BLACKSBURG, Va., Dec. 1 (UPI) -- Virginia Tech's Ernest Wilford dropped a two-point conversion pass that would have tied the score and Miami's Edward Reed intercepted a pass minutes later to seal a 26-24 victory over the Hokies Saturday that put the No. 1 Hurricanes into college football's championship game.
The Hurricanes (11-0, 7-0 Big East), already on top of the Bowl Championship Series ratings, locked up a berth in the Rose Bowl, where the national title will be decided on Jan. 3. The trip to Pasadena will become official when the final BCS ratings are released Dec. 9.
"What can you say? It's the Rose Bowl and the opportunity to play for the national championship," said first-year coach Larry Coker. "It doesn't get any better than this. I'm extremely proud of these players."
The Hurricanes extended the nation's longest winning streak to 21 games, but they nearly squandered a big fourth-quarter lead and again sweated out a road victory over a Big East conference opponent.
Trailing by 16 points early in the fourth quarter, 13th-ranked Virginia Tech refused to fold, cutting the lead in half on a one-yard run by Jarrett Ferguson and a two-point conversion pass by Grant Noel.
Virginia Tech, ranked among the nation's best at special teams' play, then came up with a blocked punt by Eric Green and Brandon Manning returned it 22 yards for a score with 6:03 left, slicing the lead to 26-24.
Wilford, a 6-5 sophmore, appeared to have the two-point conversion in his sights when he stepped in front of a defender, but he let the pass from Noel slip through his hands.
"We actually underthrew it and it almost worked out," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "It was a shame we didn't convert but we came back and gad the ball at midfield with about four minutes left. We showed a lot of heart in the second half and it is a shame that we couldn't quite get the job done."
The Hokies had one more chance when they took possession near midfield two minutes later, but star safety Reed made a diving interception of Noel, killing Virginia Tech's threat. It was the second interception of the day for Reed, who has 21 in his career to break the school record.
"Edward Reed is a tremendous player and very unselfish," Coker said. "Big players make big plays and certainly Edward Reed did."
Three weeks ago, it was Reed who scored on a bizarre interception return that secured an 18-7 win at Boston College, the only other serious threat to Miami's undefeated season.
Virginia Tech (8-3, 4-3), which is headed the Gator Bowl against Florida State, was unable to overcome four interceptions and a fumble by Reed.
Miami's Ken Dorsey was efficient but not spectacular in his final opportunity to impress Heisman Trophy voters. He completed 21 of 44 passes for 235 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Shockey in the second quarter. Dorsey was not intercepted.
Clinton Portis of Miami carried 34 times for 124 yards, highlighted by a seven-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that gave the Hurricanes a 14-3 lead.
Miami overcame a huge game by Hokies freshman Kevin Jones, who carried 24 times for 160 yards. His 56-yard run in the third quarter was the longest allowed by Miami this season.
"He is just a player who reminds you of another No. 7 (Michael Vick)," Beamer said.
Todd Sievers kicked four field goals for the Hurricanes, who had lost their last three trips to Blacksburg and won at Lane Stadium for the first time since 1993. Miami has won the last two meetings with Virginia Tech after losing five straight.
The Hurricanes endured the close call after winning its last two games by a combined 124-7 score.
Miami moved into Virginia Tech territory on its first two possessions, but had nothing to show for it. The first ended on a fumble by Ethenic Sands while the second concluded when a 30-yard field goal attempt by Sievers was blocked.
Virginia Tech has 90 blocked kicks in Beamer's 173 games as coach.
Following the blocked field goal, Noel completed a 41-yard pass to Ferguson that ended with 27-yard field goal by Carter Warley that gave the Hokies a 3-0 lead after one quarter.
Miami took a 7-3 lead when Dorsey completed his touchdown pass to tight end Shockey.
Reed set up the next two Miami scores. A 12-yard punt return by Reed gave the Hurricanes the ball near midfield and Portis later scored on a seven-yard run.
Reed intercepted Noel on Virginia Tech's next possession and Sievers kicked a 34-yard field goal. Sievers added a 43-yarder later in the quarter to give the Hurricanes a 20-3 halftime advantage.
Virginia Tech had ample chances to get back in the game in the third quarter, but settled on a one-yard touchdown run by Ferguson that followed a fumble by Portis.
Noel had one pass intercepted by William Joseph and the quarterback fumbled the ball away to end another third-quarter drive. Noel completed just four of 16 for 81 yards.
Sievers added a 42-yard field goal late in the third quarter and a 39-yarder early in the fourth to increase the lead to 26-10.