With 58 seconds remaining, Miami's Jon Peattie missed a 42-yard field goal attempt, but the Hurricanes called time out right before he kicked. Following the timeout, Hurricanes Coach Larry Coker sent his offense back on the field. On fourth down and four, Parrish beat freshman cornerback Phillip Brown to the right side of the end zone, where he hauled in Brock Berlin's 25-yard touchdown pass for a 31-21 lead.
"I called the timeout to use as much clock as we could," Coker said. "I felt like they couldn't cover Roscoe Parrish. I knew he'd be single-covered. I just didn't want to give the ball back to Virginia."
The Hurricanes controlled the ball for more than 33 minutes, thanks to the running of junior Frank Gore, who ran 28 times for a career-high 195 yards and one touchdown. Gore's rushing total was higher than Virginia had allowed to any of its previous eight opponents this season. Berlin completed 18 of 33 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns.
Virginia squandered another solid performance from senior tailback Alvin Pearman, who was playing in his final game at Scott Stadium. Pearman ran 21 times for 106 yards and one touchdown, becoming the 15th Virginia player to run for 100 yards or more in three consecutive games. But the Cavaliers couldn't muster a passing game to complement Pearman, as Hagans completed only two passes for zero yards in the first half. He finished 10 for 25 for 94 yards with two interceptions and one touchdown.
Parrish's first punt return was one of the biggest plays of the first half. With the game tied at 7, he caught the ball at the Miami 8, broke linebacker Vince Redd's tackle and ran 45 yards down the right sideline to the Virginia 47. On the next play, Gore ran 44 yards around right end to the Cavaliers 3. On second down and goal, Berlin threw a three-yard touchdown to fullback Talib Humphrey, and Peattie's extra point gave the Hurricanes a 14-7 lead with 3:20 seconds left in the half.
Parrish is "very elusive, very explosive and very talented," Coker said.
Virginia came into the game ranked last among 117 Division I-A teams in net punting.
"We did everything we could all week long to prevent this from happening today," Virginia Coach Al Groh said. "Unfortunately, we weren't able to carry it out according to plan. Our punt team is the one team that gets the most work every week, and it got extra work this week. Just like other facets of the game, some of those plays we'd like to have back and do them a little bit differently."