Miami Gives Coker Farewell Victory
by Mike Mitchell
Chavez Grant's diving interception of Jeff Rowe's pass at Miami's 33-yard line with 18 seconds left secured a 21-20 win over Nevada in the MPC Computers Bowl in Larry Coker's last game as head coach.
Coker was fired just hours after a 17-14 win over Boston College made the Hurricanes eligible
for the postseason at 6-6. His defensive coordinator, Randy Shannon, was announced as the new head coach on December 8. Coker was still permitted to coach Miami in the bowl game. He ends his career with the Hurricanes with a 60-15 record and a national championship from his first season at the helm.
Part of his downfall was a third-quarter brawl in their October 14 game with FIU which marred the rest of season and left the Hurricanes with a tarnished image. Miami lost four of its next six games in the regular season. The troubling season also included the shooting death of senior defensive lineman Bryan Pata outside his
apartment complex on November 7.
The bowl game, played on what has affectionately been dubbed the blue "Smurf Turf" in Boise, could have had a much different outcome had instant replay not reared its ugly head.
With Nevada trailing 21-14 in the fourth quarter, tight end Anthony Pudewell caught a ball between his feet while lying on his back. The officials ruled the pass incomplete and upheld the call after a replay review, even though TV replays clearly showed the ball did not touch the ground. Had the catch been allowed, the Wolf Pack would have had a first down inside the Hurricanes' 10-yard line. Instead, it became fourth down and Nevada settled for a 44-yard Brett Jaekle field goal.
Just three plays earlier on the same drive, Pudewell made a diving catch of a ball that was being bobbled by the intended receiver, Caleb Spencer.
Jaekle, who was 4-for-4 on field goals, added a 40-yarder with 9:25 left for what proved to be the final 21-20 score.
Miami opened the scoring on a 1-yard run by quarterback Kirby Freeman. Nevada closed out the first quarter with a safety when the defense forced Freeman into an intentional grounding call in his own end zone. Neither team scored again until the Wolf Pack took an 8-7 lead with 3:38 left in the half on Marko Mitchell's 27-yard touchdown catch from Rowe. A two-point conversion attempt failed as Rowe was tackled short of the goal line.
Miami retook the lead four plays later on Freeman's 52-yard strike to Ryan Moore to make it 14-8. But Nevada made it 14-11 on a 33-yard field goal with 5 seconds left in the half.
After Jaekle tied the score at 14-apiece on a 31-yard field goal in the third quarter, Miami struck back on the very next play on Freeman's 78-yard pass to Sam Shields for a 21-14 lead. Shields was left open 20 yards behind the nearest defender when it appeared Freeman was going to take off running after scrambling out of
Nevada held Miami to just 28 yards rushing, but Freeman was 11-of-19 for 272 yards with nearly half of that coming on the two long touchdown passes. Over-all, the 'Canes outgained the Wolf Pack by a slim 300-297 margin.
The loss was Nevada's first in a bowl game since 1995. Miami finished 4-2 in bowl games under Coker.