Miami sends Coker out a winner

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) – Larry Coker went out a winner, just as his players promised.

Kirby Freeman threw for 272 yards and two long TDs, ran for another score, and Chavez Grant made a diving interception with 18 seconds left in the Hurricanes’ 21-20 victory over Nevada in the MPC Computers Bowl on Sunday night, Coker’s final game at Miami.

“I still love these players,” Coker said. “And I’m very happy for the win.”

Nevada had a first down at the Miami 36 in the final minute, but Grant’s pick sealed the win and got Coker the perfect sendoff that his players wanted.

“I don’t know what grade Chavez is, but I think he’s a veteran now,” Coker said of the freshman. “I just told them (after the game) there’s a lot of special things that are going to happen. There’s a lot of greatness in that room.”

Coker was fired Nov. 24 but agreed to stay for the bowl game – largely, he said, because the players wanted him there. He finished his six years with a 60-15 record and one national title, and by the time the team charter lands Monday morning in South Florida, defensive coordinator Randy Shannon will have officially taken over as Coker’s replacement.

Still, while battling temperatures in the upper 20s and wind that made it feel 10 degrees colder – Freeman shouted “I’m freezing” on the sideline at one point – the Hurricanes found a way to send Coker out a winner.

“Larry Coker and Randy Shannon are both gentlemen,” Miami athletic director Paul Dee said. “This wouldn’t have worked for us unless we were dealing with two fine people.”

Freeman threw a 78-yard touchdown pass to Sam Shields with 5:59 left in the third quarter to break what was a 14-14 tie and put the Hurricanes (7-6) ahead for good and ensure the program’s ninth straight winning season. Freeman also had a 52-yard scoring pass to Ryan Moore late in the first half.

Jeff Rowe threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Marko Mitchell, and Brett Jaekle kicked four field goals for Nevada (8-5), including 44- and 40-yarders in the fourth quarter to get Nevada within a point. But the Wolf Pack got no closer, thanks largely to Grant’s heroics at the end.

“That last pass Jeff just threw a 10th of a second late,” Nevada coach Chris Ault said. “But it was a great game.”

Rowe was 20-of-31 for 192 yards for Nevada, and Robert Hubbard had 60 yards on 20 carries.

“We had our chances,” Ault said. “That’s what is tough. We had our opportunities … and just didn’t make the right play at the right time.”

Shields caught four passes for 101 yards for Miami, while Moore made only two catches, but finished with 96 yards for the Hurricanes, who held a slim 300-297 edge in total offense.

Down by seven entering the final quarter against the fifth-ranked defense in the country, Nevada nearly pulled off a comeback – and may have been denied a great scoring opportunity by a call that didn’t go its way.

Facing a third-and-10 from the Miami 28, Rowe dropped back to throw to Anthony Pudewell inside the Miami 10. Pudewell was hit by Kenny Phillips as he tried to catch the ball, which bounced in the air. Replays showed that Pudewell trapped the ball between his knees before it hit the turf, but officials ruled it incomplete and the Wolf Pack eventually settled for a field goal.

“He said he caught it,” Rowe said, “so I’m with him.”

But at the end, there could be no debate about Grant’s game-sealing catch.

“He’ll be an All-American next year,” Hurricanes defensive end Calais Campbell said. “You watch.”

Rowe was trying to throw toward the right sideline, but Grant broke perfectly for the quick pass, lunged and cradled it as he sprawled to the blue turf – as the Miami sideline broke into wild celebration.

A season that had the Hurricanes endure the shooting death of defensive lineman Bryan Pata, fallout from the on-field brawl against Florida International and then Coker’s firing got an ending worth smiling about.

“That’s the thing the most proud of, the way our players competed,” Coker said.

AP-ES-01-01-07 0031EST

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