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Miami (OH) clinches MAC East division title with 23-10 win over Buffalo

RedHawks book a December trip to battle Toledo in Detroit, their first MAC title appearance since 2019.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 30 Miami (Ohio) at Kent State Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Miami RedHawks are headed to the MAC Championship Game.

Miami (OH) (9-2, 6-1 MAC) clinched its first MAC title game appearance since 2019 on senior night Wednesday, edging Buffalo (3-8, 3-4 MAC) in a wire-to-wire victory, 20-10. The RedHawks officially clinched the MAC East division title — the second in Chuck Martin’s 10 years at the helm — and secured their first season featuring nine or more wins since 2010.

The game featured a slow offensive start as six of the first seven possessions ended in punts and the other was a turnover on downs. Miami’s defense recorded a performance that has become all too familiar for MAC opponents. The RedHawks limited an offense to 21 points or fewer for the seventh time in seven conference games, forcing four three-and-outs and only yielding one touchdown in the victory.

The Miami offense finally jump-started in the second quarter when a 37-yard run by Kenny Tracy positioned the RedHawks inside the 10-yard line. They didn’t finish the job, but college football’s most reliable kicker Graham Nicholson provided Miami with a 3-0 advantage. Nicholson wound up sinking three field goals on the night, improving to a perfect 22-of-22 on the season — a shoo-in for the All-MAC First Team.

One drive later, explosive playmaking was prevalent for the RedHawks. Rashad Amos launched the series with a 22-yard, Javon Tracy then caught a 22-yard pass, and Amos finished in the end zone by bouncing out a run toward the left sideline for a 30-yard score.

Buffalo finally wound up in the end zone in a bizarre possession laden with twists and turns on special teams. In the late third quarter, Miami forced a Buffalo punt but Maurice Linguist pulled out the trickery and opted for a fake — a 27-yard pass to Darrell Harding Jr. The RedHawks then held the Bulls to a 33-yard field goal, but a rare Miami penalty injected new life into the offense. Buffalo capitalized, as CJ Ogbonna punched in a 3-yard touchdown on a quarterback draw.

Buffalo’s defense provided itself an opportunity to tie or take the lead, but Miami’s cornerbacks ensured the Bulls wouldn’t even make it to midfield on that critical fourth quarter possession. After forcing a punt, Miami went to work with the same players that helped notch that first touchdown. Quarterback Aveon Smith found a wide open Tracy on a wheel route down the left sideline and Tracy shed several tackles for a 52-yard pickup — Miami’s longest of the night. One play later, Amos scored his second touchdown to provide the RedHawks a multi-score advantage.

Tracy entered the night with 155 yards in his collegiate career, but the freshman posted a season-high 123 yards on five catches Wednesday night. Amos produced 82 yards as the RedHawks’ leading rusher while Smith added another 60 with his legs.

Although it appeared Miami wrapped the game up, a chaotic scenario unfolded when the RedHawks held a 23-10 lead in the final three minutes. Buffalo quarterback Cole Snyder fired an 80-yard touchdown to Marlyn Johnson, but after further review, Miami safety Michael Dowell forced a fumble right before Johnson crossed the goal line and it was recovered in the back of the end zone by Harding. However, Harding was out of bounds before getting a clear recovery. Rather than slice the deficit to six in the waning minutes, the play resulted in a touchback, essentially clinching the win for the RedHawks.

Buffalo’s season officially concludes next Tuesday at UB Stadium as the Bulls have been eliminated from bowl eligibility. It is only the Bulls’ second losing season since 2019, but they can still finish at least .500 in conference play for the sixth time in seven seasons.

Meanwhile, Miami has three games remaining on its plate. The RedHawks conclude the 2023 regular season on the road at Ball State on Saturday, Nov. 25 in the Red Bird Rivalry. The following weekend, Miami takes a trip to Detroit to face Toledo for the 2023 MAC Championship Game. The Dec. 2 noon ET kickoff will be a rematch of the 2004 MAC Championship Game as the Rockets make their second-straight appearance in the event while Miami returns to Ford Field for the first time in four years.