Miami had just fired its head coach six days earlier.
Duke was 6-1 and making a run at a division title.
It was Oct. 31, and the stage was set for something truly wild to happen.
That matchup in Durham, North Carolina, featured a miraculous fourth-quarter comeback by the Blue Devils and the Hurricanes engineering a lateral-filled kick return that eventually ended with a controversial touchdown, a nine-minute replay review, a disputed victory, the suspension of an officiating crew and a million stories about how it all happened. It was a game that had nothing to do with the playoff race, but it changed college football forever.
This is the story of Miami 30, Duke 27 on Halloween night 2015.
Thomas Sirk (former Duke QB): "We had about five minutes left, and we had to put two scores on them. So we had basically two two-minute drills. I remember a couple of huge pass interference calls that helped us move it down the field and a couple of huge catches by receivers. That kind of sparked the energy for the second drive. We had to score fast and get a two-point conversion, which we did. That gets lost in everything that happened, but those were two of the most important drives that we had that season."
Corn Elder (former Miami cornerback): "We played our hearts out. [Miami QB] Brad [Kaaya] was injured, and we were down a couple guys. It was tough seeing them come back. That last drive, I got two pass interference calls back-to-back, and it was really tough for me, because I felt like I let my team down. Honestly, I felt like the game was over because I got those two calls. I was really down on myself at that point."
David Cutcliffe (Duke coach): "We had a pretty nice squib kick, very short squib. Didn't want to give them the ball. I thought about an onside-type kick because you know you're going to cover it. They're going to have to get on it. But you give them a shot in the end zone with a throw. The other choice, and one I wish we might have made if you had second chances, would have been a sky kick. A short sky kick forcing a fair catch or us having the ability to get down under it running down the field. So that's for all the coaches that face that situation."
The play is called Desperado, and Miami prepared to use it for the Clemson game the previous week. But because the game turned into a blowout, the Hurricanes kept it under wraps. With only one chance left against Duke, it was time to put it into action.
Larry Scott (former Miami interim coach): "At the end of practices when we'd work on it, it was, 'OK, have fun like recess. Apply the rules and keep the ball alive and keep playing, kind of like hot potato. Like the Globetrotters.' In the huddle, we talked about belief. I said, 'You've just got to believe and have fun.' That's what we broke it down on."
Tyre Brady (former Miami receiver): "It was a very emotional week. Our coach got fired, and [cornerback] Artie Burns lost his mom. Before we took the field in that game, we were playing for Artie Burns. We wanted to do it for him. We made a promise to each other we were going to win that game. That game was dedicated to her."
Dallas Crawford fielded the squib kick and tossed it to Elder. Bottled up, Elder found Jaquan Johnson, who caught the ball off one hop.
Elder: "The first throw back, that was a part of the game plan. We were just keeping the ball alive. In my head, I was thinking, we were getting closer and closer to our own end zone. I'm just thinking, at any moment, somebody was going to get tackled or fumble."
Johnson: "I was on my block, but after we threw the ball back to Corn, I was watching him and I'm like, 'He's running out of real estate,' so I backed up so I could be the next person. When he tossed it, it took one bounce. It wasn't like a crazy bounce going everywhere. It bounced right into my hands. Then I made a few moves. I was about to try to take it, and it closed up real quick, so I got rid of it as well."
Mark Walton (Miami running back): "When I got the ball, I was looking to see if I could see grass ahead of me. I saw a little bit, I tried to take what I could get and threw it back to Jaquan, and it hit the floor first, and that's when he scooped it back up."
Johnson: "He faked it like he was going to pitch it to somebody and try to run, and I realized he was in trouble, so I stayed close, and he was able to pitch it back to me, then I pitched it to Tyre Brady."
Brady: "When Quan passed me the ball, two defenders were already right there, so I got the ball, and then I ran, then I just threw it to Corn. Then Corn threw it back to Dallas. Corn snuck off in the back over to the left side behind the blocks, and then Dallas ran over there to the right side, and then we threw it back to Corn."
