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No keeping them away this time

By MICHAEL SNYDER

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 3, 2001


CORAL GABLES -- No questions, no computers, no doubts.

CORAL GABLES -- No questions, no computers, no doubts.

The No. 1 Hurricanes will play for the national championship Jan. 3 in the Rose Bowl after defeating then-No. 14 Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg -- for the first time since 1992 -- 26-24 Saturday. The 'Canes are 11-0, even if their last regular-season effort was far from perfect.

So UM had to sweat things late after leading 26-10. So what?

Last season the Bowl Championship Series rankings allowed Florida State, a team Miami beat, to leapfrog the one-loss 'Canes and play Oklahoma for the national title in the Orange Bowl. This time UM got what it wanted by refusing to lose.

"It didn't look good for us at times, but I'm extremely proud of the way we played," coach Larry Coker said. "It doesn't get any better than this. You start this off with 117 teams and maybe 25 realistically have a shot at it ... and we're there, that's just the elite of college football."

Who UM faces won't be determined until next weekend, but it won't be an all-Florida Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., as the Gators, much like Virginia Tech, couldn't convert a two-point conversion late against Tennessee Saturday. The Volunteers moved from No. 5 to No. 2 in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Top 25 polls and appear to have the inside track to play UM if they win the SEC Championship Game Saturday.

Miami, which won national titles after the 1983, 1987, 1989 and 1991 seasons, completed a perfect regular season for the first time since 1992, when Dennis Erickson's team went to the Sugar Bowl, where it lost to Alabama.

The 'Canes struggled against the fired-up Hokies, who face FSU in the Jan. 1 Gator Bowl. There were two turnovers, a blocked field goal, and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. Plus Hokie freshman Kevin Jones rushed for 160 yards. But all that mattered was the final score.

"We did what we set out to do," said quarterback Ken Dorsey, who was 21-for-44 for 235 yards and one score. "We accomplished one of our goals. We just have one more goal to attain. (For me) it means a lot to go back home and play in front of family and friends."

Said Coker: "We have one more big hurdle and we'll be looking forward to that."

Added tailback Clinton Portis, who had 124 yards on 34 carries and one touchdown: "We can't be satisfied just to get there. We have to finish it off."

REED SEALS IT: Perhaps it was fitting that safety Ed Reed helped ice the game with an interception, his second of the game, with 4:18 to play. Miami ran the clock down to 31 seconds before punting. Reed has 21 career interceptions -- most in UM history.

"He stepped it up," said cornerback Phillip Buchanon, who also had an interception. "He steps it up in games like this. He's the leader of our defense."

FB NAJEH DAVENPORT SAYS: "We went from 5-6 in 1997 to this. To do what we did ... I'm so thankful."

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