There are a handful of games that can change the fate of the conference for a season, and the game that took place between the Miami RedHawks (4-4, 3-1 MAC) and the Kent State Golden Flashes (3-5, 2-2 MAC) Saturday felt like one of those games. Both teams entered the contest in a three-way tie with the Ohio Bobcats for the MAC East lead in a season where every team in the league has looked vulnerable at different points, setting up a showdown in Dix Stadium that can possibly decide the fate of the division. Ultimately, Miami’s strengths on defense and special teams were showcased in the 23-16 victory in rainy and gloomy Kent, Ohio.
Miami started the game the way you need to on the road as it forced a pair of punts on defense that led to two Sam Sloman field goals for an early 6-0 lead. On the ensuing Kent State drive, Travion Banks picked off Dustin Crum to give the RedHawks the ball with all the momentum but the offense sputtered and was forced to punt. KSU used its second chance to drive the ball all the way to inside Miami’s 10-yard line, but the Red and White made a goal line stand to hold the Flashes to a field goal.
The RedHawk offense responded with a deep drive of their own as it had first and goal at KSU’s nine-yard line, but three straight incomplete jump balls to Dominique Robinson led to another Sloman field goal for the 9-3 lead. After a series of punts by both teams, a roughing the passer penalty gave the ‘Hawks the chance to extend the lead with a 50-yard field goal but a rare Sloman miss gave life to the Flashes with 57 seconds left in the half. KSU used a 20-yard completion to Antwan Dixon and a defensive holding penalty to move the ball to Miami’s nine-yard line with a handful of seconds left, but had to settle for another field goal with time and defense being a factor.
The first touchdown on the game came on Miami’s opening drive of the second half as Brett Gabbert capped off an eight-play drive by finding Luke Mayock for an 11-yard passing score to push the lead to 16-6. After trading punts, Kent State saw its most promising drive of the game to that point come up empty as Sterling Weatherford forced and recovered a fumble on first and goal from the two-yard line.
After some more punts, KSU settled for a field goal attempt to cut it to a one-possession game but a block by Doug Costin kept the status quo at the start of the fourth quarter. However, Miami had a red zone turnover on the ensuing drive as Jaylon Bester coughed it up at the 12-yard line to give the Flashes some life. Kent State capitalized off of the momentum as it finally found the end zone on a 12-yard rush by Craig Elmore to cut the deficit to 16-13.
Bester made amends for his fumble on the ensuing drive as he exploded for a 47-yard touchdown run to give the ‘Hawks a two-score lead with just over three minutes remaining in the game. KSU was held to a field goal with a little over 1:30 left and Miami’s recovery of the onside kick iced the game.
The ground game decided the game for the RedHawks as they rushed for 289 yards for nearly seven yards per carry. Bester and Tyre Shelton accounted for 215 of those yards. Miami’s defense created some havoc in the backfield as it registered 13 TFLs and three sacks. Meanwhile, Crum kept Kent in the game with 273 total yards and Dominic Hill had a strong outing with three TFLs.
Miami hits the road for a big matchup with Ohio on Nov. 6 while Kent State hopes to right the ship on the road against a struggling Toledo team.