For nearly 59 minutes Saturday night, it appeared the Miami RedHawks (1-2, MAC 0-0) were going to defeat the Cincinnati Bearcats (2-1, 0-0 AAC) for the first time since 2005. With 1:07 remaining, the more than 20,000 fans inside Yager Stadium saw an interception for a touchdown to give Cincinnati the lead for good.
"We should have won 17-14," head coach Chuck Martin said. "It should have been a hard-fought victory. It should have been exactly what we wanted, and unfortunately twice in three weeks, we've self-inflicted and not won football games."
For the majority of the matchup, Martin's squad was doing what it took to get the victory, led once again by their defense. Senior defensive back Tony Reid played a huge role, collecting 11 tackles. Fellow defensive backs junior Josh Allen and Redshirt senior Heath Harding consistently shut down Bearcat attempts to set up bubble and tunnel screens in the flats.
"We were ready for pretty much everything they gave us," said cornerback Harding. "Hats off to our coaches for that because I think we were well prepared."
Additionally, the 'Hawks "Mob" defense came up with timely turnovers deep inside their own territory. The first of such plays came early in the 2nd quarter, in which junior defensive back De'Andre Montgomery picked off UC quarterback junior Hayden Moore at the Miami 8-yard line -- denying the Bearcats the chance to take the lead. The second interception of the night came from Redshirt sophomore defensive back Cedric Asseh in his own end zone, followed by a 46-yard return, once again rejecting Moore a touchdown pass.
However, UC's defense led by head coach Luke Fickell and defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman also came to play. In the first half alone, the Bearcats only surrendered four yards off 11 carries on the ground and allowed a mere 70 total rushing yards overall.
The exception to Miami's ground game struggles came in their opening drive of the second half -- Cincinnati tried a quarterback sneak on fourth and short at their own 34-yard line and came up short. The RedHawks, led by Redshirt junior running back Kenny Young, ran the ball on four of their five plays on the drive, ending with a one yard touchdown run by Young to put the Red and White up 14-3.
From that point on, the RedHawks defense looked in control, only allowing a field goal up until late in the fourth quarter. Following a sophomore Sam Sloman field goal to put the 'Hawks up 17-6 with 4:45 to go, Moore marched the Bearcats 75 yards down the field in 1:56 and connected with junior wide receiver Kahlil Lewis on a 2-point conversion to slim the 'Hawks lead to 17-14 with 2:49 remaining.
Following a kickoff Miami freshman wide receiver Jaylon Bester bobbled and only returned to the 5-yard line, Miami began to drain the clock. After small gains on first and second down, the RedHawks faced third and two from their own 13-yard line. Martin, planning to let the play clock tick down, failed to call timeout, leading a delay of game penalty.
"A miscommunication with the official with a minute left cost us the game and that's on me," Martin said post-game. "I'm not blaming the officials in any way shape or form. We had a miscommunication. I thought he knew that we were calling timeout and he did not know it, obviously, and threw a flag on me instead of calling a timeout."
On the ensuing play, Miami elected to give Redshirt junior quarterback Gus Ragland the green light to pick up the first in the air. However, Cincinnati junior safety Malik Clements undercut his throw, picked it off, and took it 14 yards to the endzone, giving Cincinnati a 21-17 lead with 1:02 to go.
"They doubled him," Martin said of the intended receiver on the interception. "Obviously he [Ragland] didn't see it. The ball should have went outside."
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Despite the sudden shift in momentum, Ragland put together an impressive drive -- putting the RedHawks at the Cincinnati 20-yard line with just under 20 seconds remaining. On third and five from this spot, Ragland lobbed the ball into the corner of the end zone intended for Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Luke Mayock.
A flag came out late for pass interference, but after discussion was waved off, making it fourth and five for the 'Hawks. Ragland was flushed from the pocket on that fourth down and was hit as he threw an incomplete pass, securing the Cincinnati victory.
"The kids played their hearts out," Martin said. "Very, very difficult defeat, the most difficult defeat I've had in 25 years probably by a wide margin. The reason it's so difficult is because how hard our kids played."
Harding reiterated the frustration felt throughout Miami's locker room.
"You use it [defeat] as fuel for not ever feeling like this ever again," Harding said. "I think we're going to have a good practice tomorrow, we're going to have a good week, and we're going to come back next week stronger."
The RedHawks will look to get back in the win column on the road next week against Central Michigan as their quest for a MAC championship begins. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.