MIAMI -- Shortly after the final play, Miami's seniors gathered at midfield for a group picture, representing their final moments together on the Hurricanes' home turf.
They might have to do it again on New Year's Night.
Improbable as it seemed a month ago, the Hurricanes are very much in the hunt for an Orange Bowl berth.
Javarris James ran for a touchdown, Matt Bosher kicked three field goals, and Miami got huge defensive plays from Marcus Robinson and Allen Bailey on Virginia Tech's final drive to beat the Hokies 16-14 on Thursday night and move into first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division.
"Tremendous game tonight," said Miami coach Randy Shannon, whose team started 2-3 and has won five straight since. "Unbelievable. ... It was nip-and-tuck, which way would it go, you didn't know."
The Hurricanes' defense wasn't so uncertain.
Miami had a season-best six sacks, three of them by Robinson -- one of the 11 true freshmen on the Hurricanes' two-deep -- and didn't even let the Hokies past their own 20 in the third quarter. Tyrod Taylor had two rushing touchdowns for Virginia Tech (6-4, 3-3), including one with 3:28 remaining, but the Hokies suffered a rare Thursday night loss.
Virginia Tech is 15-4 in the prime-time showcase. Among ACC teams with more than five appearances, only Miami -- 13-1 -- has a better record.
"It's hard to beat a good football team when you run six plays in the third quarter," Hokies coach Frank Beamer said. "We played that whole third quarter on our side of the field. The defense kept battling, they never gave in. Our offense never gave in."
So for now, Miami (7-3, 4-2) holds the outright lead in the ACC Coastal, a half-game ahead of North Carolina, which will need to win Saturday at Maryland to keep pace in the race for a trip to the league title game in Tampa. The ACC winner will have a spot in the Orange Bowl, played on Miami's home field, Dolphin Stadium.
"Right now, it really doesn't mean anything," James said. "We still have two games to go."
Virginia Tech got the ball back with about three minutes left, without timeouts and needing only a field goal to win. The Hokies never got close.
Robinson's third-down stop on Dustin Pickle forced the Hokies into a fourth-and-3 -- and Bailey sacked Taylor to seal the win for Miami, which knelt three times to run out the clock.
"I went out and played hard for our seniors and sent them off with a bang," Robinson said.
Miami held Darren Evans, who rushed for a school-record 253 yards last week, to 43 yards on 17 carries.
"I thought we were going to do it," Taylor said. "We just didn't have enough time."
Robert Marve threw for 121 yards and rushed for 44 more for the Hurricanes, who won just five games last season and started 0-2 in the ACC this year -- yet have been the league's hottest team since.
And it was the defense that carried the 'Canes once again.
Miami ran 20 plays from scrimmage in the third quarter, compared with six by Virginia Tech -- which never advanced the ball farther than its own 18 in that period, adding to the Hurricanes' run of defensive dominance coming out of halftime.
Over the last five games, the Hurricanes' defense has been on the field for 76 plays in third quarters and given up a mere 139 yards, a paltry 1.8 yard-per-play average. And with defense like that, Miami didn't mind settling for field goals to stretch the lead.
Bosher connected from 21 and 31 yards in the third quarter, then added a 23-yarder early in the fourth for a 16-7 Miami advantage.
Needing two scores at that point and with time running short, the Hokies looked for a big play -- and nearly got it. Taylor's pass to Dyrell Roberts on a stop-and-go route was perfect, but Roberts dropped the ball inside the Miami 20 with 7:34 left, a play where he could have easily beaten Chavez Grant for a touchdown.
Virginia Tech eventually got Taylor's second TD run on that drive -- but 4:06 after the big drop, time that the Hokies could have used at the end.
Not only was it senior night for 23 Hurricanes, but Miami added five players -- Jim Kelly, Cortez Kennedy, Jim Otto, Gino Torretta and Edgerrin James -- to its ring of honor in a halftime ceremony.
Four of those five were present for the party.
The fifth surely got a thrill watching in Arizona on television, when his cousin opened the scoring.
Javarris James -- who wears No. 5, just like Edgerrin James did for the Hurricanes -- capped a 76-yard, 12-play drive with a 3-yard touchdown burst late in the first quarter. Miami caught two big breaks on that march, one when Orion Martin was penalized 15 yards for a helmet-to-helmet hit against Marve on what was a failed third-down pass, the other when Marve's fumble inside the Virginia Tech 10 was recovered by Hurricanes receiver LaRon Byrd.
Taylor tied it in the second quarter with a 14-yard run, but the Hokies never clicked consistently on offense, and paid the price.
"They had that one drive where they scored a touchdown," Marve said. "But besides that, I think they went more backward than forward."
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