The garbage started flying onto the field around the 5:00 mark in response to what Miami fans considered a garbage call.
When the crucial play of the game went cockeyed a few minutes later, however, there was nothing left to throw. Nothing left to say. Nothing to separate Miami and Florida State but a missed PAT, which is as cruel as any wide and wobbly ending this mind-numbing rivalry has ever seen.
It’s hindsight now to say this should have been 20-20, to say that new Hurricanes coach Mark Richt had earned his right to work overtime to break what has now become a seven-game FSU win streak against his alma mater.
The bottom line is that Brad Kaaya’s fourth-down touchdown pass to Stacy Coley with 1:38 remaining wasn’t enough to earn that opportunity, or to earn another week in the AP Top Ten for the Hurricanes.
Richt’s got to get absolutely everything buttoned down to beat a team like the Seminoles, who clawed their way out of a 13-0 hole to win 20-19 Saturday night. Extra points are part of that because they really aren’t extra at all. They’re essential.
“You turn it over deep in their territory like we did and we had that one touchdown called back, which hurt, obviously, those kinds of things you can’t do,” Richt said in reference to a Brad Kaaya interception in the end zone and a holding call that wiped out a sensational Mark Walton score.
“I told the guys the margin for error is going to get less and less as we go. You can’t make those types of mistakes and still win.”
Amazingly, though, the Hurricanes could have made those mistakes and won in overtime, if there had been an overtime, if an FSU defender hadn’t slipped through to get a hand on a conversion kick that was already off-rhythm because of a poor snap. This is college football. This is a good kicker making one from 51 yards out when the game wasn’t on the line and failing to get a chip-shot through when it did.
“Florida State-Miami, that’s what it is,” said FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, 7-0 against the Hurricanes. “It’s always been that way, it always will be that way.”
Insane, in other words. Think of the great Bobby Bowden teams that missed beating Miami because of field goals gone bad. Think of all the fans holding up index fingers to declare one team or the other No. 1 only to ball those fists in frustration when something unbelievable blew the party up.
“We’re not trying just to have a season to beat Florida State,” said Walton, whose pounding, spinning spectacle of a 45-yard touchdown run could have given Miami a 20-17 lead in the third quarter if not for a holding call. “Just because we lost we don’t want to go on a detour.”
What they want is a trip to Orlando in December for the ACC title game as champions of the Coastal Division. In truth, the 4-1 Hurricanes are probably still closer to that than the 4-2 Seminoles, who already have a couple of tough conference losses.
Richt will sell that hard, and it really does count, but the truly magical debut season that everyone craved under his leadership has turned into something different. It has become a test of his ability to lift Miami above all the old mistakes, like the three facemask penalties from Saturday night, to coach that stuff right out of them, and to coax them past the grumbling that naturally goes with borderline calls like the targeting penalty that gave FSU an important first down late in the game.
Otherwise, that 4-0 start against lesser opponents is an illusion. Miami got off to a 7-0 start in 2013, remember, climbing all the way up to No. 7 in the AP poll under Al Golden.
Then it all came crashing down with a 41-14 drubbing at Tallahassee.
Richt should be able to mine more from this close miss than Golden ever could. He’ll kick himself for easing up on the gas a little bit with a 13-0 lead on a dangerous opponent, and he’ll coddle Kaaya as much as he can. The junior, a high NFL draft pick in the near future by all estimates, lost part of a molar while getting pounded repeatedly on Saturday night.
“I took some hits to the head that I wasn’t a fan of,” said Kaaya, who was sacked three times. “I lost a tooth, but I’m good. It’s part of football.”
So is kicking the ball through the goalposts from short range, a team task as important as any other.