MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Manny Diaz had not even left the field at Hard Rock Stadium and he was already extolling his relief about the Miami Hurricanes’ escape from what the Appalachian State Mountaineers could have done Saturday night.
The Appalachian State football team was on the brink of an upset against Miami until a field goal with 2:04 remaining gave the Hurricanes a 25-23 win, and it all felt familiar to the Miami coach.
“This is what App State does to people. They come in and win these games on the road,” he told ESPN in his post-game interview, “but they didn’t do it tonight.”
With 5:48 left, the Mountaineers scored to take a 23-22 and were maybe one stop away from their third straight win against a team from a Power Five conference. Quarterback Chase Brice, for only the second time all night, had completed a pass for more than 15 yards, a 41-yard strike to wide receiver Malik Williams to set up Appalachian State for its go-ahead touchdown.
The No. 22 Hurricanes, however, came up with a final response. They drove to Appalachian State’s 26-yard line, and Miami kicker Andres Borregales drilled the game-winning 43-yard field goal with 2:04 left. On their final drive, the Mountaineers (1-1) picked up one first down, then threw incomplete passes on three of four plays to turn the ball over on downs and let the Hurricanes (1-1) escape.
“This,” Mountaineers coach Shawn Clark said, “is a gut-wrenching loss.”
It was an eminently winnable game for Appalachian State, despite an uneven performance from Brice, an abysmal start and a blown second-half lead.
Brice went 21-for-34 with a touchdown and an interception but missed a handful of open receivers down the field before finally connecting on the deep ball in the fourth quarter. The Mountaineers fell behind 7-0 early while managing just 1 yard on their first two drives. After taking a 14-12 lead into halftime, Appalachian State quickly let the Hurricanes rally back with a touchdown on the first possession of the third quarter.
At halftime, the Mountaineers had incensed the 45,877 in attendance into a cascade of boos, and they didn’t relent for most of the second half until Appalachian State’s upset bid finally fell short on a failed fourth-down play with 55 seconds remaining.
“Our players went down to the very wire,” Clark said.
For most of the game, the Mountaineers executed the blueprint to spring an upset.
They gambled: They scored their first touchdown on a 28-yard run by running back Camerun Peoples on fourth-and-2 to tie the score at 7-7 in the first quarter.
They made game-altering plays on special teams: After Miami pushed its lead to 12-7 on a field goal with 6:19 left in the half, wide receiver Jalen Virgil immediately ran a kick back 100 yards for a touchdown to give Appalachian State a 14-12 lead, then the Mountaineers blocked a short field-goal attempt with 3:38 left in the half.
Appalachian State even made the single biggest play of the fourth quarter: Brice heaved a bomb in between the Hurricanes’ two safeties and Williams muscled the ball out of Miami safety Gurvan Hall Jr.’s hands at the Hurricanes’ 9. Two plays later, Brice connected with Williams again for the go-ahead score with 5:48 left.
In the middle of it all, there was maybe even an omen: A stray cat somehow found its way into the stadium and dangled from the facade in the upper deck in the first quarter, while fans positioned an American flag below to cushion the feline’s horrifying fall.
The cat survived its scare and, after Appalachian State’s passing attack faltered on the final drive, so did Miami.
“This game’s over,” Mountaineers defensive lineman Caleb Spurlin said. “I’ve showered and I’m getting ready to get on the bus to head back to Boone. It sucks. It’s going to hurt, but the best way to get over it is to play next week.”