Elder: "I caught it the last time, and I saw the opening. I just hit it."
Scott: "He cleared the first person in front of him, got out in front of and started to wave his hand like, 'Lead the way!' It was like, 'Oh boy, there's nobody left, this should be a touchdown. If he doesn't run out of gas, this is going to be a touchdown.'"
Joe Zagacki (Miami radio broadcaster): "He's running down the field, and I think I said, 'My goodness gracious, this could go all the way!' That was on the left side of my brain. The other side of my brain was thinking, 'OK, this is a wild play, so what's the right perspective here? What's the right excitement level? I got pretty darn excited and started screaming, 'It's a miracle in Durham,' because I had never seen a play like that."
Grant Shorin (former Duke team photographer who snapped the photo showing Walton's knee was down prior to his lateral): "My parents were actually there that weekend. My mom went to Stanford back in the day, and she saw the Stanford-Cal game with the band on the field. After this, she was like, 'Wow, I've seen that before.' She had to be one of the only people to be on the losing side of two of the same type of plays at both games. Wild. We don't let her go to many games anymore."
Sirk: "We were on the sideline, and we didn't really know what happened. We just saw that they scored. And we all thought initially that one of the guys was down. We saw the guys in the end zone and were shocked it happened. We thought it was definitely going to get overturned once we saw it up on the replay board, but the officials made their call."
What followed was a nine-minute replay review in which referee Jerry Magallanes interrupted to announce "after further review, the play is still under review," flags were strewn on the field, and the replay official, Andrew Panucci, was left on his own to make a call that would decide the outcome of the game.
Michael Strickland (ACC senior associate commissioner): "It was obvious we had an issue. I didn't know immediately the severity of the errors, but it was obvious we had a situation on our hands."
Shorin: "I didn't really notice what I was shooting until I looked at it after the play ended and they'd scored a touchdown, and I looked at my camera and thought, 'Wow, that seems like it would be important.' And then as the review was going on, it took forever, and it just seemed like it was so obvious and there was no way they'd let Miami count the touchdown."
Scott: "I needed clarification on what is the foul, where are the penalties, where are we calling them and who are we calling them on? When we couldn't get an exact answer, I knew this thing was up in the air and was going to be at the discretion of the review booth, so it was just cross your fingers, say a little prayer and hope it all works out."
Elder: "Honestly, I was tired. I was exhausted. That play took forever. There were so many plays in that game. But I was excited just to be a part of that play, whether they counted it or not."
The announcement was finally made that the touchdown would stand, Miami won the game, and absolute chaos ensued.
Strickland: "As soon as a replay is finished, all the video output that were consumed by the replay official are emailed to both myself and our supervisor of football officiating, Dennis Hennigan. So within a minute or two, we have a recording of what the official looked at. I was on the phone with Dennis right away. We're both at our respective laptops, reviewing the video."
Shorin: "As I was walking off the field, I ran into one of my buddies who was a Duke team manager. I showed him the picture, and he was in shock. I continued up to the press box, and in the elevator people were like, 'Oh wow.' And then up in the press box, people came around and took a picture on Snapchat, just over my shoulder of the computer screen, and then I could see on Twitter, it was getting retweeted -- a picture from over my shoulder of the picture. It was just wild how it mushroomed."
Sirk: "It was definitely hard because it was such a pivotal point in the season for us. I just remember there was no one in the locker room talking, and Coach Cut just coming in and looking at us and saying there's nothing we could do about it."
Brady: "It was like, wow, just seeing it unfold, that's what we play football for, moments like that. Those are the biggest moments right there. That's what it's all about. The feeling was like, wow, it was a blessing to be out there for that play. It was just a blessing."
