One week removed from the loss of their star quarterback Brett Gabbert to a season-ending injury, the Miami RedHawks (7-2, 4-1) impressively rallied to sting the homestanding Ohio Bobcats (6-3, 3-2) by a final score of 30-16. With the win, the RedHawks grabbed an important tiebreaker in the standings of the MAC East, rubbing salt in the wounds of their rivals in the process, snapping Ohio’s 10-game winning streak on Frank Solich Field at Peden Stadium.
Ohio looked like they might run away with it early, scoring on their first two drives in the first quarter. The ‘Cats rolled up 128 yards and nine points in the first 15 minutes, while holding Miami to three net yards on three drives forcing three punts.
Ohio’s offense was especially crisp on its first drive, a six-play, 79 yard jaunt finished by a two-yard run by Sieh Bangura. QB Kurtis Rourke looked like the MAC 2022 MVP, going 3-of-3 for 68 yards including a 36-yard pass to tight end Will Kacmarek and a 23-yarder to wide receiver Sam Wiglusz. Rourke also added a 12-yard run in the red zone to set up the score.
Miami blocked the extra point, but Ohio tacked on three more on its next series, a 12-play, 49-yard drive capped on a 34-yard field goal by Gianni Spetic.
The RedHawks flipped the script in the second quarter, keyed by some big plays from its special teams units.
Miami punter Alec Bevelhimer got things started, helping to set up his team with a golden opportunity by pinning Ohio’s offense in the shadow of its goal post with a 50-yard bomb. Three plays later, Miami’s DE Brian Ugwu stripped Rourke and the RedHawks recovered the ball at the Bobcats’ 10-yard line.
The Bobcats defense stymied Miami’s offense though, allowing two yards in three plays resulting in a 26-yard field goal by Graham Nicholson to bring the score to 9-3.
Miami’s special teams provided another spark later in the second when a 20-yard punt return by Cade McDonald resulted in an 18-yard net Ohio punt, giving the RedHawks good field position at its own 41. Miami QB Aveon Smith got something going in the passing game, connecting with his star WR Gage Larvadain on a couple of wide-open slants which looked like soft single-high coverage.
As Ohio’s defense has done most of the time this season they ultimately stiffened, holding the RedHawks to three off the foot of Nicholson, a 40-yarder this time.
The RedHawks’ offense got on track before the end of the first half, taking a 13-9 lead in to the intermission on a one-yard run by Rashad Amos. The Miami runner was the catalyst on the drive, gashing Ohio’s normally stout run defense with a 66-yard burst. Amos made it happen blowing by contain with ease, then weaving through the Bobcats’ defense behind determined blocking by the RedHawk receiving corps.
Miami picked up in the third quarter where it left off in the first half with dominant defense and great special teams. After forcing a three-and-out, the RedHawks punt return team gashed Ohio on a 53-yard punt return giving it field position at the Bobcats’ 20-yard line— though it was nearly disaster, as Cade McDonald fumbled the ball and defensive end Caiden Woullard had to collect the ball to save the return. Ohio’s defense answered the bell again, limiting the damage to three points on a 32-yard Nicholson field goal.
Miami continued to roll in the third quarter scoring its 23rd unanswered point on a five-play, 60-yard drive capped by a score by Miami’s Aveon Smith on a five-yard run. The self-inflicted wounds that had plagued the Ohio offense in the second and third quarter spread to Ohio’s defense where two fifteen-yard personnel fouls made up half of the drive’s yards.
At that point, Miami had scored 23 points while completing just five passes for 49 yards and converting none of their seven third-down attempts.
The defenses for both sides were so good that no team converted a third down until the fourth quarter.
Miami’s defense continued to dominate Ohio’s offense, shutting them out in the middle two quarters. Ohio’s one promising drive of the third quarter covered 40 yards but the RedHawks shut the Bobcats down by stopping consecutive run plays up the middle on third and two to force the turnover on downs.
Miami’s running back Kevin Davis made it a Happy Halloween for RedHawk fans by putting the nail in the Bobcat’s coffin at the start of the fourth quarter when he extended the lead to 30-9. Davis caught a pass in the flats and, with the help of some elite perimeter blocking by the RedHawks, scampered 46-yards against a spent Ohio defense.
Ohio scored a touchdown later in the fourth after the game was decided to take the final score to 30-16.
Miami’s team defense was stellar on the afternoon, led by a defensive front seven that dominated Ohio’s offensive line. The Miami front seven limited the Bobcats’ rushing game to a harmless 50 yards and 1.9 yards per carry. Linebacker Matt Salopek led the charge with 14 stops and a tackle-for-loss.
Without a running game, Ohio was forced to rely on QB Kurtis Rourke and the passing game. While Rourke had 300 yards passing on the day, most of the damage was done in the first quarter or when the game was effectively over in the fourth.
The RedHawks offense was led by a brilliant performance by RB Rashad Amos, who finished with 166 yards and 7.8 yards a carry. Putting Amos’ day in context, coming into the game Ohio’s rush defense was surrendering only 80 yards total per game on average so the Miami runner alone more than doubled that.
Hats off to an unselfish Miami wideout room who, while catching only five passes, were key blockers on the big plays mustered by the offense.
Credit to Ohio’s defense for doing every it could do to win and at least surely prevented a blowout. While allowing a few big plays on the Amos 66-yard run and the 46-yard pass from Smith to Davis, Ohio limited Miami to field goals when the RedHawks had starting field position two times within the Bobcats’ 20-yard line. Linebacker Keye Thompson stood out as he made 16 tackles for the game, coming out of the injury tent and playing hurt to finish the game. The exact nature of the injury is unknown but looked like his arm and/or shoulder.
While special teams for Miami was great, Ohio’s special teams was peppered by disastrous moments throughout the afternoon. After an extra point was blocked following Ohio’s first touchdown, the ‘Cats punt return team allowed two explosive returns resulting in great position for the RedHawks. Down 30-16 with about seven minutes left in the fourth quarter and Miami fully intending to punt, Ohio’s punt return team jumped offsides on fourth and two to giving the RedHawks a first down.
Miami wouldn’t give the ball back until there were 33 seconds remaining.
With the win, Miami secures the tiebreaker over Ohio, effectively getting a two-game lead over their rivals with three games to play.
Miami returns to Oxford for some home cooking, hosting the Akron Zips on November 8th. while the Bobcats go back to the drawing board before traveling to Buffalo on November 7th for a showdown with the Bulls.