DURHAM, N.C. -- The Miami players kept chucking the ball back and forth, trying to stay upright, to somehow keep the game going just long enough to make something magical happen.
And then it did.
Call it a Miami miracle. Even if it's one that's going to be vigorously debated for a long time.
Corn Elder took the Hurricanes' eighth lateral of a wild final kickoff return back for a touchdown to give Miami an unbelievable 30-27 victory over No. 22 Duke on Saturday night.
"It was kind of like, just keep playing. Just keep playing," interim Miami coach Larry Scott said. "We used a joke earlier in the week about it being like a playground, about it being kind of like recess. And you know what? How about that? That's what it kind of turned into -- a kids' game."
Thomas Sirk seemingly had given the Blue Devils (6-2, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) the win by scoring on a sneak with 6 seconds left.
But in a final sequence reminiscent of California's unforgettable run through the Stanford band in 1982, Elder caught the last of eight laterals and zigged and zagged through the Duke coverage team for the score.
"You know ... we just wanted to keep the ball alive," Elder said. "You never practice these moments. We talked about it, but we never really practiced it. We had a bunch of playmakers, and we made a play."
After a lengthy review, the officials announced that the block was to Borders' side, not his back, and the touchdown stood.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe said it was never explained to him what exactly was under review. Messages seeking clarification from ACC officials were not immediately returned late Saturday night.
"I heard exactly what you all heard," he said.
The "did-you-see-that" finale capped a tumultuous week for the Hurricanes (5-3, 2-2). Coach Al Golden was fired after the program suffered its worst loss in school history, a 58-0 embarrassment against Clemson, a week ago.
Things became even more somber when the mother of cornerback Artie Burns died unexpectedly, and he promised that he would play in her honor.
"We've been through a lot this week, and it says a lot about this team," Elder said. "We kept fighting, kept fighting and we wanted to do this for Artie's mom, coach Golden and the city of Miami."
What everyone will remember is the madcap finish, which lasted for 49 seconds and wasn't completely decided until a nine-minute review.
"That was just like the old 'hot potato' game," Scott said.
It started when Dallas Crawford fielded Ross Martin's squib kick at the Miami 25-yard line and flung the ball to Elder, who ran back left before flipping to Jaquan Johnson. Johnson then lateraled to Walton, who let the ball rip as he was being tackled by Alonzo Saxton.
Johnson grabbed it, then flung it to Tyre Brady, who threw it to Elder, who chucked it to Crawford at about the 3. Crawford brought it forward some 10 yards before tossing it back to Elder at the 8.
Elder took it down the left sideline before cutting back at the Duke 40, then running down the middle of the field and into the end zone, where he was finally tackled by teammate Lawrence Cager and then the rest of the Hurricanes.
But in the background loomed that yellow flag, which would have been the 24th of the game for Miami and would have added to a school record. It caused defensive back Sheldrick Redwine to throw his helmet in disgust.
There was plenty for the replay officials to sort out -- chiefly, if Walton got rid of the ball before his knee hit the ground. Almost instantly, screen grabs emerged on social media appearing to show Walton was down as fans picked the play apart.
"I'm going to just tell you like it is: I thought the guy was down. And I think pictures will prove me right," Cutcliffe said.
But after the long wait, referee Jerry Magallanes had told a crowd waiting in suspense that no Miami runner had a knee down, then said the block in question came from the side, not the back.
It was confirmed. The chaos was enough to win the game.
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