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Recap: On CFB’s 150th anniversary, Miami (OH) gains control of MAC East with 24-21 win over Ohio

RedHawks win their second-straight Battle of the Bricks on Sam Sloman’s go-ahead 52-yard field goal.

NCAA Football: Miami (Ohio) at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

On November 6, 1869, the Rutgers Queensmen defeated the New Jersey Tigers in which is traditionally labeled as the first game of college football.

150 years later, the game is almost unrecognizable from the day’s happenings in New Brunswick, NJ. But in a stand-alone national television spot on a Wednesday night, the MAC delivered a thriller on a benchmark anniversary for the sport. Miami (OH) (5-4, 4-1 MAC) bested Ohio (4-5, 3-2 MAC), 24-21, for the sole control of the MAC East division in the rivalry series known as the “Battle of the Bricks.”

In game which produced just 21 total points heading into the fourth quarter, most of the action was packed into the contest’s final frame. Ohio and Miami combined for three touchdowns and one field goal in the final 14 minutes of clock time, but no score was more important than the one which transpired with 3:48 remaining. Miami coach Chuck Martin trusted his kicker Sam Sloman to nail a 52-yard field goal to break a 21-21 tie, and the senior kicker delivered. Sloman’s third 50+ yard field goal of the 2019 season sailed through the uprights and provided the RedHawks a lead they never relinquished in a game they never trailed.

Offensively, running back Jaylon Bester shined for the RedHawks, producing 84 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the victory. After a scoreless first quarter, Bester set the tone by sprinting between a gap and scoring a 45-yard rushing touchdown.

The Bobcats were able to counter Bester’s production with their own ground attack. Quarterback Nathan Rourke earned 89 yards on 16 carries, scoring two touchdowns along the way — including the game-tying touchdown on a zone read with 8:58 left. Running back De’Montre Tuggle provided 74 yards while splitting rushing duties with O’Shaan Allison (43 yards) and Julian Ross (34).

Despite Ohio out-gaining Miami in the yardage department, the RedHawks’ defense forced two crucial turnovers while the Bobcats could not come up with a takeaway. The Bobcats fumbled into the end zone on their opening possession of the night, preventing them from ever claiming a lead over the RedHawks. Ohio also fumbled on a strip-sack in the second quarter, and Bester’s 45-yard touchdown run occurred on the ensuing play. Miami nearly had a disastrous turnover scare at the end, fumbling the snap in the final minute of the game. But quarterback Brett Gabbert dove on the ball to seal the RedHawks’ chances and thwart any hopes of an Ohio comeback.

Gabbert saved the game with his fumble recovery, but he also made several remarkable throws from the pocket. One of Gabbert’s most impressive plays of the night was a 63-yard bomb to James Maye on a go-route, setting up a Bester touchdown one play later. But prior to Maye’s massive play, Gabbert connected with wide receiver Jack Sorenson on this juggling highlight catch in the end zone, putting Miami in front 14-7.

Miami’s defense came through in the first half by forcing two turnovers, but the pass rush stepped up in the fourth quarter in the most crucial moments. On the drive following Sloman’s go-ahead field goal, Ohio faced 2nd and 10 on its own 47, but the RedHawks pass rush overwhelmed Rourke and sacked him for a loss of eight. After an Ohio false start, defensive tackle Doug Costin pressured Rourke and nearly registered another sack before the quarterback fired a quick incompletion. At 4th and 23, Ohio needed a miracle to remain alive, but Rourke’s pass intended for Shane Hooks was broken up and nearly intercepted.

Costin was the MVP for the RedHawks on Wednesday night, constantly sneaking into the backfield to apply pressure. He recovered one fumble and shed plenty of blocks from the Ohio offensive line, spearheading the Miami defense to a low-scoring victory.

Ohio’s chances of shattering its 51-year streak since its last MAC title took a major hit after the home loss to Miami. Bowl eligibility is still manageable for the Bobcats, which host Western Michigan next Tuesday before finishing the regular season with road games at Bowling Green and Akron.

With the win, Miami earns a valuable tiebreaker over its main competitor in the MAC East race. The RedHawks’ only MAC loss is a 38-16 road defeat at the hands of Western Michigan, a member of the West division. Besides Western Michigan, all of Miami’s losses this season are to teams currently ranked in the AP/CFP Top 20. If the RedHawks hang on to win the East, they’ll be the fifth different program in five years to claim the division crown (2015 Bowling Green, 2016 Ohio, 2017 Akron, 2018 Buffalo).