MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Miami's coaching staff sent a clear message to its receivers this week by opening up what was a nine-player competition for three starting spots.
Mike Harley heard them — and came up with the best game of his career.
D’Eriq King threw for 322 yards and a touchdown, Harley had career bests of 10 catches for 170 yards and No. 11 Miami outlasted Virginia 19-14 on Saturday night.
“I think Mike absolutely accepted the challenge," Miami coach Manny Diaz said.
Harley's big night for Miami (5-1, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) started with a 43-yard touchdown grab on the Hurricanes’ second play from scrimmage. King completed his first nine passes and finished 21 for 30.
Harley said the receivers got a group text early in the week saying nobody was assured of a starting job.
“Me being a senior, being the oldest guy, I just had to step up," Harley said.
Don Chaney had a 1-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth for Miami.
Brennan Armstrong, back in the lineup after missing a game with a concussion, completed 16 of 30 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns for Virginia (1-4, 1-4). It was the fourth straight loss for the Cavaliers, and this marks the first time since 2013 that they’ve played four consecutive games without ever holding a lead.
Armstrong also ran for 91 yards for Virginia.
“It was a really tough game," Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Those were two teams battling really hard today. ... Miami's good. They played well. I thought we played well."
The King-to-Harley touchdown came just 28 seconds into the game, the fastest TD to open a game by Miami since Tracy Howard ran back an interception 19 yards for a score just six seconds into the Hurricanes’ game against Virginia on Nov. 23, 2013.
That was the first of eight touchdowns that day, Miami eventually winning 45-26.
This one was much different.
Points had been a rare commodity the past two Miami vs. Virginia games — the Cavaliers winning one 16-13, the Hurricanes winning the other 17-9 — and this one followed suit. Virginia tied the game at 7-7 on its first drive, with Tony Poljan hauling in a 2-yard scoring pass from Armstrong.
From there, the slog began. The teams combined for six points on their next 13 possessions, the Hurricanes leading 10-7 at the half after a 32-yard field goal by Jose Borregales with 1:02 left until intermission and stretching the lead to 13-7 when he connected again from 20 yards out with 3:47 left in the third.
“They were having a hard time stopping us at times ... but the score was always tight,” Diaz said. “At halftime we had to kind of readjust our mentality and say, ‘Did you not expect it to be this way?’ We want to be OK with it being difficult to win.”
Chaney’s 1-yard run with 12:04 left made it 19-7, that touchdown coming 64 plays after Miami’s first of the night.
Armstrong took off on a 32-yard fourth-down run in the fourth quarter to extend a drive, and one play later found Ra’Shaun Henry with a 35-yard pass that got the Cavaliers to 19-14 with 5:27 left.
Virginia, however, was out of time-outs at that point and Miami punted the ball away with only 23 seconds left. The Cavaliers took all of them in the second half with their defense on the field, the last of them when Miami tried a two-point conversion after Chaney's score.
“Had to use it, and glad I did because we stopped the two-point play which did give us a chance," Mendenhall said. “But that was not by design nor was it good time management, nor was it good communication by my staff."
Virginia: The Cavaliers had a chance to take the lead in the second quarter, but what would have been a 24-yard TD pass by Armstrong was washed out by an ineligible-receiver-downfield penalty and the Cavaliers wound up missing a field goal. “That changes the game," Mendenhall said of the touchdown coming off the board.
Miami: Harley’s previous career-bests were seven catches (done twice, most recently the rout of Florida State earlier this season) and 116 yards against Louisville last year. Among his highlights: catches of 20, 28, 28 again and the 43-yarder for a score.
The Hurricanes will remain in the AP Top 25 for a seventh consecutive week, the school’s longest such run since 2017. With No. 8 Penn State losing to Indiana, it would seem possible for Miami to return to the Top 10.
Miami safety Amari Carter was ejected for targeting on the Hurricanes’ first defensive snap of the game, marking the second time this season and fourth in his career that he’s been sent off early for that infraction.
Virginia: Hosts North Carolina on Oct. 31.
Miami: At North Carolina State on Friday, Nov. 6.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25