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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Talk about one-sided. Wake Forest led for nearly 49 minutes at Miami on Saturday, trailed for fewer than three minutes, and put the nation's seventh-ranked team squarely on the ropes.
A chance for a huge win was in the Demon Deacons' hands.
And then ...
"We didn't get a lot of bang for our buck," Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said.
Duke Johnson took care of that.
He ran for two fourth-quarter touchdowns, the second a 1-yard plunge with 53 seconds left, as No. 7 Miami beat Wake Forest 24-21 to stay unbeaten and cap a wild week of emotions. The NCAA mess that overshadowed Miami for 2½ years finally ended on Tuesday, and four days later, Johnson made sure Miami had cause for a second celebration.
For Wake Forest, it was just another game against a Top 10 team that went awry. The Demon Deacons have played 54 of them. They've lost 53.
"It's tough in there right now," Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price said, referring to his team's locker room. "It's really hard when you come this close and you don't come away with the W. It was right there in our grasp. I thought when we had that touchdown to give us 21 that we had a chance. It was just disappointing."
That touchdown he referenced came with 4:02 left, when not long after Johnson's first score gave Miami its first lead, Price connected with Dominique Gibson for what became a 44-yard score. Miami linebacker Tyrone Cornelius missed a tackle on the play, allowing Gibson to take off for the end zone.
Turned out, Cornelius' missed tackle was a huge break for his own team.
Instead of Wake Forest (4-4, 2-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) grinding up more clock, Miami (7-0, 3-0) got the ball back with plenty of time. Johnson did the rest, and his 168-yard, 30-carry day was capped by 85 rushing yards in the fourth quarter alone.
"I wanted the ball," Johnson said. "So I went to coach, and we talked about it, and coach said 'We're going to put it in your hands.'"
Smart move, Al Golden. And it allowed the Hurricanes to not only match the program's best start since 2003, but set up a giant-sized showdown at Florida State next week.
"Clearly emotional. I'm not going to lie to you. Just an emotional week," said Golden, the coach who spent the first 30 games of his Miami career waiting for the NCAA cloud to pass. "Now we can breathe and move forward. I was more worried than ever this week, just because nobody was really talking about Wake. Everybody was talking about the NCAA and obviously future scheduling."
Price completed 25 of 45 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns. Michael Campanaro had 10 catches for 88 yards for the Demon Deacons.
"I told them that I think we're a good football team," Grobe said. "Not as good as we need to be. We came up short but I think we got better today."
Wake Forest set the tone from the outset, going 16 plays and getting a touchdown on the game's first drive. None of the plays gained more than 14 yards, and the 79-yard march — capped by Josh Harris' 12-yard run — chewed nearly 9 minutes off the clock. By of plays and time, it was Wake Forest's longest scoring drive of the season.
Miami was on its heels. The Hurricanes went three-and-out on their ensuing drive, and didn't get the ball again until the second quarter. At one point early in the second quarter, Wake Forest was outgaining Miami 124-8.
And after Miami got on the board with a field goal, the Demon Deacons rode the strength of a big play to take a two-score edge.
Price found Tyree Harris with a 56-yard third-down pass midway through the second quarter, getting Wake Forest into the Miami red zone. Four plays later — on fourth-and-1 — Price connected with Campanaro from 9 yards out to put the Demon Deacons up 14-3, the biggest deficit the Hurricanes had faced since the Florida State game on Oct. 20, 2012.
Late in the half, Miami seemed to finally get something going.
Facing third-and-short with about 1:30 left, Morris faked a handoff and fired a fastball down the right hash marks that seemed to be sailing high — before tight end Clive Walford snared it with his right hand and somehow held on through the tackle. One play later, Morris connected with Waters for a 35-yard scoring strike, getting the Hurricanes within 14-10 at halftime.
That was the end of the scoring until the fourth, when Johnson put Miami ahead with 5:36 left, and returned to the field 94 seconds later to begin pulling off the second comeback drive — the one that counted most.
"We played well," Campanaro said. "We just didn't make enough plays at the end to seal the deal."