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Two yards short: Clutch UAB tackle prevents Miami (OH) from winning Bahamas Bowl at the buzzer, 24-20

Back-and-forth Bahamas Bowl comes down to the final play, which unfolds similarly to Super Bowl XXXIV.

Kim Montuoro

Bowl season could not have started off in more thrilling fashion. It also could not have featured a closer finish.

With one second remaining in the Bahamas Bowl, the Miami RedHawks trailed the UAB Blazers 24-20, distanced 15 yards from the goal line at Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium. Quarterback Aveon Smith found an open Jalen Walker around the 6-yard line. Walker took several steps and attempted to evade outside linebacker Reynard Ellis — the second last line of defense en route to the end zone. However, Ellis slowed down Walker with a wrap-up and cornerback Starling Thomas V delivered the final blow to prevent any chance of the receiver to escape the tackle.

When Walker’s knees collided with the ground, he was two yards short of victory.

UAB emerged 24-20 in a Bahamas Bowl ending which mirrored the famous finish of Super Bowl XXXIV between the St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans. The opening matchup of bowl season was a thrilling back-and-forth contest which featured four second half lead changes and no shortage of clutch playmaking. The final lead change transpired with 1:33 remaining when UAB rolled the dice on a 4th and 1 with no timeouts in the bag. Jermaine Brown Jr. fielded a handoff and watched the sea part in the offensive line. The running back flew untouched to the end zone on the critical play, completing a 12-yard go-ahead touchdown.

UAB players celebrate with the Bahamas Bowl trophy in the aftermath of victory.
Kim Montuoro

Led by an elusive mobile quarterback in Smith, Miami nearly responded on its final possession which featured two do-or-die fourth down conversions. Smith utilized his scrambling ability and completed a series of short passes to matriculate the RedHawks down the field. A beneficial facemask penalty assessed with one second remaining placed Miami in striking distance at the UAB 15-yard line, but Smith’s pass to Walker fell just short of registering the deciding six points.

Despite managing 390 yards of offense, the Blazers operated without their primary star in DeWayne McBride. The running back who leads the FBS in rushing yards opted out of the remainder of the season, thus changing the complexion and play-calling of the UAB offense. But even in the absence of McBride, Jermaine Brown Jr. keep the Blazers’ run game afloat with 116 yards and the game-winning touchdown.

UAB targeted the air more than usual and displayed an affinity for taking deep shots. Quarterback Dylan Hopkins completed 16-of-24 attempts for 204 yards and a significant majority of those yards went in the direction of Trea Shropshire. The deep threat receiver accrued 183 yards on six receptions, consistently snagging air mails from Hopkins in one-on-one man coverage. Shropshire tied Western Michigan legend Corey Davis for most receiving yards in Bahamas Bowl history.

His fireworks show started early, as he caught a 46-yard pass on UAB’s first play from scrimmage. The receiver followed it up with a 10-yard touchdown reception four plays later to put UAB on the board. Shropshire took home offensive MVP honors for his standout performance while edge rusher Michael Fairbanks, who posted seven tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss, was honored with defensive MVP honors.

Thanks to Shropshire’s early dominance, UAB trotted out to a 10-0 lead — which seemed to be an even more commanding advantage than the scoreboard suggested. But Miami finally rectified its offense on its final drive of the first half. The RedHawks copied UAB’s strategy and took a deep shot against man coverage, much to the delight of head coach Chuck Martin and his squad. Smith’s launch to his top receiver Mac Hippenhammer resulted in a 33-yard touchdown reception in the waning seconds before halftime. However, a missed extra point kept Miami behind, 10-6, going into the break — and that miss ultimately prevented the RedHawks from an opportunity to tie on their final series.

Although UAB held a decisive advantage in the yardage department in the middle of the third quarter, a great equalizer suddenly struck the Blazers. They muffed a punt inside their own 10-yard line and Miami pounced on the loose pigskin with an opportunity to claim its first lead. Claiming a 13-10 lead is exactly what occurred one play later when running back Kevin Davis scampered four yards into the end zone.

UAB regained the upper hand in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter on a short touchdown run by Brown, but Miami’s offense — finally entering a groove — showed a poised response. Smith led another methodical possession, spanning 12 plays and 75 yards, and he finished the sequence by lobbing a ball to running back Kenny Tracy in the end zone. The 5’10” Tracy made a spectacular leaping grab over UAB free safety Grayson Cash for his first and final touchdown of the 2022 season. That 10-yard score with 6:52 remaining marked Miami’s final points of the year before UAB punched in the winning score.

Miami fell to 6-7 on the season to clinch its first losing campaign since 2017. The RedHawks were unable to secure back-to-back bowl wins, an accomplishment which still hasn’t come to fruition since 1973-75.

Bryant Vincent lifts the Bahamas Bowl trophy in his final game as UAB’s interim head coach.
Kim Montuoro

Meanwhile, UAB improved to 7-6, improving its streak of winning seasons to six — finishing above .500 in all six years since the program returned in 2017 from a 2-year hiatus. The Bahamas Bowl signified the final game with Bryant Vincent operating in the Blazers’ interim head coaching role. Former Super Bowl champion quarterback Trent Dilfer, who was on the sideline in Nassau, will take the program reins from Vincent for the 2023 season.

Vincent goes out a winner, but the 2022 Bahamas Bowl proved the margin between triumph and despair can be as little as two yards.