Cutcliffe: "After that game, it wasn't anger. Well, it was gotten wrong, and the conference announced that, but you couldn't change anything. The most difficult part was the walking in the locker room and looking at a bunch of crushed young people that I didn't have an answer for. That probably will live with me forever."
A day later, the league issued a statement admitting the errors and suspending the officials involved in the game.
Strickland: "It became apparent the series of errors that took place, and that set into motion an overnight and into the morning a discussion with the commissioner where we laid out the situation and the decision was made to issue the statement we did that broke the play down step by step."
Cutcliffe (the day after the game): "Unfortunately, there is no mechanism that I know of in place to reverse an outcome of a game. I do believe there should be. If we're going to use instant replay ... All this occurred after everything had happened on the field. What instant replay is in place for is to get it right, and we did not get it right. I'm venting a little bit still. I hurt badly for our players."
Sirk: "When you walked on campus that Monday, it was hard for people not to just say we were on the wrong end of that call. And it was on ESPN, it was all over the TV, talking about what Miami had done. Even talk of the suspension of the refs -- it was just hard. It was a distraction, honestly, to have people lingering on it when we had to move forward. Even in classes you had students asking you about it. "
Strickland: "The rulebook is very clear that once the referee determines the game is over -- and one of the things that, while there were errors there, what was clear is he'd declared the game over -- and once that statement is made, the door is closed on any type of action we can take to correct a call. No one conference has the ability to supersede what's in the rulebook."
If there was no changing the past, however, the play certainly helped shape the future. Before the 2016 season, the ACC -- along with the SEC -- announced it would begin using a collaborative replay process at an off-site location to ensure the right call is made.
Strickland: "I wouldn't wish that upon anybody. Unfortunately, we had to be the ones who went through it. And everybody tends to get their turn in the barrel. That's just the way it goes. But I think we learned a lot. Now, with collaborative replay, it's not on one guy's shoulders, and I think that brings the pressure down on each individual. The pressure is still immense on the enterprise to get it right, but no one person is exclusively shouldering that pressure. "
Cutcliffe: "That's how all things grow. That's how all things improve. We have a better replay system in play rather than a small monitor that we're dealing with on-site. Conference offices around the country have multiple people looking, and it's much easier to get a result right. We all want the game to be streamlined, and it may be a little shorter. But, in critical circumstances, all we want is replay to be right. That's a good move and a nice step in the right direction."
Elder: "I didn't really feel like we had to defend ourselves. They called it good. That's all that matters to me is that we got the win. There were a lot of controversial calls throughout that game that we could've argued back and forth that shaped the game. Refs aren't perfect. At the end of the day, we got the win."
Miami returns to Duke on Friday (7 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN App) for the first time since that Halloween night game, and the insanity of it all hasn't diminished much.
Cutcliffe: "It's a memorable moment. An unpleasant memorable moment if you were on the Duke side of it. I've really kind of put it in a place that it doesn't bother me. I don't look at Miami and it's the first thing I think about. I don't look at football officials and it's the first thing I think about. I go back and think about what my mom would tell me. She wasn't living, but she would've told me, 'Do you think you're the only one that ever had an injustice?' And I would've shut up right then, because mom was right. But the part I'll always hate was for the players. You go into the locker room and you're supposed to provide an answer and you can't. So to those players, I'll always be a little apologetic."
Scott: "It's something you'll never forget. The purity of why you get into coaching. That moment was why I'm in this profession and what I choose to do what I'm blessed to do. You really see good things from guys who believe and work hard."
Sirk: "I'll always remember that game, remember the fight our team had, and I think it showed the type of team we were, how we'd respond when we were down in a game. For me, I'll just remember the team and the guys around me and how we fought and didn't stop believing in each other. I remember posting a picture on Instagram the next day and saying, 'Those are my brothers out there, and it's a brotherhood that can't be broken.'"
Elder (who will be at this year's game): "I still think about it. A lot of people I talk to, they ask me about it. They ask me how it felt. It's something I'll always remember and always cherish having been a part of that play."