MIAMI | Cameron Sexton saved the day for North Carolina, and might have resurrected his career as well.
Getting a chance for the first time since losing his starting job nearly two years ago, Sexton threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Brooks Foster with 46 seconds left, capping North Carolina's rally from a 14-point deficit and lifting the Tar Heels past Miami 28-24 on Saturday.
Sexton — playing because T.J. Yates will miss six weeks with a broken left ankle — completed 11 of 19 passes for 242 yards and two fourth-quarter scores, the last of which was perfectly thrown to Foster in the right side of the end zone.
"I didn't have anything to lose," Sexton said. "If I went out and played poorly, I wouldn't have changed anyone's opinion of me."
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He hardly was the only star for North Carolina (3-1, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), which beat Miami for the second straight year.
Trimane Goddard had two fourth-quarter interceptions, including one on the final play after Miami receiver Kayne Farquharson couldn't hold on to a ball that would have been a game-winning touchdown for the Hurricanes (2-2, 0-1).
"On that one at the end, if I had kissed him any more, my wife would be jealous," North Carolina coach Butch Davis said.
Even after Sexton delivered North Carolina's only lead, Miami had a chance.
Robert Marve, who threw three touchdown passes, guided Miami to the North Carolina 20 with 15 seconds left. He saw Farquharson just to the right of the goal post, fired a pass that sailed a bit high, and Goddard came down with possession.
"It's hard losing a game you know you should have won," Marve said. "That's the hardest thing about this game for all of us, and all the players would agree. We felt we should have won this game. We felt like if we played this game 10 times, we would win nine of them, and today wasn't our day."
Graig Cooper rushed for 110 yards, 60 of those on the game's opening drive, and had a receiving touchdown for Miami, which also got TD catches from Farquharson and Aldarius Johnson — whose 4-yard grab with 9:59 left gave the Hurricanes a 24-14 lead.
Greg Little and Ryan Houston had touchdown runs for North Carolina.
Last year, Miami tried to rally from 27 points down and lost 33-27 in Chapel Hill. North Carolina not only revived those memories, it showed Miami how to finish.
Sexton, who threw only one pass last season, found Hakeem Nicks on a blown coverage for a 74-yard touchdown with 9 minutes remaining. Miami then gained seven yards on its next two possessions, the second of which gave the Heels the ball with 2:49 left.
Seven plays and 2 minutes later, Sexton and the Tar Heels had the lead, then watched Marve try to rally Miami.
"I was thinking in my head the entire drive, 'This is a drive that's going to define this program, a great moment in this program's history,'" said Miami center Xavier Shannon, the son of coach Randy Shannon.
Davis feared the same.
Davis, the former Miami coach, started as an assistant for the Hurricanes in 1984, the year "Hail Flutie" — Doug Flutie's pass to Gerard Phelan — gave Boston College a last-second win at the Orange Bowl.
Marve's final toss was no where near as far, but Davis couldn't help but have flashbacks.
"I'm so sick of watching Hail Flutie," Davis said. "It's nice to be on the other end."
Farquharson had a chance — "I catch it, we win," he lamented afterward — but Goddard saw the play develop the whole way and was in perfect position.
"When you give up two big-time touchdowns on third-and-long, that's not called for," said Randy Shannon, whose team hosts rival Florida State next Saturday. "It's unacceptable and we've got to get those things fixed. It's hard to know you had a chance to win the game, we should have won the game, but those guys executed and we didn't."
It was a stirring turnaround, especially considering how the game started.
The Hurricanes needed only eight plays to go 89 yards on the opening drive, capped by Marve finding Farquharson with a 9-yard touchdown pass.
A special-teams blunder by the Tar Heels later in the quarter gave Miami a two-touchdown edge. North Carolina punter Terrence Brown dropped a snap, fell on the ball at the Tar Heels 11, and the Hurricanes quickly capitalized. Marve lofted the ball to Cooper on a middle screen that resulted in an 11-yard TD for a 14-0 lead.
Miami made it look easy in the first 15 minutes, outgaining North Carolina 127-24. But the Tar Heels largely controlled matters the rest of the way.
"I don't know if I've ever thrown a game-winning touchdown before," Sexton said. "I knew it was coming."