Despite scoring 21 unanswered points in the second half, turnovers, penalties and errors kept the Miami University football team from completing a comeback Saturday in its 37-28 loss to Akron University.
"Frustrating," head coach Chuck Martin said. "Frustrating - that's the best word I can use to describe that day."
Martin gave credit to Akron (5-5, 3-3 Mid-American Conference), but said Miami (2-9, 1-6 MAC) lost via "self-inflicted wounds."
The most noticeable of those wounds were two illegal block in the back penalties on kickoff returns.
Freshman running back Maurice Thomas returned a second quarter kickoff to around Akron's 30-yard line, but freshman DB Josh Allen's illegal block sent Miami back to its own 7.
Four plays later, freshman RB Alonzo Smith coughed up the ball, and Akron recovered at Miami's 16. The Zips capitalized on the turnover, reaching the end zone in two plays.
"We fumble too much," Martin said. "It's been a problem."
The second return penalty came on the second half's opening kickoff. Thomas returned the ball the length of the field for a touchdown, but this time, it was redshirt junior defensive end Austin Gearing called for the block in the back, nullifying the return.
"We're our own worst enemy," Martin said. "We still have kids who aren't mentally tough enough to play Division I football the right way … it's like come on, guys. At some point, take the gun off your head. Quit shooting yourself in the head. It's that simple."
Starting at the Miami 7-yard line, freshman QB Billy Bahl was almost sacked for a safety. When he tried to throw the ball away, it was intercepted by Akron senior linebacker Jatavis Brown.
Two plays later, senior running back Conor Hundley walked into the end zone, giving the Zips a 34-7 lead less than one minute into the half. It was Hundley's third TD of the day.
"Instead of throwing the ball out of bounds - our young quarterback doesn't like to throw the ball out of bounds apparently - he flips it up in the air and it's a disaster," Martin said.
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Bahl answered with a 78-yard touchdown pass to redshirt junior WR Rokeem Williams. It breathed some life into the RedHawks, and that's when Miami's defense stepped up.
Akron's next four possessions ended in a punt, a failed fake field goal, an interception and a blocked punt.
"We have a lot of confidence in our defense that they're gonna get stops," Bahl said. "When they get stops … it's on us to go get scores."
Bahl completed a 6-yard TD pass to sophomore tight end Ryan Smith, and redshirt junior corner back Marshall Taylor returned an interception 31 yards for a touchdown.
Down 34-28 with 8:37 left in the game, the defense forced a three-and-out from Akron.
"I was just ready to win," redshirt senior safety Brison Burris said. "We were down in the beginning … but to me, it was 7-0."
Miami went three-and-out on its next possession, and Akron senior kicker Robert Stein extended MU's deficit with a 50-yard field goal.
"If we just punt the ball normal ... if we punted the ball 40 yards like everybody else in America, they wouldn't have even been in field goal range and we got another chance to score," Martin said.
After redshirt freshman Gus Ragland was injured earlier in the fourth quarter, redshirt senior quarterback Drew Kummer - who hadn't played since Week 5 - came in under center with 2:45 left in the game.
He moved the RedHawks 41 yards to the Akron 23, but a 12-yard sack for loss set Miami at a fourth-and-22. MU couldn't convert a fake field goal for the first down.
Despite the loss, Martin was pleased with the way his team fought.
"It's one thing when you're a championship team," Martin said. "But we haven't had a lot of wins around here lately, so for our kids to keep battling, it says a lot about our kids and a lot about our staff. I said at halftime I thought we were gonna win the game."
The loss was tougher for Burris and his fellow seniors, who were honored in a pre-game ceremony for senior day.
"It was pretty emotional, the last game at Yager," Burris said. "That was a tough time to get a loss."
Burris led the defense with eight tackles (four solo) and one interception. The INT was his fourth of the season.
Bahl finished 11-for-25 for 206 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Ragland completed 7 of 10 passes for 69 yards and a touchdown and ran for 65 yards on 12 carries.
Sophomore WR Sam Martin, Miami's leading receiver, had one catch for 1 yard before leaving the game with a lower body injury late in the second quarter. Junior right tackle Collin Buchanan, junior outside linebacker TJ Williams and sophomore safety Buchi Okafor also left with injuries.
The RedHawks close out the regular season next weekend at University of Massachusetts.