First-year Miami coach Mark Richt never talked to his team about qualifying for a bowl game with a victory at Virginia, figuring the Hurricanes had three games left to ensure a .500 record and a chance to play in the postseason.
When Brad Kaaya threw two touchdown passes and Mark Walton ran for 111 yards and another score Saturday, leading Miami to a 34-14 victory against Virginia, and bowl eligibility, his players admitted to be delighted, and to wanting to keep the wins coming,
“It’s awesome. Awesome,” right guard Danny Isadora said. “Got to keep winning.”
They did it for the first time at Virginia with a balanced attack that produced 222 rushing yards and 228 through the air.
Kaaya hit David Njoku for a 7-yard score and Ahmmon Richards for a 77-yarder, the latter making Kaaya just the second quarterback to throw for more than 9,000 yards in his career at Miami (6-4, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Only Ken Dorsey, with 9,565, has more.
Richards’ touchdown, on a short third-down route, gave the Hurricanes a 27-14 lead, and the defense did the rest.
“It feels great, honestly,” the freshman said of qualifying for the postseason. “You work so hard and you want to have a payoff. It’s a great way for our seniors to go out, but right now, we’re focusing on N.C. State.”
The Cavaliers (2-8, 1-5) honored fourth- and fifth-year seniors before their final home game, but lost their fifth in a row. Virginia trailed just 17-14 at halftime, but mustered only 28 yards in the third quarter as Miami pulled away.
Virginia fumbled the ball away four times, all in the second half.
“Clearly I’m not getting through yet to our team in those closer moments where the game is kind of going back and forth,” first-year Cavaliers coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
Walton’s 15-yard run, capped as he arched his back to reach the end zone, essentially put the game away with 11:17 remaining. It gave the sophomore 21 touchdowns in 23 career games, and 11 touchdowns this season.
“I think the blocking was good, for the most part, but there were a few times where he was just ripping through tackles and just wasn’t going to be denied a first down and kept a couple of drives going,” Richt said.
Miami: The Hurricanes reached bowl eligibility by getting stout performances on both sides of the ball. They rushed for 222 yards and passed for 228, and on defense sacked Virginia starting quarterback Kurt Benkert five times, including a strip sack by Corn Elder that Joe Jackson recovered.
Virginia: Benkert continued to be restless under pressure and had another rough day. He completed 16 of 27 passed for 143 yards before being removed in the fourth quarter. The swap allowed former starter Matt Johns to finish, and he received a rousing ovation when he entered his final career home game.
WHERE THERE’S SMOKE
Virginia’s Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell caught three passes for 27 yards, and became the first player in ACC history to record 1,500 career rushing yards and 1,500 career receiving yards. He has 1,831 rushing yards (21st all-time at Virginia) and 1,517 receiving yards (13th).
The milestone came on a pass from Johns in the fourth quarter.
One of Johns’ goals when he got into the game, he said, “was to get Smoke that record. Man, I love that dude. He plays so hard and he caught a couple passes and got the 10 yards that he needed. He’s one of the best football players I’ll ever play with.”
Miami makes its first trip to Raleigh, North Carolina since 2008 to face North Carolina State.
Virginia plays at Georgia Tech.
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