A 1-yard touchdown sneak by Blue Devils quarterback Thomas Sirk — helped by three pass-interference calls on Miami on the drive — made it a 27-24 near-final.
But it wasn’t.
On the ensuing kickoff, Corn Elder wound up with the ball at his 8-yard line in the multi-lateral play. The ball hit the ground twice. He somehow found his way up the field and into the end zone with the clock at 0:00.
After a tense review of several minutes, the entire stadium standing, Miami players incensed and Duke players waiting, referee Jerry Magallanes announced the call.
The would-be penalty — a block in the back — was a legal block from the side. Elder's kickoff return, officially in the books at 75 yards, kept Miami (5-3, 2-2 ACC) in the Coastal Division race and knocked Duke (6-2, 3-1) out of first.
A most thrilling way for quarterback Malik Rosier and interim coach Larry Scott to debut, on a night where players were playing for themselves and junior cornerback Artie Burns, whose mother died Tuesday.
Rosier, a redshirt freshman making his first career start in the absence of the ACC’s leading passer, Brad Kaaya (concussion), went 20 of 29 for 272 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception. He threw for the highest yardage total by a debuting Hurricanes starter since at least 1999.
Scott, the former tight ends coach promoted after UM fired Al Golden last Sunday, coached his first game as a head coach at any level.
Rosier, from Mobile, Ala., had a better first start than Kenny Kelly (245 yards in 1999) and every other Hurricanes quarterback since. His play helped Miami overcome a school record 23 penalties for 194 yards.
In his previous four games, Rosier completed 9-of-28 attempts for 66 yards and two interceptions. He looked nothing like that shaky newcomer as he hit Herb Waters for a 33-yard touchdown to make it 7-0 at 11:54 of the second quarter.
That drive started after linebacker Jermaine Grace forced a fumble inside the red zone, which was recovered by Rayshawn Jenkins. Grace, a junior, set a career-high in the first half alone, with 12 tackles, one for loss. He finished with 18.
On Miami’s next drive, it received a lift from the largest man on either team, 6-foot-8, 322-pound right tackle Sunny Odogwu. Fullback Walter Tucker fumbled. The ball squirted to the back of the end zone. It sat there for several seconds, unnoticed, until Odogwu surged and fell on it to make it 14-0.
Miami held Duke to a 27-yard field goal 3:22 before halftime.
Players wore T-shirts under their uniforms to honor Dana Smith, Burns' mother who died unexpectedly at 44 on Tuesday, about 36 hours after Golden was dismissed. Before the game, players marched arm-in-arm to the field and prayed together in the end zone, with Burns at the front of the pack.
Burns, clearly emotional, broke up two passes, made three tackles and committed three penalties.
Duke was fired up, too.
Jela Duncan broke through at least four Miami tackles on his way to a 24-yard touchdown run that made it 14-10 at 12:51 of the third quarter. The Blue Devils pulled within two points as Rosier made two freshman mistakes.
He drove Miami down the field, throwing a 20-yard laser on second-and-10 from his own 10-yard line, and floating a 32-yard completion to Stacy Coley. He had missed on four passes to that point (16-of-20 for 209 yards and a touchdown). But Duke freshman cornerback Jeremy McDuffie watched his eyes and stepped in front of a pass, returning the interception 25 yards to Miami’s 45.
On the next drive, Duke rushed him until he committed an intentional grounding penalty in the end zone. The safety made it 14-12 at 2:12 of the third.
But Rosier responded again, throwing a 19-yard touchdown to Stacy Coley with 11:02 left. Michael Badgley added a 37-yard field goal with 5:54 left.
Sirk cut the lead to five with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Johnell Barnes with 2:40 left.