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Berlin leads 'Canes comeback against former mates

9/7/2003
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MIAMI (AP) -- Brock Berlin might have thought he hurt Florida
when he left for Miami. Turns out, that was only the beginning of
the pain.

Overcoming a 23-point deficit early and leg-buckling cramps
late, Berlin threw for 340 yards Saturday night to lead the
third-ranked Hurricanes on a stunning rally for a 38-33 victory.

"I can't explain it," said Berlin, who jilted Florida in favor
of Miami after the 2001 season. "My emotions are just sailing
right now."

In a performance that will stand with some of the best put in by
Miami's long list of great quarterbacks, Berlin overcame two
interceptions, a fumble returned for a touchdown and an overall
terrible start to go 27-for-41 and earn a win in his first home
start for the Hurricanes (2-0).

He added to the drama when, on the 89-yard drive that won the
game, he ran around end to convert a fourth-and-1, then fell to the
ground with cramps. The 'Canes took a timeout to help him get over
it. On the next play, he hit Kyle Cobia for an 11-yard gain, and
three plays later, Frank Gore (127 yards) scored a 12-yard
touchdown to give Miami the lead.

Florida (1-1) got the ball back with 1:37 left and drove down to
the Miami 20. But Al Marshall picked off freshman Chris Leak's
desperation pass. Berlin came back onto the field to take a knee
and run out the clock.

The junior claimed this was "just another game," but his
celebration belied that statement. When the clock hit :00, he threw
the ball sky high, then turned to a rowdy Gators rooting section
and -- what else? -- mocked them with the famous Gator chomp.

"It's been a roller-coaster ride," Berlin said. "I've tried
to be as calm as I could these last two weeks. I'm glad it's over
with."

Berlin's performance turned what looked like a great night for
the Gators into a heartbreaker. They led 33-10 with 6:10 left in
the third quarter, and coach Ron Zook appeared en route to the
biggest victory of his checkered year-plus as Steve Spurrier's
successor.

But his young, clearly talented, but unproven team fell apart.
This one will probably go down as the worst collapse since 1994,
when the Gators blew one at Florida State. In that game, they
turned a 31-3 lead into a 31-31 tie. It had long been considered
their worst-ever "loss," but not anymore.

Still, in the aftermath, many of the Gators were spinning a
success story.

"Everyone was watching this, and now they know the Gators are
for real," offensive lineman Shannon Snell said.

Miami's comeback began with Berlin engineering an eight-play,
85-yard drive during which he barely looked like the same
quarterback who wore the green and orange for the first 2{
quarters.

Given time to throw where he had none before, he picked and
poked downfield, using screens, the sideline and the middle of the
field with equal effectiveness.

He hit Kevin Beard (seven catches, 164 yards) for a 26-yard
touchdown, and a 2-point conversion cut the score to 33-18.

The Gators could barely keep the ball over the final 20 minutes.
Miami scored two more quick touchdowns to pull within 33-32 with
11:08 left. The 'Canes blew a chance to go for 2 and tie when Ryan
Moore was penalized for excessive celebration after catching a
6-yard TD from Berlin.

Not to worry. On the next drive, Zook put redshirt freshman
Gavin Dickey into the game for the first time. He drove them into
Miami territory, but eventually was stopped. Berlin got the ball
back with 5:43 left and 89 yards to go to the end zone.

"There were times we could have folded, could have given up,"
Miami coach Larry Coker said. "We never, never, never did that. We
gave ourselves a chance to win."

Berlin, from Shreveport, La., put on a clinic that would have
made Vinny Testaverde, Bernie Kosar, Gino Torretta or Ken Dorsey
happy. In fact, it might have been the best game-saving drive at
the Orange Bowl since Dorsey led the 'Canes 73 yards for a late
score in a 27-24 win over FSU in 2000.

Dorsey spent that night in the hospital with dehydration and
cramps. The whole saga put him on the map. Now, Berlin has a spot
there, too.

"We knew it was only a matter of time before Brock started
clicking," Gators cornerback Keiwan Ratliff said. "We just had to
build a big enough lead to withstand the comeback."

The Gators came in as 14{-point underdogs, the biggest spread
against them since 1988, two years before Spurrier arrived. If
nothing else, they proved they could hang with the nation's best.

But beating them? That's a different story.

It's not surprising, considering none of the three Florida
quarterbacks who played -- Dickey, Leak or Ingle Martin, who left
the game late with a concussion -- had ever started a game on the
road. They played well, combining for 219 yards passing, while
another freshman, DeShawn Wynn, led the Gators with 100 yards
rushing.

Wynn went around right tackle for a 65-yard score to give the
Gators a 26-10 lead on the first play of the second half. A few
minutes later, Florida converted an interception by Johnny Lamar
into a touchdown for a 33-10 lead, and the game looked like a
runaway.

It wasn't. Instead, last season's national runners-up and the
2001 champions, boosted their nation-leading home winning streak to
23 and set themselves up for another possible run at the national
title.

"We realized we're not a quitting team," Beard said. "We're a
finishing team. We've got a lot of fight in us."