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Miami (OH) improves to .500 in 27-24 wire-to-wire victory over Kent State

The RedHawks jump to a 17-0 lead and stave off a late Collin Schlee rally, exacting vengeance for last November.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 27 Miami OH at Kent State Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last season, Miami (OH) was inches away from punching a ticket to Detroit for the MAC Championship Game. Trailing 48-47, Brett Gabbert’s game-winning pass attempt on an overtime 2-point try was batted off the glove of Kent State cornerback Montre Miller, altering the trajectory of the RedHawks’ season.

In a vengeance game, and to prevent an 0-2 start in MAC play, the RedHawks hosted the Golden Flashes team which stole their MAC title appearance last November. In the rematch, Miami took control early and stalled a late Kent State comeback. Chuck Martin’s RedHawks won in wire-to-wire fashion to defeat their in-state rival for the first time since 2019.

It all started on special teams. In the first quarter alone, Miami’s special teams unit produced the optimal scenario every time it stepped foot on the field. The RedHawks downed the punt on their opening possession to the Kent State 1-yard line. Then, they blocked the Golden Flashes’ field goal attempt to prevent an early deficit. Finally, Kent State muffed Miami’s ensuing punt to set the RedHawks up in scoring position.

Graham Nicholson capitalized by draining a 49-yard field goal. Then, the lead quickly extended to 10-0 on a 76-yard catch-and-run by Indiana transfer wide receiver Miles Marshall. Tyre Shelton punched it in from short distance to hand the RedHawks a 10-0 advantage. Roughly three minutes later, running back Kevin Davis navigated through a series of excellent blocks for a 41-yard touchdown run. At the end of the first quarter, the underdog Miami found itself ahead by 17 points.

The RedHawks never trailed at any moment in the game but Kent State staged a late comeback which almost unraveled Miami’s early progress. Quarterback Collin Schlee, fresh off a career-high 398 passing yards, posted another strong performance with 306 yards and three touchdowns through the air. Of his 23 completions, 20 landed in the hands of Kent State’s star wideouts. Devontez Walker set his season-high with 159 yards on 11 receptions while Dante Cephas managed 118 yards on nine catches. Walker’s speed presented an issue for Miami’s defensive backs, but the RedHawks’ pass rush made up for it.

Miami often prevented the mobile Schlee from escaping the pocket. Matthew Salopek was the ringleader of this movement with two of the RedHawks’ four sacks on the afternoon. With Salopek and inside linebacker Ryan McWood leading the charge, the RedHawks forced Kent State to air it out 40 times by effectively shutting down the run game. Miami entered the contest ranked ninth nationally in run defense and limited a high-powered rushing attack to 109 yards on a 3.1 average — preventing any running back from breaking out for a carry longer than 12.

Conversely, Miami produced a steady run game and kept things relatively grounded. Quarterback Aveon Smith only passed 14 times, but he played a major role on the ground with 71 yards on 10 attempts. Collectively, the RedHawks rushed for 236 yards on 50 tries to record their third consecutive 200+ yard rushing game — which was a rarity prior to mid-September. This running game allowed Miami to run a considerable amount of clock to seal the game, but the clinching play came through the air.

On a 4th and 6 with 1:12 remaining, Smith ran a play action and threw an out route to an open Jack Coldiron on the left side of the field. Coldiron’s catch led the team to victory formation, where it improved to 3-3 on the season. By posting 27 points, Miami logged its highest-scoring game of the season against FBS competition. The RedHawks (3-3, 1-1 MAC) hope to build off the victory and secure a winning record next week when facing Bowling Green on the road.

The Golden Flashes (2-4, 1-1 MAC) remain in contention in a wide-open MAC East despite the loss. But next week won’t be an easy task, as Kent State must travel to the Glass Bowl to face Toledo — one of two MAC squads with an overall record above .500 at the moment.