6:00 PM ET, September 30, 2006
James ran for 148 yards, Wright narrowly converted a crucial fourth-and-inches in the final minutes and Miami held on to defeat previously unbeaten Houston 14-13 Saturday night.
Playing as an unranked team for the first time since 1999, the Hurricanes (2-2) rallied from a six-point third-quarter deficit against a 16-point underdog. Still, they left the Orange Bowl feeling some long-due relief.
"It was ugly at times," said Wright, who was 16-of-27 for 190 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. "But if you could see the locker room right now, it's pretty happy. It's definitely bittersweet, but we came out and got a win, bottom line. And I think this is going to catapult us into the rest of the season."
Kevin Kolb was 18-of-28 for 196 yards for Houston (4-1), which came into the game averaging 38 points and 486 yards per game in its four victories. Kolb also had Houston's lone touchdown on a 4-yard run.
The Cougars, who were seeking only the fourth 5-0 start in program history, were outgained 420-276.
"I don't see any validation for us," Houston coach Art Briles said. "This was all disappointing. We just did a good job of getting close."
Although it wasn't pretty, the Hurricanes' faithful finally had something to enjoy.
The disappointment of some Miami fans was evident even before the game, when three different messages calling for the firing of both embattled coach Larry Coker and athletic director Paul Dee were flown over the stadium, amid advertisements for insurance and pizza.
There was one pro-Coker banner being flown about: "Real Canes fans support Coach Coker." But for a while, even that support was probably waning, as the Hurricanes found themselves in a 13-7 third-quarter hole.
"I'm not concerned about criticism," Coker said. "I'm concerned about wins. Kids played their hearts out."
True, but this wasn't easy -- not by a long shot.
Houston was moving toward the end zone with a six-point lead and looking poised to put the Hurricanes in a big hole. But Cougars running back Jackie Battle was hit by Miami's Lovon Ponder at the Hurricanes' 10, Chavez Grant recovered the fumble, and Miami wound up dodging a huge bullet.
"A big play, no doubt about it," Battle said. "I can't hide from it."
Coker called the fumble "the turning point."
In the game, for certain. Maybe in Miami's season, too.
"We needed a win to get back on track," James said. "A lot of people are talking about we're not the old Miami anymore. We went out there and played for ourselves. We put a lot of work in the past two weeks and the results came out."
Shortly after the fumble, James had his 44-yard gain to move Miami into Houston territory, and Wright then made two big plays to ensure the Hurricanes would capitalize. He found Lance Leggett for a 27-yard gain on third-and-24 from the Houston 29, then tossed a 2-yard pass to James Bryant -- who asked to be moved from linebacker to H-back two weeks ago -- for the go-ahead score with 1:24 left in the third.
From there, the Miami defense took over.
The Cougars got the ball only twice more, not getting past their own 38.
"It was frustrating," Kolb said. "A 14-13, one-point loss to Miami. We let opportunities slip away. We drove 80 yards two times and got three points out of it."
Miami got the ball on its own 19 with 5:56 left and ran out the clock, with Wright's first-down plunge the critical blow. The Hurricanes thought about punting since the ball was on their own 38, but Coker elected to keep his offense on the field.
"A field goal would have beaten us," Coker said. "I have that much respect for their offense."
Wright's two interceptions led to 10 Houston points. In the first quarter, he was picked off by Will Gulley at the Houston 16, and the Cougars went on a 12-play drive capped by Kolb's 4-yard run early in the second quarter to tie the game.
Miami's ensuing drive lasted two plays before Wright threw another interception; his high pass bounced off tight end Greg Olsen's hands and into the arms of Houston linebacker Wade Koehl. That set up a 38-yard field goal by Ben Bell, putting the Cougars up 10-7. Another kick by Bell made it 13-7, but the Hurricanes found a way to survive.