ATLANTA (AP) -- The Miami Hurricanes were eliminated from the
national championship early in the season and missed out on the
conference championship late.
They settled for the state title Friday night.
Devin Hester returned a blocked field goal 78 yards for a
touchdown, Roscoe Parrish returned a punt 72 yards for a score and
the 14th-ranked Hurricanes beat No. 20 Florida 27-10 in the Peach
"Those guys are playmakers," coach Larry Coker said. "Team
speed is one thing, but to have the ability to make people miss and
score touchdowns is a knack that Roscoe and Devin have."
Miami also earned a third consecutive "state title" by beating
Florida (No. 19 ESPN/USA Today; No. 20 AP) and Florida State in the same season, spoiled interim coach
Charlie Strong's debut and extended its winning streak against the
Gators (7-5) to six games.
This time, the Hurricanes (9-3) didn't need a strong performance
from Brock Berlin. The senior quarterback who transferred from
Florida in January 2002 torched his former team in a 38-33 comeback
victory last year and mocked fans after the game.
Berlin finished 13-of-23 for 171 yards Friday. He had a 20-yard
touchdown pass to Ryan Moore in the third quarter that made it 24-3
and ended his career 5-0 as a starter against Miami's two biggest
rivals -- Florida and Florida State.
"There's no better feeling than beating FSU three times and
Florida twice," Berlin said. "If that isn't big, I don't know
Although Berlin stayed perfect against in-state competition,
Miami's special teams and defense did the most damage on New Year's
"In big games like this, you can't give up big plays," Strong
said. "Miami ended up getting big plays. They got the two big
plays in the kicking game."
Just four plays after a blocked punt gave the Gators great field
position, defensive lineman Thomas Carroll blocked Matt Leach's
32-yard field goal attempt. Hester picked up the loose ball and
sprinted the other way for a score.
The momentum swing set the tone for the Hurricanes, who sacked
Chris Leak on the next two plays and intercepted a pass late in the
second quarter. Miami put constant pressure on Leak and finished
with five sacks.
"Chris was never able to get comfortable in the pocket,"
Strong said. "They got tons of pressure and a lot of sacks."
Leak overthrew O.J. Small one play after Frank Gore fumbled in
Florida territory. Hester picked off the pass and snaked his way 28
yards across the field to put Miami back in field goal range. Jon
Peattie nailed a 47-yarder to give the 'Canes a 10-3 lead.
Miami forced Florida to punt on the ensuing possession, and
Parrish caught the line-drive kick and ran untouched up the seam
for a 72-yard score.
Strong said the special teams breakdowns might not have happened
had fired coach Ron Zook been around. Zook also was Florida's
special teams coordinator.
It got worse. Leach missed a 41-yard field goal in the waning
seconds of the first half that could have sparked the Gators.
Berlin's TD pass early in the third silenced the partisan and
packed Georgia Dome.
"We woke up a little bit on offense in the second half," Coker
said. "We got up by three scores, and the clock became our ally."
Still, Leak's best pass of the game got the Gators back in it.
He faked a handoff, had plenty of time and found Jemalle Cornelius
wide open on a post pattern for a 45-yard score.
Leak finished 19-of-39 for 262 yards with a touchdown and two
The comeback was short-lived.
Miami capped a 65-yard drive with Peattie's 32-yard field goal,
making it 27-10 early in the fourth.
The Gators couldn't mount another rally -- something they did so
well this season.
Zook was fired Oct. 25 after a 4-3 start and an embarrassing
loss at Mississippi State. Players rallied around Zook and the
other coaches, winning the final three games. The streak included a
victory in Tallahassee for the first time since 1987.
Zook then took the head coaching job at Illinois, former Utah
coach Urban Meyer was hired at Florida and the Gators were left
with an awkward coaching situation for the bowl. Three assistants
agreed to join Zook, two were retained by Meyer and three have
Strong, the first black coach in school history, said he
relished the one-game opportunity.
"I wish I could have had a better outcome, but it was a great
experience," Strong said. "You learn a lot about game management
and focus and getting players ready to play."
Despite all the distractions, the Gators hoped to win the
Florida Cup -- the state-sponsored trophy given to either Florida,
Florida State and Miami in return for beating the other two teams
in the same season.
Instead, the trophy will remain in Coker's office, where it has
been the last two years.
"We started playing on the same page the last three games,"
said Florida's Ciatrick Fason, who finished with 94 yards rushing
on 17 carries. "But then we got right back off the page tonight,
and the outcome was the same as it was early in the season."