Miami freshman tailback Mark Fletcher ran three straight times in overtime to clinch bowl eligibility for the Hurricanes with his 11-yard touchdown run and propel UM to a 29-26 win Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium.
It was Miami’s second straight overtime win, fueled by field goals of 47, 50 and 48 yards by kicker Andy Borregales. Last year, UM beat Virginia on the road in four overtimes. Last week, the Canes beat Clemson in double overtime.
Despite quarterback Tyler Van Dyke struggling after returning from injury to start, the Canes rallied in the final four minutes to force overtime and ultimately stay alive in the Atlantic Coast Conference title-game chase.
Van Dyke finished 20 of 30 for 163 yards and two interceptions, with no touchdowns. The offensive linemen kept him completely clean.
“Thank God for Andy Borregales,’’ Van Dyke said. “Without him we would have lost the game.’’
The last time the Hurricanes (6-2, 2-2 ACC) reached six wins in their first eight games was in the COVID-marred 2020 season, when they started 8-1 before losing their last two games. It also was the last season UM played in a bowl game, because in 2021 the Canes qualified but pulled out of the Sun Bowl due to COVID-19.
“I guess the best way to put it is our team by now should feel that there’s not a situation that we can’t overcome,’’ UM coach Mario Cristobal said. “We’ve seen a lot of being down in the fourth quarter. We’ve seen ourselves turn the ball over. We’ve been in holes, we’ve been up and then behind. All of that stuff — it’s important. It’s difficult on the heart a little bit, but besides that, it’s really good for your football team to be able to respond the way they did, so we’re moving forward.”
UM generated a season-low 276 yards.
“Obviously, I did not play well at all,’’ said Van Dyke, who hurt his right knee, ribs and back in a loss at North Carolina two weeks ago. He said the defense tried “to make me force things and dump things underneath.’’
“Kind of got greedy a little bit. Just gotta check the ball even more than I did today. Just gotta be better — better decision-making. At the end of the day my teammates got me. The defense did a great job giving the offense a chance to win the game.”
Down by three after Will Bettridge kicked his third field goal to put Virginia ahead 23-20, Miami took over with 4:13 left. Not to be outdone, Borregales capped the 42-yard drive with his 48-yarder, his third of the game, to make it 23-23 with 1:23 left.
Miami stopped UVA when Rueben Bain got the Canes’ sixth sack (and his second) by dropping Tony Muskett on third down. UM took over and took a knee to force overtime.
In overtime, Miami held Virginia (2-6, 1-3) to a field goal and won the game with Fletcher’s three-play heroics. It was Fletcher’s first game since Sept. 23 at Temple. He said he had been out because of a “tiny” stress fracture in his foot.
“It feels great to be back,’’ Fletcher said. “Just to make an impact like that, it’s what I dreamed of as a kid. It’s crazy I did it.”
Fletcher ran right, broke two tackles, bounced off UM guard Javion Cohen to stay inbounds, then was pushed by Cohen into the end zone.
“I just looked at it,’’ Fletcher said of the replay. “When I had got hit on the side I was still inbounds. But then I just felt a big weight push me into the end zone. I checked the replay, that was my boy JaVo. It’s crazy. We were talking about something crazy like that happening. God moves in mysterious ways.”
Did he know he had stayed inbounds?
“I had no idea. I just kept my feet moving.”
After an uneventful first half ended with Virginia up 10-3, the third quarter provided plenty of fireworks.
The Hurricanes ignited the excitement — and the homecoming crowd of 58,503 — with touchdowns on back-to-back plays from scrimmage.
Here’s what happened on the back-to-back touchdown plays that took only seven seconds off the clock:
1. UM tailback Ajay Allen hurdled over Virginia safety Jonas Sanker, bullied his way toward the end zone and then entered it backwards for the 26-yard beauty that tied it at 10. Allen later left the game with a hamstring injury.
“Did you see that boy in the air?’’ Fletcher said, laughing. “Man, that was crazy.”
2. UM safety Kam Kinchens intercepted Muskett and returned the ball 29 yards to put UM up 17-10 at 10:37. It was UM’s first pick-six since Kinchens did it last season at Georgia Tech.
Virginia answered with a 15-play, 69-yard drive that ended with a 23-yard field goal at 3:58 to cut UM’s lead to 17-13.
On the next drive, Van Dyke threw his second interception — also underthrown — and the Cavs scored six plays later on a 10-yard rush by Hollins to take the 20-17 lead.
But Borregales came through again with a 50-yard field goal to culminate a five-play drive and make it 20-20 with 9:26 left.
Virginia opened the scoring on its first possession when tailback Mike Hollins plunged 1 yard to culminate a 12-play, 75-yard drive.
On UM’s ensuing drive, Miami got to the Cavaliers’ 36-yard line before Van Dyke badly underthrew a pass intended for Xavier Restrepo that was intercepted by Sam Westfall. UVA eventually punted, UM went three-and-out and the Cavs took over on their own 25.
On the first play of UVA’s drive, Muskett hit Malik Washington for a 64-yard completion after Kinchens lunged and missed the tackle. The Canes defense then stopped Virginia on the next three plays, including Kinchens’ pass breakup on third down, and Cavalier Bettridge kicked a 22-yard field goal to make it 10-0.
The Hurricanes cut the Cavalier lead to 10-3 on a 47-yard field goal by Borregales with 4:03 left in the first half.
Three of UM’s next four games, including next week’s 8 p.m. game (ACC Network) at North Carolina State and the Nov. 11 game at No. 4 Florida State, are on the road.
UM has only one more home game: Nov. 18 against Louisville, before ending the regular season the day after Thanksgiving at Boston College.
When asked about being bowl eligible, Fletcher said he was “just happy” to win. “We’re just focused on next week. We’ll worry about that when the time comes.”