Tampa Bay Sports Day

BOWLS: Miami Hurricanes Blow Past WVU in Russell Athletic Bowl

ORLANDO, FLA. — For the first time in 10 years, Miami finished its season on a high note.  Thanks to a second-quarter turnaround, Miami came away with a 31-14 win over No. 16 West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

Miami (9-4) earned its first bowl win since 2006 and its fifth consecutive victory to close out the season.

“It was really special for our senior class to get their first bowl victory in 10 years,” UM quarterback Brad Kaaya said.

“This game did mean a lot to me and to my teammates. I know other guys might be sitting out bowl games, but we prepared for this like it was a national championship.”

Kaaya completed 24 of 34 passes for 282 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions.  West Virginia (10-3) had the Miami offense bottled up early in the game, but the Hurricanes exploded midway through the second quarter.

Miami didn’t gain a first down until 11:04 remained in the second period and remained stagnant until Hurricanes freshman receiver Ahmmon Richards burst through the Mountaineers defense.

“He (Richards) had pulled a hamstring about 10 days ago,” said Mark Richt, who was a backup quarterback at Miami and is now coaching his first season at UM. “That was really the first time he had run full speed all week was right there. He just took off.”

Richards turned what should have been a 7-yard completion into a spectacular, 51-yard, catch-and-run touchdown. Miami had only 40 yards of total offense before that play, which tied the game 7-7.

Then Kaaya got on a roll.

On Miami’s next possession, he found Malcolm Lewis in the back of the end zone for a 3-yard score to make it 14-7.

The Hurricanes got the ball back at their own 30-yard line with just 1:19 left in the half. Kaaya led the Hurricanes on a five-play, 70-yard scoring drive that ended with a 26-yard toss to Braxton Berrios over the top of the West Virginia defense.

The Berrios TD allowed Miami to take a 21-7 lead into halftime. West Virginia never recovered.

“One play kind of sparked the team offensively,” Richt said.” He (Kaaya) took off and started drilling the ball like I’m used to seeing him do.”

West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard ran in a 4-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter to make it a 28-14 deficit, but the Mountaineers couldn’t close the gap.

West Virginia failed to convert a couple of fourth downs, and penalties halted any momentum they could find. Miami held them to just 229 yards of total offense.

“That was the best defense we’ve faced all year,” WV head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “Their line came off the ball and caused us a lot of problems. Their linebackers got better and better as the game went on.”

The Mountaineers had a 7-0 lead after a 6-yard touchdown run by Kennedy McKoy in the first quarter. West Virginia was set up with great field position after a penalty for interfering with the punt returner gave them the ball at the Miami 39-yard line.

“If you want to win one of these games, you have to play well all four quarters,” Holgorsen said. “We didn’t play well the second quarter. They completed some passes, and we missed some tackles. Miami is a good football team, and they made the plays.”

BOWL NOTES: Miami’s last bowl victory came against Nevada in the 2006 MPC Computers Bowl. The Hurricanes snapped a six-bowl losing streak Wednesday. … Both Miami and West Virginia were members of the Big East from 1991-2003. Miami won eight of its 10 conference games. … QB Brad Kaaya became the Hurricanes’ all-time passing yardage leader in their win against Duke at the end of the regular season and added to his total in the bowl game. … West Virginia finished the season with 10 wins for the first time since joining the Big 12.