By Coburn Gillies, The Miami Student
Miami University football silenced the doubters and was victorious for the sixth consecutive contest, this time in its regular season finale over Ball State University by a razor thin margin of 21-20. Gus Ragland put together a career performance, completing 26 of 35 passes for 380 yards and three touchdowns to help secure Miami a spot in a bowl game for the first time since 2010.
Ragland completed his perfect regular season starting record of 6-0. In the process, the Cincinnati native threw 15 touchdowns and zero interceptions for 1274 yards.
Redshirt senior and standout wide receiver Rokeem Williams emphasized the impact Ragland has made on the team since coming back from injury.
“Gus is a great leader. I think that’s a real, big part of what he’s done. If you’re a leader, it’s pretty easy for guys to follow you, and it trickles down through everybody else.”
After starting the season 0-6, the program seemed destined for another losing season. However, out of nowhere, the RedHawks rattled off six wins in succession and, in the process, became the first team in NCAA history to finish a season 6-6 after losing its first six ballgames.
The final hurdle standing in their way on the path toward the improbable invitation to go bowling was the Cardinals.
Head coach Chuck Martin was satisfied but confused by how the campaign played out.
“Heck of a team win, heck of a season. Don’t really know — can’t really fathom, I know everybody’s been talking about it, I’ve just been trying not to think about it because I don’t really know how we’re here.”
Everything was going according to plan as the defense stopped BSU on its opening drive and responded with a 36-yard touchdown connection from Ragland to Williams.
Defensively, Miami was anchored by redshirt junior Heath Harding. The cornerback had seven tackles, six solo, one assisted and one interception.
Harding played a key role on a defense that finished first in total defense in the MAC, but he was not the only player that made that feat possible.
“If we continue playing our game, doing what we do well on defense. Which is every guy being one with the defense, buying in, and just doing your part, we will have success like we have shown,” Harding said.
Along with the exploits of Ragland, Williams impacted the outcome of the game on the offensive end. In his best performance of the campaign, Williams caught six passes, totaling 145 yards and two touchdowns.
Playing in his final game at Yager Stadium, Williams described the moment once the clock hit zero.
“It’s surreal, for real. The 0-12 season, the rough start to this year. I mean, there have been plenty of times when it’s been rough and, you know, you want to throw in the towel and give up and get discouraged, you know, lose faith.”
Harding felt similarly to Williams.
“It’s surreal, like Ro’ said. It’s an amazing feeling. It’s really emotional, just coming from the 0-12 season to, you know, starting off 0-6 and not many people believed in us but we believed in ourselves, still. And just to turn it all around, and be bowl eligible, is surreal and an exciting time,” Harding added.
Ball State would not quit, despite the early setback. The Cardinals came back with 17 unanswered points to end the first half.
Redshirt senior wide out KeVonn Mabon got the offensive assault started by catching a 25-yard touchdown pass from Riley Neal. The sophomore quarterback gave BSU the lead with a three-yard scamper to find the end zone, putting Ball State up 14-7. Sophomore kicker Morgan Hagee extended the lead to 17-7 with a 31-yard field goal to end the first half. Hagee would score the Cards’ final three points giving them 20 for the fixture.
Mabon shouldered the load offensively for the Cards. The program’s newly-crowned all-time receptions leader finished the day with 11 receptions totaling 122 yards and a touchdown.
“I think they knew [KeVonn] Mabon and [James] Gilbert were good. I don’t think they realized how we were telling them all week that their skill guys are good players. And they moved the ball on everybody in this league,” Martin said.
Senior linebackers Sean Wiggins and Corey Hall led BSU head coach Mike Neu’s squad on the defensive side of the ball. The two combined for 14 tackles, nine solo, five assisted and one tackle-for-loss.
Williams started off the second half with a bang, catching a 74-yard bomb from Ragland on the first play from scrimmage to make the score 17-14, advantage Cardinals.
Following a field goal from BSU to make the score 20-14, Ragland had one more trick up his sleeve. He found Sam Shisso with 5:44 left to play in regulation for a 27-yard touchdown to give the ‘Hawks a lead they would not relinquish.
Once considered an afterthought, Miami football, with the leadership of Coach Martin, has reached a high that has not been seen in six seasons.
Announcement of the bowl, location and time will be made on Sunday, December 4.