PEACH BOWL Hurricanes earn 'state title'
Miami's 'playmakers' helped to thrash Florida, 27-10.
ATLANTA (AP) -- Miami center Joel Rodriguez walked across the confetti-covered field carrying the Peach Bowl trophy, hugging teammates and waving to fans.
It certainly didn't have the same feel as a national championship or even a conference title.
But it will do.
"This is a great way to end your career," said Rodriguez, a senior.
Indeed. The Hurricanes gladly settled for the state title Friday night.
Devin Hester returned a blocked field goal 78 yards for a touchdown, Roscoe Parrish returned a punt 72 yards for a score and the 14th-ranked Hurricanes beat No. 20 Florida 27-10 in the Peach Bowl.
"Those guys are playmakers," Miami coach Larry Coker said. "Team speed is one thing, but to have the ability to make people miss and score touchdowns is a knack that Roscoe and Devin have."
Miami also earned a third consecutive "state title" by beating Florida and Florida State in the same season, spoiled interim coach Charlie Strong's debut and extended its winning streak against the Gators (7-5) to six games.
This time, the Hurricanes (9-3) didn't need a strong performance from Brock Berlin. The senior quarterback who transferred from Florida in January 2002 torched his former team in a 38-33 comeback victory last year.
Berlin finished 13-of-23 for 171 yards Friday. He had a 20-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Moore in the third quarter and ended his career 5-0 as a starter against Miami's two biggest rivals -- Florida and Florida State.
"There's no better feeling than beating FSU three times and Florida twice," Berlin said. "If that isn't big, I don't know what is."
Big plays key
Although Berlin stayed perfect against in-state competition, Miami's special teams and defense did the most damage on New Year's Eve.
"In big games like this, you can't give up big plays," Strong said. "Miami ended up getting big plays. They got the two big plays in the kicking game."
Just four plays after a blocked punt gave the Gators great field position, defensive lineman Thomas Carroll blocked Matt Leach's 32-yard field goal attempt. Hester picked up the loose ball and sprinted the other way for a score.
The momentum swing set the tone for the Hurricanes, who sacked Chris Leak on the next two plays and intercepted a pass late in the second quarter. Miami put constant pressure on Leak and finished with five sacks.
"Chris was never able to get comfortable in the pocket," Strong said. "They got tons of pressure and a lot of sacks."
Leak overthrew O.J. Small one play after Frank Gore fumbled in Florida territory. Hester picked off the pass and snaked his way 28 yards across the field to put Miami back in field goal range. Jon Peattie nailed a 47-yarder to give the 'Canes a 10-3 lead.
Miami forced Florida to punt on the ensuing possession, and Parrish caught the line-drive kick and ran untouched up the seam for a 72-yard score.
Strong said the special teams breakdowns might not have happened had fired coach Ron Zook been around. Zook also was Florida's special teams coordinator.
It got worse. Leach missed a 41-yard field goal in the waning seconds of the first half that could have sparked the Gators.
Berlin's TD pass early in the third quarter silenced the partisan and packed Georgia Dome.
Second half improvement
"We woke up a little bit on offense in the second half," Coker said. "We got up by three scores, and the clock became our ally."
Still, Leak's best pass of the game got the Gators back in it. He faked a handoff, had plenty of time and found Jemalle Cornelius wide open on a post pattern for a 45-yard score.
Leak finished 19-of-39 for 262 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. But his comeback was short-lived.
Miami capped a 65-yard drive with Peattie's 32-yard field goal, making it 27-10 early in the fourth.