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Miami’s playing at Duke, so relive what happened the last time: one of the wildest plays in college football history

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It shouldn’t have counted, but it did, so it’s now a football legend forever.

Miami v Duke Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The last time the Miami Hurricanes played the Duke Blue Devils in Durham, N.C., Miami won on an incredibly wild play that actually should have never happened, not that anybody (besides Duke fans) was all that mad about it.

With six seconds left, Duke held a 27-24 lead and kicked off. On the return, Miami pulled off an eight-lateral touchdown that gave the Canes the victory.

As it turns out, this play never should have counted. On Sunday after the game, the ACC admitted that one of Miami’s players’ knee was down, and the Blue Devils should have won.

First, let’s breakdown some of the key moments from the play.

Roger Sherman did this in even more detail a couple of years ago.

We’ll start with the fourth lateral, from Mark Walton to Jaquan Johnson (both still Canes) -- the reason for the play’s controversy. Walton’s knee hit the ground before he passed it off.

It sure looks like he was down.

Duke head coach David Cutcliff thought so, too.

“I thought the guy was down,” Cutcliffe said. “And I think pictures will prove me right that he was down if you wanna review it when he lateraled the ball.”

The ACC ended up recognizing the refs were in the wrong to let the play stand, and suspended them for four games. But there were a lot of grey areas for the decision on letting it stand, as Sherman explained:

-The refs didn't have this hi-res photo when they were reviewing. They had the significantly grainier version from the broadcast.

-And just because a guy's knee is down and the ball is touching his hand doesn't mean he's down. If Walton isn't considered to have control as his knee touches the ground, he's not down. We've seen replays in which a guy isn't considered down because the ball is slightly jostling out of his hand, leading to a fumble. Just because this is a lateral doesn't make the standard any different.

So that's why refs might not have ruled him down. That said, his knee looks down.

"I saw it. I saw it coming," Corn Elder, the eventual Carolina Panther who took the final lateral for the TD, said. "Once I got it, I saw the open lane and I knew something special was happening."

He got some key blocks from eventual Cleveland Brown David Njoku and Walton, who cleared his path for a touchdown.

The touchdown gave Miami the victory.

“Loss for words, right?” Miami interim coach Larry Scott, who took over for a fired Al Golden the week prior, said after the game, via the Miami Herald. “… Kind of like what can’t kill you can only make you stronger. … I remember I just kept saying to myself, ‘Just keep playing, just keep playing, just keep playing.’

“They just kept playing, just kept believing. That’s the stuff that leaves you at a loss for words because you really can’t explain it.”

“I kinda joked earlier in the week about it kind of being the playground, being kind of like recess,” Scott continued. “And you know what, how bout that? That’s what it kind of turned into right? A kid’s game, out playing hard, and never stop believing. It’s just like the old, what was it called hot potato game or whatever you want to call it, that’s how it kind of worked out right?”

A day later, the ACC explained why the play never should have happened:

-The replay official erred in not overturning the ruling on the field that the Miami player had released the ball prior to his knee being down. If called, this would have ended the game.

-The on-field officials erred by failing to penalize Miami for an illegal block in the back at the Miami 16-yard line. If called, the ball would have been placed at the Miami 8-yard line and the game would have been extended for an untimed down.

-A block in the back foul was called at the Duke 26-yard line. After the officials conferred, which is appropriate, they correctly determined that the block was from the side, which resulted in the flag being picked up. The replay official was not involved in the decision to pick up the flag; however, the referee did not effectively manage communication and properly explain why the flag was picked up.

-In addition, the on-field crew failed to penalize a Miami player for leaving the bench area and entering the field prior to the end of the play. This foul would not have negated the touchdown because it would have been enforced as a dead ball foul.

The Canes immediately responded:

Cutcliffe further expressed his disappointment:

“What instant replay is in place for is to get it right,” Cutcliffe said on Sunday via the Charlotte Observer. “And we did not get it right. Unfortunately there is no mechanism in place, that I know of, to reverse the outcome of a game.”

Still, the ACC couldn’t go back in time and reverse the ruling, so the final play lived:

Miami even sold t-shirts.

Now the Hurricanes return to the same Wallace Wade Stadium.

Mark Richt has since taken over as Miami’s head coach. But The Return will be talked about when discussing Duke-Miami for years to come.

Cutcliffe had this to say in 2017’s game week:

“It’s obviously a memorable moment, and an unpleasant memorable moment, if you were on the Duke side of it. I’ve really kind of put it in a place, you know, that it doesn’t bother me. I don’t look at Miami and that’s the first thing I think about. I don’t look at football officials and it’s the first thing I think about.

“The part that I will always hate is for the players. When you walk into a locker room and you’re supposed to be able to prove an answer, and you can’t. I would’ve been silly to try to say and explain anything. So to those players, I will always be a little apologetic. but outside of that, my mom was right — don’t dwell on yourself and injustices that are done to you.

“I thought it was a miracle,” Richt said via the Miami Herald.