Monday, September 7, 2009

Kosar, Hurricanes Triumph in Tampa, 9/1/84

The Florida Gators and Miami Hurricanes once enjoyed a rich tradition of gridiron competition against each other. Until 1988, the schools met every year beginning in 1938, with the lone exception of 1943, when Florida did not field a team. While the Gators had a history of playing games in Tampa dating back to 1912, their meeting on Sept. 1, 1984, would be the only time these two teams would square off here.

The week leading up to the game found the Gators embroiled in controversy. On Aug. 26, coach Charley Pell announced he would resign at the end of the season. Pell's decision came as the result of an NCAA investigation into Florida's program concerning various significant rules violations.

On the field, the Gators had to cope with the loss of starting quarterback Dale Dorminey, out for the season with a knee injury. The team would turn to a redshirt freshman, Kerwin Bell, to lead the team against a stifling Miami defense.

The Hurricanes, under first-year coach Jimmy Johnson, simply wished to keep up their momentum following an opening week victory over the top-ranked Auburn Tigers. Besides, it wasn't as if they would need any extra motivation against their long-time rival.

"It's a deep hate that goes way, way back,” said Miami defensive end Kevin Fagan. “Us not be up for the Gators? You gotta be kidding."

In front of a sold-out Tampa Stadium crowd of 72,813 - the stadium's second-largest gathering at the time - the Gators and Hurricanes put on a terrific show.

The teams exchanged first-quarter field goals before the action heated up in the second quarter.

Lake Wales native Lorenzo Hampton registered the first big play of the game, a dazzling 64-yard touchdown run. The raucous pro-Florida crowd reveled in their team's 10-3 lead, but the Hurricanes answered with scores on their next three possessions.

Following a Greg Cox field goal, Miami converted a recovered fumble in Gator territory into a touchdown. Running back Darryl Oliver's 21-yard touchdown gave the Hurricanes the lead, 13-10.

Cox added his third field goal of the night after a Miami drive stalled at the Florida 10-yard line, and the Hurricanes took a 16-10 lead into halftime.

Both teams continued playing strong defense in the third quarter, as a pair of field goals were all either offense could muster. Holding onto a tenuous 19-13 lead in the fourth quarter, Miami would soon need to rely on its greatest weapon, quarterback Bernie Kosar.

The second-year signal caller who led his team to a national championship as a freshman showed no signs of going through the so-called "sophomore slump." Facing a thin Florida secondary, Kosar was 25-33 for 309 yards. He would save his best moments, however, for last.

Driving late in the fourth quarter, the Gators seemed to have evened up the game when Kerwin Bell found Frankie Neal in the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown pass. The extra point gave Florida a 20-19 lead with 41 seconds left, still more than enough time for Kosar to work his magic.

After the kickoff, the Hurricanes started at their own 28. On the first play of the drive, Kosar found tight end Willie Smith for a 36-yard gain to the Florida 36. One play later, Kosar completed a 16-yard strike to Eddie Brown that put the ball on the Florida 20, well within Greg Cox's field goal range.

The Hurricanes gained eight yards on their next two plays, the last a handoff designed to center the ball in the middle of the field for the wining kick. With his team facing a third down and time rapidly expiring, Kosar called a timeout. Kosar, in consultation with coach Jimmy Johnson, pleaded for one more offensive play.

"Bernie said he felt we could score a touchdown," Johnson said after the game. "It was a unanimous decision on the part of our coaches."

With just seven seconds left, Kosar fired a perfect strike to Eddie Brown in the end zone to cap a five-play, 76-yard drive that encompassed all of 29 seconds to give Miami a 26-20 lead.
Miami would add to the margin on the final play of the game, as Tolbert Bain intercepted Bell's desperation pass and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown, giving the Hurricanes a 32-20 win over the Gators.

"Words can't describe the feeling," Kosar said after the comeback victory. "We never lost our confidence."

Neither did the Gators. Despite blowing the late lead, Florida in 1984 turned out to be a team good enough to push Miami to the brink. Following a tie with LSU and a victory over Tulane, Florida fired Charley Pell and replaced him with offensive coordinator Galen Hall.

The Gators didn't miss a beat, as Hall led Florida to eight consecutive wins and a 9-1-1 finish. Still, because of NCAA rules violations, the Gators forfeited their SEC championship and were deemed ineligible for postseason competition.

The Hurricanes would not enjoy 1984 nearly as much as Florida. The 'Canes would drop four regular-season games, including two of the most infamous losses in school history: a 42-40 defeat to Maryland in which they blew a 31-point lead, and of course, the Hail Mary loss to Doug Flutie and Boston College.

No comments:

Post a Comment