“If you asked our guys if we had a chance Wednesday they would’ve told you no,” head coach Chuck Martin said on Saturday.
Not even Martin could have predicted his Miami football team (3-5, 3-1 Mid-American) would force double-overtime at Army or to lose 31-30 in such heartbreaking fashion.
The game came down to the last play – a two-point conversion attempt following a Miami touchdown that cut the RedHawks’ deficit to just one in double-overtime. Martin decided to go for two, with the momentum behind his team and the sellout crowd of 36,000 silent as Miami’s offense had taken over.
“Normally I would never go for two,” Martin said. “But I had said earlier in the week our offensive guys knew like, ‘Hey if we tie this thing late, we’re going for two.’”
Redshirt senior quarterback Gus Ragland dropped back and was caught by a defensive lineman.
Army’s signature celebration cannons signifying a West Point win blasted. The Army Cadets and home fans cheered in supposed victory.
Everyone thought the game was over, but Ragland refused to go down without a fight.
Remarkably, he got rid of the ball before being sacked, and redshirt senior running back Kenny Young was there to catch it.
He had blockers in front of him and, for a second, Miami looked to have stunned the Golden Knights. Until Young was stuffed by two Army defenders at the two-yard line.
Two yards prevented Martin from his first non-conference, FBS victory as a Miami coach.
But then the cannons went off again, this time for real as West Point (5-2) solidified their 11th straight win at home.
“Best chance to win: our offense against their defense,” Martin said. “I think their defense is good, but I thought that [two-point conversion] gave us the best chance.”
Earlier in the game, Army had firm control, taking an early 14-0 lead while crippling Miami’s offense for the entirety of the first quarter and half the second.
The RedHawks finally got on the board halfway through the second quarter with a 34-yard pass from Ragland to Young.
Redshirt senior Brad Koenig made an important goal-line stop with 10 seconds left in the first half. His fourth-down tackle on the one yard line sent the RedHawks to the locker room trailing 14-7.
“I was shocked we stopped them, to be honest with you,” Martin said about Koenig’s fourth-down tackle.
Koenig led Miami’s defense with a career-high 23 tackles. He was later named MAC East Defensive Player of the Week.
In the second half, Miami started slow, allowing West Point to make it 21-7 off a one-yard, rushing touchdown before the third quarter ended.
As the fourth quarter ticked along, the game looked like it was over when West Point was able to stop the RedHawks on fourth down to get the ball back with eight-and-a-half minutes left in regulation. Then, Miami’s defense held strong to make a stop, giving the RedHawk offense life with 6:17 left on the clock.
“If you can settle in and don’t panic, […] the game starts to slow down,” Martin said. “They run the same plays over and over again and now it’s almost like we’re practicing against Army.”
In a minute and 54 seconds, Miami scored quickly when Ragland found sophomore wide receiver Dominique Robinson in the corner of the end zone from three yards out.
Martin then elected to go for an onside kick. Army recovered, but Miami’s defense was able to force another three-and-out giving Ragland and co. one last opportunity to tie the game with 3:11 left to play.
He led the RedHawks 82 yards and completed the drive with a fourth-down passing touchdown to redshirt junior tight end Nate Becker that tied the game with 17 seconds remaining.
Overtime started and all 36,000 people were on their feet.
Miami started with a field goal on its opening possession. West Point responded with a field goal of its own.
In the second overtime, the Golden Knights scored a touchdown, but Ragland matched their touchdown. He found redshirt junior wide receiver Luke Mayock on fourth-and-18 to tie the game.
Martin elected to go for two and win the game, but the conversion fell two-yards short ending the comeback bid.
“I’m pretty damn proud,” Martin said after the game, choking up. “I’m pretty damn proud to be part of the game.”
Ragland passed for 30 completions, 329 yards and four touchdowns. He also led Miami in rushing yards.
Miami has the weekend off to recover before starting mid-week MACtion at Buffalo. Kick-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. Tuesday, October 30th. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2/ESPNU.