PITTSBURGH (AP) — Miami quarterback Stephen Morris handed the ball to Stacy Coley and watched the freshman wide receiver sprint to the right sideline.
Seconds passed. Morris turned his head to the Hurricane sideline to get signals for the next play. One problem. Nobody was looking back at him.
“Everybody was still glued onto the field and I looked and (Coley) was still running,” Morris said. “I was speeding up to still catch him and he was long gone by then.”
Exhausted too. Coley’s oxygen-sapping 73-yard touchdown run gave Miami a three-touchdown lead on its way to a 41-31 win over Pittsburgh on Friday. Coley collapsed after crossing the goal line and needed to be helped to the locker room to catch his breath.
“The cold air, it just hit me,” said Coley, who finished with 146 yards of total offense and three scores on just four touches.
Coley is fine. So are the Hurricanes’ hopes of earning a spot in the ACC title game.
Miami (9-3, 5-3) assured itself of its first nine-win season since 2009 with the victory. The Hurricanes need losses by Duke and Virginia Tech on Saturday to earn a rematch with No. 2 Florida State in the title game in Charlotte next weekend.
Allen Hurns caught nine passes for 173 yards for Miami, which raced to a quick 14-point lead and had no real trouble with the Panthers (6-6, 3-5) or the 33-degree temperature at kickoff.
Center Jared Wheeler led a group of shirtless Hurricanes onto the field during warmups, a symbolic gesture meant to show they weren’t going to let a little bit of winter ruin their chances at getting another shot at the Seminoles.
“We were talking all week that we’re not going to let the cold affect us at all,” Wheeler said. “We’re tired of everyone telling us ‘Oh, it’s cold, Miami isn’t going to do well.'”
Instead, it was the Panthers who looked out of sorts early. Pitt fumbled the opening kickoff and had a punt blocked on its first possession, allowing the Hurricanes to take command early and never really let go.
“We did too many things to hurt ourselves,” Panthers coach Paul Chryst said. “We’ve got to own that.”
“It stinks,” Pitt quarterback Tom Savage said. “It was the last game at Heinz for the seniors, so it sucks. Excuse my language. It stinks.”
However you want to phrase it, the Hurricanes dominated.
Morris completed 17 of 28 passes for 296 yards and three scores for Miami, which has won eight straight against the Panthers and 16 of the last 17 meetings. Most of those wins came when the teams were still rivals in the Big East.
Switching conferences, however, has done little to change the result.
The Panthers have shown signs of progress in Chryst’s second season, but the Hurricanes showed the gap between the Panthers and the ACC elite will take some time to close.
Coley provided the glaring evidence.
He scored twice in the game’s first 3:30 on passes from Morris after Pitt miscues but gave the Hurricanes control for good with his remarkable 73-yard journey through the Panther defense late in the first half. The Panthers had closed to 24-10 on a 36-yard field goal by Chris Blewitt when Coley ran in motion and took a handoff from Morris.
The freshman slipped through a pair of tackles to get into the secondary, ran through another after crossing midfield then veered left to the sideline, where he slowed down as Pitt’s Shakir Soto gave chase. Coley found just enough juice to sprint into the end zone to make it 31-10 with 1:34 left in the half.
Pitt’s only real surge came when a 23-yard touchdown pass Savage to Rachid Ibrahim pulled the Panthers within 34-24 with 7:36 left.
Rather than nurse the lead, Miami attacked. Morris deftly guided a seven-play, 78-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard flip to Asante Cleveland to push the lead back to 17 and let the Hurricanes focus on watching football on Saturday with an eye sneaking into the conference title game.
“This team, I guess they’ve got their minds on winning 10 games,” coach Al Golden said. “That’s what they have their mind set on and with any measure of good fortune tomorrow, we might have more.”
The win took some of the sting out of a late season swoon. Miami ended a three-game losing streak last week against Virginia then backed it up by looking very much like the dominant force it was during a 7-0 start.
Hurns continued one of greatest seasons by a Miami receiver in school history by pulling in a 66-yard pass to set up a 7-yard touchdown run by Gus Edwards. Hurns has 1,138 yards receiving to put Leonard Hankerson’s 1,156-yard effort in 2010 in serious jeopardy.
Savage completed 24 of 43 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns against one interception while freshman wide receiver Tyler Boyd caught nine passes for 98 yards and a score. The number proved of little solace as the Panthers failed to produce a winning regular season for the third straight year.
“We didn’t want to give up, and I don’t think we did that at all,” Boyd said. “We just came up short.”
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