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On This Date in Sports November 16, 1991: Wide Right I

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In a battle between the top-ranked teams in the nation, #2 Miami stuns #1 Florida State 17-16 at Doak Campbell Stadium. Both teams came into the game unbeaten as the game was close throughout. The Seminoles were in front 16-7 in the fourth quarter, but Miami scored ten points to take the lead. Looking to answer FSU drove deep into Hurricanes territory, but Gerry Thomas missed right a potential game-winning field goal with 29 seconds left.

It was halcyon days for football in the Sunshine State, as three of the top five teams in the country were from Florida. The Seminoles of Florida State had been riding the #1 ranking in the AP all season, while the University of Miami was ranked #2 most of the season. Just back of both teams was the Florida Gators, who were ranked fifth. Miami coached by Dennis Erickson was at the peak of their powerhouse days, as they had won three National Championships in the last eight years, doing so in even years, 1983, 1987, and 1989. Both Florida coached by Steve Spurrier and Florida State led by Bobby Bowden were seeking their first National Championship.

Since Miami did not play the Gators at the time, the Seminoles’ two-game battle against rivals Miami and Florida were going to play a significant role in determining the National Champion. The Gators had suffered a loss early in the season to Syracuse. They had a tough climb back to the fifth ranking, making a shot claiming #1 a difficult task, especially with Washington, also holding an unbeaten record. Miami’s one-shot was to beat Florida State, who had been #1 since the first polls were published in August.

All eyes were on Tallahassee as the Seminoles took on their archrivals from the U. This was the first time since 1968 (Purdue vs. Notre Dame) that two teams from the same state were ranked 1-2 and unbeaten when meeting in the regular season. Both teams had strong defenses, as Miami, with a freshman named Dwayne Johnson allowed just 58 points in their first seven games, outscoring their foes by nearly 30 points a game. Florida State was almost as dominant outscoring everyone by 25.9 as they came into the game with a school-record 16-game winning streak.

A record crowd 63,442 was on hand at Doak Campbell Stadium to witness the battle of Florida. Miami took the opening possession and marched 74 yards to take a 7-0 lead on a two-yard run by Stephen McGuire, who got the drive started with a 30-yard run. Florida State got a bit 50-yard toss from Casey Weldon to Amp Lee but settled for a field goal on their first drive. The game turned in the Seminoles favor in the second quarter, as Miami turned the ball over three times. However, they managed just one score, taking a 10-7 lead at the half on a power run by Paul Moore. Miami had their shot to tie the game, but Carlos Huerta missed a 41-yard field goal at the half.

Florida State dominated the game in the third quarter but managed just a 31-yard field goal by Gerry Thomas. Thomas added a 20-yard field goal to begin the fourth quarter to build a 16-7 lead. For as much as Florida State dominated, the game was still close, dangerously close as Miami had a fighting chance as Huerta nailed a 45-yard kick to get it to a one-score game. After Florida State was unable to move the ball, Miami quickly went down the field, with Larry Jones scoring with three minutes left to give the Hurricanes a 17-16 lead. Attempting to answer Florida State marched deep into Miami territory. With Weldon losing a shoe and Miami coming close to picking the ball off, Bowden played it safe late in the drive, as Gerry Thomas set up for a 34-yard field goal with 29 seconds left. The kick would sail wide right. Prior to the season, the NCAA shortened the width of the goalpost by four feet, meaning it would have been good a year earlier.

After their 17-16 win, Miami went on to finish their unbeaten season, as they shared the National Championship with Washington, who finished atop the coaches’ poll.  A year later, Florida State and Miami would meet again, with the same result as the Seminoles missed a game-tying field goal in the final seconds.