MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Brennan Armstrong stood on the sideline with his teammates and quarterbacks coach Jason Beck. Virginia’s starting quarterback watched helplessly with the game out of his hands as Miami drove down the field for a potential game-winning score.
The Hurricanes marched down the field in the final five minutes, playing for a short field goal to win on the game’s final play.
“I didn’t even know what I was feeling, I was just kind of empty,” Armstrong said. “It’s either gonna be made or it’s not or it’s gonna be blocked. Either I’m gonna go crazy on two of those or I’m not gonna go crazy on one of those.”
Andres Borregales pulled the 33-yard kick to the left, and it slammed into the upright. By the time the ball landed near the 10-yard line, UVa players and coaches had rushed the field.
Armstrong was among those going crazy.
“It was a great feeling,” Armstrong said.
Coaches often downplay the importance of one play in a football game, stressing that countless others affect the outcome. While that’s true, Borregales’ field goal felt monumental for both sides.
For Miami, the Hurricanes drop to 2-3 overall and 0-1 in the ACC. The team competed in front of fewer than 40,000 fans Thursday night with the fan base seeming to lose enthusiasm about head coach Manny Diaz and the program’s trajectory. A short missed field goal to lose at home to Virginia likely won’t entice more fans to attend games, and it only hurts the team’s chances of winning the ACC Coastal Division.
The immediate road forward doesn’t get much easier. After a week off, the Hurricanes play at North Carolina before hosting North Carolina State. The team’s October schedule ends with a trip to Pittsburgh. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Miami as an underdog in all three games. If quarterback D’Eriq King can’t play moving forward, the next few weeks could put Miami in a fight for bowl eligibility.
For Virginia, the season was beginning to get away for the Cavaliers prior to Thursday’s win.
If the freshman’s kick sails through the uprights Thursday, UVa would’ve been 0-3 in ACC play. Instead, Virginia is 3-2 overall and 1-2 in the ACC. The team’s slim Coastal Division title hopes are alive, and the upcoming three-game stretch with Louisville, Duke and Georgia Tech could pull Virginia up the Coastal standings.
Reaching three victories also represents a step toward bowl eligibility — the Cavaliers need six wins to return to postseason play after opting out of bowl season in 2020.
“Both teams lay it completely out there, and it comes down to one play at the end to decide an outcome and so many people and their mindsets and their attitudes and their support or their not support or whatever,” head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “I don’t know how to describe it.”
One play at the end decided the game.
One play at the end gave UVa fans a chance to celebrate the team’s first road win at Miami since 2011. Negative opinions — frustration overwhelmed social media channels as the team’s defense faded in the second half — quickly switched to hope about the team’s potential success in October.
One play at the end had Miami fans devastated. Rather than celebrating the team’s grit and determination in a comeback win with a freshman quarterback at the helm, the group left Hard Rock Stadium disappointed with a once-proud program that is currently 1-3 against FBS teams.
The missed field goal gives UVa players a positive result after a couple weeks of hard practices following 20-point ACC losses. Coming off consecutive defeats, UVa’s confidence wasn’t in the same spot it was in early September.
Winning helps build that confidence back up.
“Getting back in the win column is always a good thing,” defensive lineman Mandy Alonso said. “Back-to-back losses, it eats at a team mentally. Just getting back into the win column it’s just gonna put everyone trending back in the right direction, knowing that these hard practices on Tuesday and Wednesday, that they paid off. Coach puts us through hell because it pays off on Saturdays, or Thursdays in this case.”
Alonso’s feelings aren’t possible without one game-changing — and perhaps season-altering — play at the end.