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Sweet statement

Feeling shunned by the BCS and ignored by UF, Miami gets satisfying win and awaits its title fate.

By JOANNE KORTH

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 3, 2001


NEW ORLEANS -- In what used to be a familiar scene for Miami, players celebrated the final game of the season by dancing at midfield and raising their index fingers.

Are the Hurricanes No. 1?

Maybe.

Solidifying its return to the nation's elite, No. 2 Miami made its bid for the program's fifth national championship at the expense of an old rival with a 37-20 Sugar Bowl victory against No. 7 Florida Tuesday in the Superdome.

If Florida State beats consensus No. 1 Oklahoma tonight in the Bowl Championship Series title game, the Hurricanes (11-1) could assume the No. 1 ranking in the final Associated Press poll and create a split national championship.

"I think our kids deserve every opportunity to be called national champions," Miami coach Butch Davis said.

Leading 30-20 midway through the fourth quarter, Miami sealed its victory with a 1-yard touchdown run by Najeh Davenport with 4 minutes, 21 seconds left. The score was set up by Phillip Buchanon's interception of Florida freshman quarterback Rex Grossman inside the UF 30-yard line.

Miami sophomore quarterback Ken Dorsey, named the game's most outstanding player, rallied the Hurricanes from a 17-13 deficit with a pair of third-quarter touchdown passes. He finished 22 of 40 for 270 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions.

"I don't think I've ever been around a quarterback who has grown more mature in a 12-game season than Kenny has," Davis said. "He is the glue that makes this thing work for us."

Florida and Miami used to play down-and-dirty grudge matches all the time. It was a bitter rivalry in which the stakes were high and the tensions higher.

Thirteen seasons passed.

Nothing changed.

Miami, which won three of the final four games before the series went on hiatus in 1987, picked up where it left off: humiliating the Gators and vying for the national championship. Florida, which lived for 13 season with accusations it chickened out on this once-bitter rivalry, didn't exactly acquit itself.

"We got about what we deserved," UF coach Steve Spurrier said. "I'm embarrassed by our performance."

Grossman struggled, completing 18 of 41 for 252 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions. The interceptions were critical. The first cost Florida a chance to take a halftime lead when Grossman threw into double coverage in the end zone on the final play. The second ended hope of a fourth-quarter comeback.

The Gators, who thrived off turnovers this season, grabbed control early in the second half. On Miami's first play, end Alex Brown -- who announced after the game he will return for his senior season -- sacked Dorsey for an 8-yard loss. On third down, Dorsey, flushed from the pocket, was intercepted by Keiwan Ratliff.

On UF's first play, tailback Earnest Graham bounced outside to the right, stiff-armed safeties Edward Reed and Al Blades and cruised into the end zone for a 17-13 lead 1:50 into the second half.

Undaunted, Dorsey went back to work, completing an 80-yard drive with a 19-yard touchdown to D.J. Williams for a 20-17 lead with 8:23 left in the third quarter.

The drive was aided by a roughing-the-passer call against UF tackle Gerard Warren, who pulled Dorsey down by his jersey with one arm on second and 22 at the Gators 34. Two plays after the 15-yard penalty and automatic first down, Dorsey hit Williams.

When Florida (10-3) was unable to overcome a first-down sack of Grossman, Daryl Jones, subbing for injured Santana Moss on punt returns, burst up the middle for 44 yards. He was tripped by punter Alan Rhine at the UF 23, but three plays later, Dorsey rolled to his right and threw to the back corner of the end zone. The pass rattled through the hands of linebacker Marcus Oquendo-Johnson and into the hands of Davenport for a 2-yard score.

At the end of the third quarter, Miami led 27-17.

Florida took an early lead, driving 70 yards in seven plays, the last a 23-yard touchdown from Grossman to open tight end Kirk Wells for a 7-0 lead with 10:48 left in the first quarter.

After a 37-yard kickoff return by Jones, Todd Sievers kicked a careerlong 44-yard field goal, the first of three he made in the game.

Florida was on the move after Grossman hit Reche Caldwell with a 47-yard pass to the Miami 22, but Caldwell was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct. At the end of the play, Caldwell made a first-down signal the officials viewed as taunting. The drive stalled three plays later at the Miami 33, and Jeff Chandler missed a 50-yard field goal, wide right.

Miami began its next drive with five running plays for 41 yards, plus a screen pass to tailback James Jackson for 10 yards. On third and goal at the 8, Dorsey found tight end Jeremy Shockey for the Hurricanes' first lead, 10-7 with 50 seconds left in an action-packed first quarter.

At the end, at least one Hurricane said he wasn't worried about the outcome of the Orange Bowl tonight.

"I feel like we are champions regardless," said Moss, who caught six passes for 89 yards despite spraining his lower back.

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