Entering Saturday, the Miami football team appeared to be one loss away from falling apart — the RedHawks were nursing a three-game losing streak, including two gut-wrenching conference defeats to go along with a blowout at Notre Dame. With a loss Saturday, the Red and White would have moved to 1-3 in the MAC East with little to no chance for making a run at a division title. With that pressure in mind, the ‘Hawks played an angry, physical and determined football game, defeating the Buffalo Bulls 24-14.
“There was a focus about our group,” Miami Head Coach Chuck Martin said post-game. “We weren’t fun to play today — they [Buffalo] knew we were coming after them every play.”
Evident from the start was the resolve of Martin’s team to play their brand of football, specifically on offense when junior quarterback Billy Bahl found fellow junior receiver James Gardner for a 57-yard completion on a stop and go route. In the first quarter alone, the RedHawk offense amassed 175 yards on 20 plays, holding the ball for over ten of the opening fifteen minutes to go up 10-0 following one quarter of play.
Especially impressive on the offensive side of the ball was redshirt junior running back Kenny Young, rushing for a career high 125 yards with a pair of touchdowns to go along with 29 yards on three receptions. Young’s effort was noticed in the league and nationwide as the tailback earned Conference Player of the week on offense, while receiving a “helmet sticker” on ESPN’s “College Football Final.” For Young, this performance was a culmination of an effort to take the next step as a tailback.
“Coach Martin had a meeting with me — he said are you ready to get 10, 15 maybe more carries a game,’” Young said. “I said I was ready, so that’s what I did.”
However the early momentum of the offense stalled following a 16-play drive which ended with the ‘Hawks missing a field goal with 12:53 remaining in the second quarter. Billy Bahl and the rest of the Miami offense sputtered the rest of the first half, producing a mere 31 total yards in the second quarter. The Bulls managed a touchdown drive under the direction of true freshman quarterback Kyle Vantreese, putting the halftime score at 10-7 Miami.
Three points is the closest the Bulls would come the rest of the game as the Miami “Mob” defense smothered the Bulls offense — Buffalo mustered up a mere 69 yards on the ground while Vantreese only managed to complete 17 of 41 passes and was sacked three times. The tip of the spear for Miami was redshirt junior linebacker Brad Koenig, collecting eight tackles and a sack on the afternoon.
“We really didn’t do anything fancy,” Koenig said. “We were kind of lackadaisical the past couple weeks, and we really just tried to up the intensity, do our job, make sure we were hitting our gaps and doing what we were capable of.”
The second half also saw an increased emphasis on turnovers — the ‘Hawks forced three fumbles in the second half, recovering one. Senior safety Tony Reid added an interception, prying the ball away from Bulls receiver Anthony Johnson deep inside RedHawk territory despite having a cast covering all his fingers on one hand.
“The only good thing about the cast with Tony is he doesn’t catch many without it. He’s got a built-in excuse now,” Martin jokingly said before emphasizing Reid’s importance to the defense. “He’s a battery. He’s been down at times this year like everyone — he’s really fought this year and he’s doing everything he can to be a great leader.”
Missing in the defensive backfield Saturday was Reid’s partner in crime Heath Harding. According to Martin, Harding didn’t practice at all this week, but is hopeful to have him back for the ‘Hawks Halloween tilt at Ohio. Taking the field at full speed this week was junior middle linebacker Junior McMullen, a key cog for this Miami team on the field and in the locker room.
“It’s obviously huge having Junior,” Koenig said. “He’s a stud in there. He’s our mike-linebacker, so it’s huge having him out there to give confidence for everyone else.”
Miami capitalized on the turnovers their defense caused, scoring twice in the third quarter. Most impressive of these scores was a 35-yard touchdown run by Kenny Young, bouncing a seemingly broken play to the outside and taking it to the house.
As the third quarter turned into the fourth, the Bulls offense managed to string together a few plays, punching the ball in the end zone with 2:52 remaining. On the ensuing play, the Bulls managed to recover an onside kick. In that moment, the storyline of not being able to close games rushed to the minds of everyone in Yager Stadium. However, the ‘Hawks defense flipped the script, turning Buffalo over on downs, ending the game.
“We’ve had some crazy endings to games,” Martin said. “our deal is to keep focused, keep doing what we can do. It was good to finish.”
With Saturday’s win, the RedHawks move to third in the MAC East behind Ohio and Akron. Miami will have a chance to make major statements the next two weeks as their next two opponents are none other than the Bobcats and the Zips. The RedHawks will look to take the next step to getting back on track next Tuesday in Athens, Ohio against their rival Bobcats.