MIAMI GARDENS — Miami put its last-minute comeback hopes into Duke Johnson’s hands, and he delivered.
Johnson ran for two fourth-quarter touchdowns, the second a 1-yard plunge with 53 seconds left, as No. 7 Miami beat Wake Forest 24-21 on Saturday to remain unbeaten and cap a wild week of emotions.
The NCAA mess that overshadowed Miami for 2½ years finally ended on Tuesday, and four days later, Johnson made sure there was cause for a second celebration.
“I wanted the ball,” Johnson said. “So I went to coach, and we talked about it, and coach said, ‘We’re going to put it in your hands.’ ”
Smart move, Al Golden.
Johnson had 30 rushes — eight more than his previous collegiate best — and finished with 168 yards. In the fourth quarter alone, he had 14 carries for 85 yards, including the two go-ahead touchdown runs as the Hurricanes (7-0, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) set up a showdown at Florida State next week and matched the program’s best start since 2003.
“Clearly emotional. I’m not going to lie to you. Just an emotional week,” said Golden, the coach who spent the first 30 games of his Miami career waiting for the NCAA cloud to pass. “Now we can breathe and move forward. I was more worried than ever this week, just because nobody was really talking about Wake. Everybody was talking about the NCAA and obviously future scheduling.”
It was the third straight game in which Miami overcame a double-digit deficit, and the second straight game in which the Hurricanes got the go-ahead score in the final seconds — Dallas Crawford’s late touchdown run gave them a win at North Carolina on Oct. 17.
Wake Forest (4-4, 2-3) led for nearly 49 minutes and it still didn’t matter. Tanner Price completed 25 of 45 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns, the last of those a 44-yard score to Dominique Gibson with 4:02 remaining — one play after Wake connected on a fourth-down opportunity — to give the Demon Deacons a 21-17 lead.
It slipped away, and the Demon Deacons are now 1-53 all-time against Top 10 teams.
“It’s tough in there right now,” Price said, referring to the Wake Forest locker room. “It’s really hard when you come this close and you don’t come away with the W.
Antonio Crawford’s interception with 37 seconds left sealed the win for Miami, which got a touchdown catch from Herb Waters and a 17-for-28, 191-yard passing effort from Stephen Morris.
When Wake Forest took a 14-3 second-quarter lead, it marked the biggest deficit the Hurricanes had faced since the Florida State game on Oct. 20, 2012.
It looked bad.
Then again, these are the Comeback Canes.
“We’re a whole new team,” former Alonso High defensive end Anthony Chickillo said. “We’ve got a different mindset. We’re not going to quit.”
Late in the half, Miami seemed to finally get something going.
Facing third-and-short with about 1:30 left, Morris faked a handoff and fired a fastball down the right hash marks that seemed to be sailing high — before tight end Clive Walford snared it with his right hand and somehow held on through the tackle.
One play later, Morris connected with Waters for a 35-yard scoring strike, getting the Hurricanes within 14-10 at halftime.
That was the end of the scoring until the fourth, when Johnson put Miami ahead with 5:36 left, and returned to the field 94 seconds later to begin pulling off the second comeback drive — the one that counted most.
“Man, oh, man,” Golden said. “He ran with a purpose and an anger that we haven’t seen from him.”
Now a much-anticipated trip to Tallahassee awaits.