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Clark Searching For A Storybook Finish

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Published:   |   Updated: March 27, 2013 at 08:28 AM

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Shortly after the completion of tonight's game, Florida International University defensive line coach Bernard Clark will gather a clump of grass and dirt and discreetly place it into a plastic bag.

After all, how could Clark leave the Orange Bowl without a keepsake?

Even though most national fans figured the storied stadium actually closed down on Nov. 10, when Virginia slammed the Miami Hurricanes 48-0, its final college game actually occurs tonight when North Texas (2-9) visits the FIU Golden Panthers (0-11) for the Sun Belt Conference finale.

The Orange Bowl may yet have a storybook finish. After all, FIU carries the nation's longest losing streak at 23 games.

"It would be awfully sweet to get a win," said Clark, the former Leto High and University of Miami linebacker.

Once, during the stadium's heyday, Clark knew nothing but winning. Technically, he witnessed a loss (the 1985 opener against Florida, but Clark was a redshirt). After that, the Hurricanes began an NCAA-record 58-game winning streak at the stadium.

The biggest moments of Clark's UM career occurred on that famous turf.

•He was named Most Valuable Player of the 1988 Orange Bowl after registering 14 tackles in a 20-14 win against No. 1-ranked Oklahoma, which clinched UM's second national championship.

•He was a defensive catalyst in a 31-0 humiliation of No. 1 Florida State in the 1988 season opener.

•Facing No. 1 Notre Dame in 1989, Clark's interception of Tony Rice and 50-yard return set up the go-ahead score just before halftime as No. 7 UM defeated the Fighting Irish 27-10, en route to the Hurricanes' third national title.

"To me, the Orange Bowl was like an old tennis shoe," Clark said. "It just fit real nice. There was always such energy in the place. My memories of those days are amazing."

The recent memories?

Not so good.

Clark was recruiting in Tampa when Virginia stomped UM to make a mockery of the stadium's nationally televised swan song.

"It was sickening," Clark said. "There are two teams I root for - the team that pays my bills and the University of Miami. The younger generation just doesn't seem to know or appreciate what we did.

Clark was FIU's defensive coordinator in 2004-05, then shifted to USF for one season. His return to FIU has been enjoyable, even considering the ongoing losing streak.

"We're trying to build something here," Clark said. "This program is only 6 years old and it's going to get better and better. No doubt, we would love to win because that's why you play, but we're building it the right way."

Clark learned that winning standard at UM. Tonight's game will be a subtle reminder.

"Being there will be exciting and eerie at the same time," Clark said. "It's hard to walk away. But I'm glad to get one last chance and if we get a win to break this thing losing streak, it will be an unbelievable feeling for everyone."

ODDS AND ENDS: UCF senior DE Leger Douzable (Alonso) was named first-team All-Conference USA. Douzable has 5.5 sacks and a career-high 44 tackles. ... Florida senior women's soccer player Stacy Bishop (Land O' Lakes) was named a semifinalist for the Missouri Athletic Club's Hermann Trophy. For the second straight season, Bishop led the Gators in goals (10) and points (30), while also leading this season in assists (10). ... Culver-Stockton senior WR Preston Nicholson (Hillsborough) was named to the Heart of America Athletic Conference first team. Nicholson had 84 receptions for 1,259 yards and six touchdowns. He was second in the NAIA in per-game receptions (7.6) and receiving yards (114.5).


Reporter Joey Johnston can be reached at (813) 259-7353 or jjohnston@tampatrib.com.

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