MIAMI GARDENS — Chad Thomas was the last Hurricane to leave. He crouched on the field until all his teammates left, while the Seminoles joyously bounded back toward their locker room.
A teammate, offensive lineman Jahair Jones, and a couple coaches came to console him. They offered him an arm, some words of encouragement. Thomas shook them off gently. He made his way from the 30-yard line to the goal line, and stopped to kneel a few inches short.
Fitting, because that is where he and his teammates stood after the clock ran out. They were inches shy on the field and one point down on the scoreboard, 20-19, their seventh consecutive loss to hated Florida State clear and cold as ice.
As Thomas knelt there, frozen, was his mind flooded with thoughts of the play that sank Miami? Let this wash over you: With 1:38 on the clock, the Hurricanes could have tied the score on a measly extra point. It went up. Florida State’s hellacious defensive end Demarcus Walker charged through the line, shot his left hand skyward and deflected it. It fizzled away, to the left.
That gave this game its own chapter in the book of Miami-Florida State.
Twenty-five years after the original Wide Right:
The Block at the Rock.
This time the fateful missed kick, unlike Wide Right I (1991), II (1992), III (2000) and Wide Left (2002), went against Miami.
The 10th-ranked Hurricanes (4-1, 1-1 ACC) lost their first game under Mark Richt, whose team drew a sellout crowd eager to see the FSU losing streak end.
“Tough one,” he said, “to finish the way it did. Obviously getting what looked [like] the score to tie it up and not being able to protect well enough to kick an extra point is tough. Tough for everybody.”
Brad Kaaya was tough, in a game where both he and his counterpart, Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois, were pounded again and again. Moments before the blocked kick, he threw a perfect 11-yard touchdown pass to Stacy Coley. It was his response to a third-quarter interception that set up Florida State’s go-ahead touchdown, and other struggles throughout the game (19-of-32, 214 yards). He was sacked three times and took several “hits to the head I wasn’t a fan of,” he said, including one that knocked out a molar from the left side of his jaw. Whether it was the loss or the licking, he appeared slightly woozy in the press conference that followed.
But on fourth-and-5 from the 11, he lofted one to the corner of the end zone, and Coley hauled it in over FSU’s Tavarus McFadden. Miami was a 20-yard kick away from a tie ballgame.
“Emotionally it’s tough,” Kaaya said. “We have to keep going and keep fighting and plan on winning out. That’s what I plan on doing, I know the rest of the team plans on doing. We can’t let this loss define us.”
The blocked kick will live forever. Justin Vogel held the snap and Michael Badgley swung his leg, Walker barreled into the line. The responsibilities were immediately unclear afterward, but none of the three players closest to Walker — Trevor Darling, Stan Dobard and Tyree St. Louis – affected his path.
“Florida State-Miami, isn’t it?” said FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, whose 23rd-ranked team earned its first ACC win of the season (4-2, 1-2). “It doesn’t matter what the records are, what goes on. Somehow – some way – that thing always comes down to the end.”
Miami brought it there after a spectacular punt return by junior Braxton Berrios, of 43 yards, which set up the near-tying touchdown. To force that punt, Thomas produced a one-man show. His team down 7 with less than four minutes to go, the junior defensive end sacked Francois on first down, stuffed Dalvin Cook on second down, and chased Francois for an intentional grounding call on third down.
Before the wild final moments, it looked like Cook and Francois, not Walker, would break Miami’s hearts. The quarterback, whose throwing arm was ragged after an early hit from Miami’s Kendrick Norton, engineered a touchdown drive to put FSU up 17-13, and on the previous drive, found Cook for a short pass the star back took 59 yards to the house. Cook finished with 209 all-purpose yards.
Meanwhile, Miami’s Mark Walton and Joe Yearby were stifled for 78 yards on 24 carries. The only time Walton got loose was a spectacular 45-yard touchdown run, late in the third quarter after FSU went ahead 17-13 on Kermit Whitfield’s 20-yard touchdown grab. That didn’t count, though. It was called back on a holding penalty.
“I didn’t see it,” Richt said of the call. “I don’t have the vantage point the officials have. All I saw was one of the greatest runs I’ve ever seen.”
All Thomas thought about afterward, as he prayed on the half-inch line, was “this game,” he said.
“We put our hearts into it. We made some plays. We made a couple of mistakes. Our mistakes cost us.”