Published November 24, 2012
DURHAM, N.C. – Duke had its way with Miami's defense and Duke Johnson for the Hurricanes had his way with the Blue Devils.
It added up to a game full of big plays — and the Blue Devils came up one score short of a comeback for the ages.
Duke's rally from 21 points down fell short Saturday in a 52-45 loss to Miami despite a career-high-tying four touchdown passes from Sean Renfree.
The Blue Devils (6-6, 3-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) will enter their first bowl since 1994 on a four-game losing streak.
"We continued to fight, but at the end of the day, you want victories," cornerback Ross Cockrell said. "You can't really be proud of a loss."
Renfree threw for a career-high 432 yards and had a 99-yard touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder — the longest play in school history — in his final home game. Duke trailed by 21 late before Brandon Connette's second touchdown run of the day pulled the Blue Devils within seven points with 2:32 left.
After Ross Martin's onside kick went out of bounds, Miami ran out the clock to seal its first share of a division title since joining the ACC in 2004 and deny Duke its seventh win.
"We're right there. It's like being at the top of a wall, you've got both hands and fingers got a firm grip of it," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. "But if you don't have anything really left in you, you're not going to climb over it."
Johnson, a freshman, rushed for season highs of 176 yards and three touchdowns and Stephen Morris had three passing scores to help Miami (7-5, 5-3) claim a share of the ACC's Coastal Division title.
Morris finished 15 of 25 for 369 yards for the Hurricanes, who outgained Duke 646-583 and never trailed but could never really breathe easy, either.
Playing for the first time since self-imposing a second straight postseason ban kept them out of both a bowl game and next week's league title game, the Hurricanes finished their season with a wild affair in which the teams combined for 1,229 total yards, five touchdowns that covered at least 20 yards, two 21-point Miami leads that were cut to seven, two onside kicks and an attempted fake punt.
"I'm not surprised that it was this type of game," Miami coach Al Golden said. "It was such an emotional week, when you think about the range of emotions. ... When they came storming back, just the way they did it with a 99-yard play, I felt like, 'Oh man, now we've got to respond. Do we have enough in the tank to respond?'"
Morris' touchdown passes covered 11 yards to Clive Walford, 72 yards to Mike James and 65 yards to Herb Waters. James also had a 1-yard scoring plunge late in the first half.
Johnson scored on runs of 18, 6 and 65 yards. He finished his freshman year with 947 yards rushing, easily surpassing Clinton Portis' 13-year-old school freshman rushing record of 838 yards. He nearly threw a touchdown pass, too, but replay officials determined that his late 1-yard jump pass to Walford on fourth-and-goal bounced off the end zone turf before he could pull it in.
"I guess it kind of slipped," Johnson said with a smile. "Just a low pass."
On Duke's next snap, Renfree hit Crowder for 99 yards with 11:45 left. That pulled Duke within 45-31. Renfree, who was 36 of 59, added scoring passes of 23 yards to Crowder and 10 and 6 yards to Conner Vernon.
Connette had an early 4-yard touchdown run. Crowder finished with eight catches for 203 yards while Vernon added 11 receptions for 109 yards for the Blue Devils, who will enter their first bowl game since 1994 on a four-game losing streak.
"It's a big deal to me," Cutcliffe said of the streak. "Therefore, it's going to be a big deal to everybody around me."