Backs, meet wall.
The Miami RedHawks put themselves in a precarious situation Tuesday night, as they fell 51-42 to the Buffalo Bulls. One Miami loss in any of its three remaining regular-season games will eliminate the possibility of a bowl bid or Mid-American Conference Championship game appearance.
Even if the RedHawks (3-6, 3-2 MAC) win out, they aren’t guaranteed the MAC East crown. Their matchup with the Bulls had huge in-conference ramifications. Buffalo leads the division with an 5-0 MAC record (8-1 overall).
“Obviously, it was an offensive night,” head coach Chuck Martin said. “Our offense played tremendous. Their offense played tremendous. Both quarterbacks were fantastic.”
With the two teams combining for 93 points, no one can argue with Martin.
Both squads foreshadowed the action to come later, as each found the end zone on its first two drives of the game to knot it at 14.
After Miami had to kick the first punt of the game on its third drive, the RedHawks’ defense held strong, forcing Buffalo to boot it away in the early stages of the second quarter.
Junior defensive lineman Doug Costin blocked the punt, handing the RedHawks prime field position deep in Buffalo territory.
Redshirt senior quarterback Gus Ragland shot up the middle for a one-yard rushing touchdown on a quarterback sneak a few plays later.
Halfway through the second, junior quarterback Tyree Jackson tossed a 20-yard touchdown to senior wideout Anthony Johnson to pull even at 21-21.
In keeping with the back-and-forth nature of the contest, the RedHawks tried to respond on their next drive but fell short when a field goal attempt by junior kicker Sam Sloman went wide right.
The Bulls, seeking their first lead of the game, took advantage of Sloman’s miss with a 14-play, 68-yard drive capped off by a Jackson touchdown scamper with 30 seconds left in the half.
Buffalo held a 28-21 lead at halftime and received the second-half kickoff.
Again, Jackson led his team down the field and pushed its lead to 35-21 on a four-yard touchdown run.
Trailing by 14, the RedHawks weren’t discouraged. They embarked on a nine-play, 75-yard journey that ended with another Smith rushing touchdown to cut the deficit to seven.
Buffalo continued to dismantle Miami’s defense, going back up by 14 on Johnson’s third touchdown reception of the game to make it 42-28. Johnson has five touchdown grabs in his last two games.
Ragland found redshirt senior running back Kenny Young for a 59-yard, quick-strike score on the RedHawks’ next possession. The score extended Miami’s streak of 30-point games to six straight.
That’s when Chuck Martin reached into his Halloween bag and handed out a trick.
Down seven, Miami went for an onside kick — a move rarely seen in the third quarter — and recovered it.
“Both teams were scoring at will,” Martin said. “We didn’t want to give the ball back to their offense because they’re producing points every time they’re on the field. Our offense was producing points almost every time they’re on the field. At that point, you’re trying to steal a possession and get your offense the ball.”
It seemed as though the RedHawks had recaptured momentum, as they tied the game at 42 on Ragland’s third rushing touchdown of the evening.
While Buffalo fans might’ve been momentarily stunned by the sudden Miami comeback, the Bulls certainly weren’t.
They fired back with nine points in the fourth quarter — a rushing touchdown (with a missed extra point) and a field goal — while holding the RedHawks scoreless during the period.
Buffalo knelt twice in the last 75 seconds, effectively ending the game and sealing a 51-42 Bulls’ win.
Martin wasn’t pleased with his team’s discipline, especially on third down. Overall, Miami committed 13 penalties for 139 yards.
“We didn’t make plays on the ball,” Martin said. “Getting in position to make plays, and then, a number of P.I.’s [pass-interference] and holding penalties on the back end on third down extend drives. Penalties kill.”
The Bulls out-gained the RedHawks 505-453.
Ragland starred in defeat, passing for 313 yards and a touchdown while adding 53 yards and a career-high three touchdowns on the ground.
For Buffalo, the J-and-J connection powered the offensive unit. Jackson passed for 358 yards and three touchdowns and ran for three more scores. Johnson caught eight balls for 238 yards and all three of his quarterback’s passing touchdowns.
Miami’s quest to win out and remain in contention starts next Wednesday against the Ohio Bobcats. Martin knows how important the matchup is.
“We’ve got a huge game next week,” Martin said. “We’re 3-2 in the MAC. We’ve still got a ton to play for. Obviously, it’s a huge rivalry game that means so much to everyone involved with Miami football.”
The contest will take place at Yager Stadium and will be broadcast on ESPN2. Kickoff time is still undetermined.