MIAMI (AP)—Brock Berlin might have thought he hurt Florida when he left for Miami. Turns out, that was only the beginning of the pain.
Overcoming a 23-point deficit early and leg-buckling cramps late, Berlin threw for 340 yards Saturday night to lead the third-ranked Hurricanes on a stunning rally for a 38-33 victory.
“I can’t explain it,” said Berlin, who jilted Florida in favor of Miami after the 2001 season. “My emotions are just sailing right now.”
In a performance that will stand with some of the best put in by Miami’s long list of great quarterbacks, Berlin overcame two interceptions, a fumble returned for a touchdown and an overall terrible start to go 27-for-41 and earn a win in his first home start for the Hurricanes (2-0).
He added to the drama when, on the 89-yard drive that won the game, he ran around end to convert a fourth-and-1, then fell to the ground with cramps. The ‘Canes took a timeout to help him get over it. On the next play, he hit Kyle Cobia for an 11-yard gain, and three plays later, Frank Gore (127 yards) scored a 12-yard touchdown to give Miami the lead.
Florida (1-1) got the ball back with 1:37 left and drove down to the Miami 20. But Al Marshall picked off freshman Chris Leak’s desperation pass. Berlin came back onto the field to take a knee and run out the clock.
The junior claimed this was “just another game,” but his celebration belied that statement. When the clock hit :00, he threw the ball sky high, then turned to a rowdy Gators rooting section and—what else?—mocked them with the famous Gator chomp.
“It’s been a roller-coaster ride,” Berlin said. “I’ve tried to be as calm as I could these last two weeks. I’m glad it’s over with.”
Berlin’s performance turned what looked like a great night for the Gators into a heartbreaker. They led 33-10 with 6:10 left in the third quarter, and coach Ron Zook appeared en route to the biggest victory of his checkered year-plus as Steve Spurrier’s successor.
But his young, clearly talented, but unproven team fell apart. This one will probably go down as the worst collapse since 1994, when the Gators blew one at Florida State. In that game, they turned a 31-3 lead into a 31-31 tie. It had long been considered their worst-ever “loss,” but not anymore.
Still, in the aftermath, many of the Gators were spinning a success story.
“Everyone was watching this, and now they know the Gators are for real,” offensive lineman Shannon Snell said.
Miami’s comeback began with Berlin engineering an eight-play, 85-yard drive during which he barely looked like the same quarterback who wore the green and orange for the first 2 1/2 quarters.
Given time to throw where he had none before, he picked and poked downfield, using screens, the sideline and the middle of the field with equal effectiveness.
He hit Kevin Beard (seven catches, 164 yards) for a 26-yard touchdown, and a 2-point conversion cut the score to 33-18.
The Gators could barely keep the ball over the final 20 minutes. Miami scored two more quick touchdowns to pull within 33-32 with 11:08 left. The ‘Canes blew a chance to go for 2 and tie when Ryan Moore was penalized for excessive celebration after catching a 6-yard TD from Berlin.
Not to worry. On the next drive, Zook put redshirt freshman Gavin Dickey into the game for the first time. He drove them into Miami territory, but eventually was stopped. Berlin got the ball back with 5:43 left and 89 yards to go to the end zone.
“There were times we could have folded, could have given up,” Miami coach Larry Coker said. “We never, never, never did that. We gave ourselves a chance to win.”
Berlin, from Shreveport, La., put on a clinic that would have made Vinny Testaverde, Bernie Kosar, Gino Torretta or Ken Dorsey happy. In fact, it might have been the best game-saving drive at the Orange Bowl since Dorsey led the ‘Canes 73 yards for a late score in a 27-24 win over FSU in 2000.
Dorsey spent that night in the hospital with dehydration and cramps. The whole saga put him on the map. Now, Berlin has a spot there, too.
“We knew it was only a matter of time before Brock started clicking,” Gators cornerback Keiwan Ratliff said. “We just had to build a big enough lead to withstand the comeback.”
The Gators came in as 14 1/2 -point underdogs, the biggest spread against them since 1988, two years before Spurrier arrived. If nothing else, they proved they could hang with the nation’s best.
But beating them? That’s a different story.
It’s not surprising, considering none of the three Florida quarterbacks who played—Dickey, Leak or Ingle Martin, who left the game late with a concussion—had ever started a game on the road. They played well, combining for 219 yards passing, while another freshman, DeShawn Wynn, led the Gators with 100 yards rushing.
Wynn went around right tackle for a 65-yard score to give the Gators a 26-10 lead on the first play of the second half. A few minutes later, Florida converted an interception by Johnny Lamar into a touchdown for a 33-10 lead, and the game looked like a runaway.
It wasn’t. Instead, last season’s national runners-up and the 2001 champions, boosted their nation-leading home winning streak to 23 and set themselves up for another possible run at the national title.
“We realized we’re not a quitting team,” Beard said. “We’re a finishing team. We’ve got a lot of fight in us.”