AP Sports Writer
CORAL GABLES — Game on the line, Miami's season essentially on the line, 53 seconds remaining, down by two points, no time-outs, 51 yards away from the end zone.
Stephen Morris knew the stakes, and never got flustered.
A true freshman making his first start, Morris showed plenty of poise and more than a slight flair for drama on Saturday, hitting Leonard Hankerson with a 35-yard touchdown pass with 37 seconds left to give Miami a 26-20 win over Maryland, somehow keeping the up-and-down Hurricanes in the mix for an Atlantic Coast Conference title.
“He's our quarterback right now,” Miami kicker Matt Bosher said.
The last two words of that sentiment – “right now” – are somewhat telling. All the Hurricanes (6-3, 4-2 ACC) know is that Morris will almost certainly be the starter when Miami visits Georgia Tech on Saturday for another game loaded with conference-title implications.
When Jacory Harris recovers from a concussion and gets medical clearance to return, he's expected to return to the starting lineup. For now, the job belongs to Morris and some teammates chanted, “Our quarterback,” when he left the field after the Maryland win.
“I'd seen him on scout team every day so I already knew what kind of character he had, what kind of quarterback he was,” Miami defensive lineman Allen Bailey said.
“Did you see that throw he had in the fourth quarter to Hank? He made those throws all week in practice. He's composed. He's calm under pressure.”
Good thing, because things won't get any easier for Miami anytime soon. The Hurricanes are bowl-eligible – and even Orange Bowl-eligible – but still need help. To win the Coastal Division and get into the ACC title game, Miami needs to win both its remaining games in league play (against Georgia Tech this week and Virginia Tech next week), plus hope that either North Carolina or Virginia beats Virginia Tech as well.
“We're not out of it,” Bosher said.
They can thank Morris for that.
His game-winning throw to Hankerson was flawless: As Morris was getting hit, he lofted the ball over two Maryland defenders and into a place where only his top wide receiver could catch it, which he did with ease.
“I knew he could make that throw,” Hankerson said.
Morris finished 18 of 30 for 286 yards and two interceptions, with the one touchdown. And that was the only throw anyone was talking about afterward.
The fact that Morris doesn't know how much longer the job will be his doesn't appear to be a factor.
“Stephen's kind of a mature guy,” Miami coach Randy Shannon said Sunday. “He's a good person. We talk, we joke around, we get serious about a lot of things. He doesn't let petty things bother him. Petty things, that's not his demeanor. He doesn't get caught up in a lot of other things that have nothing to do with what we're trying to get done.”
Shannon was thrilled with the effort and how Morris was able to stay cool under fire.
That being said, both after the game Saturday and again on Sunday, Shannon stressed that Morris WAS filling in, not taking over.
“He knows he has a lot to improve on,” Shannon said. “Don't you all start trying to start a quarterback controversy. He did a good job of going in the game and managing the game.”
AP Photo/Steve Helber. Rising STAR: Miami quarterback Stephen Morris (17) pitches ball during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Virginia at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Oct. 30.