There’s no doubt this game was unlike any other Miami has played recently.
For the first time in nearly three years, the Hurricanes took the field without the cloud of NCAA uncertainty hanging over them, and for the first time since 2009, they were ranked a BCS top-10 team.
But those positives were poised to be overshadowed by a big loss until Miami got more late-game heroics from a running back.
This time, it was Duke Johnson who scored on a 1-yard run in the final minute to lift Miami to a 24-21 win over Wake Forest during a Saturday afternoon ACC showdown at Sun Life Stadium.
Johnson, who finished with a career-high 30 carries for 168 yards, helped Miami extend its win streak to nine games dating back to last season and gave the No. 7 Hurricanes their first 7-0 start since 2003.
His game-winner came nine days after Dallas Crawford scored on a 3-yard run with 16 seconds remaining to lift Miami to a 27-23 win over North Carolina, a performance Johnson said inspired him on the Hurricanes’ final drive when he had seven carries for 42 yards.
“The whole drive, I was taking myself back to last week, while I watched Dallas Crawford take the team all the way down and score a touchdown,” said Johnson, who was knocked out of the North Carolina game with a head injury. “I was just picturing in my head him doing it and me helping the team this week to do it.”
Johnson’s touchdown run capped an emotional week for Miami, which learned Tuesday that while the program would be docked nine scholarships during the next three years, it faced no further postseason ban stemming from the NCAA’s long investigation into the actions of former booster Nevin Shapiro.
The score also punctuated a seesaw fourth quarter that saw Miami (7-0, 3-0) take its first lead with 5:36 left in the contest when Johnson scored his first touchdown of the day on a 4-yard run.
While the score set off a frenzied celebration from Miami’s fans, Wake Forest (4-4, 2-3) quickly answered.
The Demon Deacons, who at times Saturday moved the ball at ease against Miami’s defense, needed just more than a minute and a half to march down the field on a six-play, 75-yard drive. Wake Forest reclaimed the lead when Dominique Gibson, a Glades Central alum, caught a 44-yard pass from Tanner Price to score the first touchdown of his college career with 4:02 left.
Those four minutes turned out to be more than enough time for Johnson and the Miami offense.
“Man, oh man. He ran with a purpose and an anger we haven’t seen from him,” Miami coach Al Golden said of Johnson. “His stiff arm was awesome all day. He ran with his pads down, protected the ball. He was clearly on a mission.”
While Miami had good reason to play well Saturday, early on it was Wake Forest that was emotionally-charged.
During their last outing against a top 10 team, the Demon Deacons managed just one touchdown during a 56-7 loss to then-No. 3 Clemson. They doubled that output during the first half against Miami, scoring on their first drive when Josh Harris capped a methodical 16-play, 79-yard drive with a 12-yard touchdown run.
Wake added another score and pushed its lead to 14-3 on a 9-yard pass from Price to Michael Campanaro early in the second quarter.
That put Miami in its biggest hole of the season.
“I give Wake Forest a lot of credit,” Golden said, lauding Demon Deacons coach Jim Grobe and his players.
“I think they did a great job. That’s one of the best coaches around, period. It wasn’t like we were sloppy with the football. We just didn’t convert when we needed to convert. We didn’t stop them enough on third down. But we finished. We’re learning how to finish and that’s something I’m really proud of, the mental toughness.”