Miami Hurricanes win first bowl game since 2006 with victory in Russell Athletic Bowl


Adrian Hernandez / Valencia Voice

Malcolm Lewis caught one of Brad Kaaya’s four touchdown passes in the 2016 Russell Athletic Bowl.

ORLANDO — Brad Kaaya threw for 282 yards and four touchdowns as the Miami Hurricanes won their first bowl game in 10 years with a 31-14 victory over West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Wednesday night at Camping World Stadium.

Miami’s offense struggled early in the game as the ‘Canes went for only 19 yards of offense in the first quarter, as the Mountaineers held on to a 7-0 lead after the opening 15 minutes.

Kaaya and the Hurricanes offense got into a rhythm midway though the second quarter as Miami went on to score three unanswered touchdowns to put the ‘Canes up 21-7 going into halftime. Kaaya ended the first half by leading Miami on a 70-yard touchdown drive in which he went 5-5 including a 26-yard score to Braxton Berrios.

“We just had to make adjustments,” said Kaaya of the difference between the first quarter and the rest of the game. “I brought a few balls down and coach told me just put it on the guy. There are plays to be made in the first quarter and we ended up making up for some of those missed opportunities in the second quarter and the second half.”

The Hurricanes gained 196 of their 215 first half yards during the second quarter, Miami also went the whole first half without covering on third down.

Kaaya tossed his fourth touchdown of the day on the opening drive of the second half when he hit David Njoku for a 23-yard touchdown pass in which the sophomore tight end broke a few tackles on his way to the end zone.

West Virginia cut Miami’s lead to 14 points after Skyler Howard rushed four yards on a quarterback keeper for the Mountaineers first touchdown since there was 5:40 remaining in the first quarter. Michael Badgley would extend Miami’s lead to 31-14 with a 30-yard field goal and the ‘Canes would go on to run out the clock in the fourth quarter for their first bowl win since 2006.

While Kaaya’s touchdowns were spread out between four different receivers, it looked like the junior signal callers favorite target was Njoku, who had five catches for 44 yards and one touchdown.

Following the game Njoku declared he would forgo his remaining eligibility and enter the NFL Draft. The redshirt sophomore tight end finished the 2016 season with 698 yards and eight touchdowns.

“It just goes to show how our offense functions, it doesn’t really matter who’s in there,” said Kaaya about his receiving corps. “It’s essentially a culmination of the work they put in this year. On stuff like that, some of those plays that scored for us, those were just routine plays that we practice everyday that don’t show up every game but when everyone does the right thing, it works for us.”

Kaaya will now have some time to think about his future as the junior will have to make a decision on weather to return to Miami for his senior year or declare for the 2017 NFL Draft.

The Russell Athletic Bowl MVP finished the season with a career-high 3,532 yards and 27 touchdowns to go with seven interceptions in 2016. Kaaya currently sits as Miami’s leading passer with 9,968 yards for his career, ahead of Ken Dorsey and Jim Kelly.

With the win Miami improves to 9-4 for the season and finish the season on their first 5-game winning streak since 2001.

The victory gives the Hurricanes their first bowl win since 2006 and snaps a streak of three-consecutive years for this senior class losing in bowl games, which started in 2014 when Miami faced Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

“It’s definitely special,”said Miami senior Corn Elder about winning his first bowl game in the stadium where he played his first postseason game. “Just being able to come back and end it on a high note, that’s something special.” 

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All photos by Adrian Hernandez / Valencia Voice