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'Herd hounds RedHawks in season opener

Sandy Johnson - WMUL
Sandy Johnson - WMUL

Redshirt junior quarterback Gus Ragland threw for 298 yards and two touchdowns, but it wasn't enough for Miami football to beat Marshall University. Marshall (1-0) -- after reclaiming the lead near the end of the second quarter -- saw victory to the end, defeating Miami football (0-1) by a score of 31-26 in Huntington, WV.

Despite the season-opening defeat, there was a slew of silver-linings to the match, said head coach Chuck Martin.

"There was a heck of a lot of positives. Our defense wasn't on the field enough, unfortunately, because they [Marshall] kept scoring with our defense not on the field," Martin said. "Our defense held their offense to 10 points."

On the opening kickoff, redshirt junior running back Keion Davis received the kick, cut up-field, leaving Red and White defenders in his wake, as his 99-yard kickoff return gave the Thundering Herd an early 7-0 advantage.

Ragland was credited with the first score for MU. A one-yard touchdown run gave the 'Hawks their first and only lead of the affair at 10-7. It was the Cincinnati-native's only score of the half, coming with 13:57 left in the second quarter.

The 'Herd's Davis wasn't satisfied with his first run back, so he went out and did it again.

With 3:03 left in the first half -- following an MU field goal to bring the deficit to one at 14-13 -- Davis received sophomore placekicker Samuel Sloman's kick and took off. In 97 yards, the Green and White tailback reached pay dirt and dealt a crippling blow before halftime. After 30 minutes of action, the Thundering Herd held a 21-13 advantage.

"We've got to correct the kickoff team," Martin said. "Those were two of the easiest kickoff return for touchdowns you've ever seen, and then we can't throw the pick six."

With Miami still down nine and driving deep into Marshall territory, the fatal, final flaw to MU's comeback efforts were realized -- a pick six.

Ragland's fateful mistake on the RedHawks' second drive of the half resulted in a 72-yard interception returned for a touchdown. The pick was made by Marshall's sophomore defensive back Chris Jackson.

"He [Ragland] got some pressure on the pick, and he probably tried to do too much," Martin said.

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This error in judgement on MU's dual-threat quarterback saw the premature, untimely demise of the 'Hawks in their opening matchup. Yet, it felt like Miami was in contention.

The 'Hawks were resilient. With 2:05 left in the third quarter, the Red and White struck back -- a Ragland-Ryan Smith 11-yard connection brought the score to 28-20, advantage Doc Holliday.

Smith, a senior, had himself a day. The starting tight end hauled in seven catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns. His longest reception on the day was 23 yards.

After a Green and White field goal extended Marshall's margin to 31-20, MU got back to work. Again, Ragland found Ryan Smith open and exploited the lapse in coverage to bring the score to 31-26.

Unfortunately for the 'Hawks, it wasn't meant to be, and the two-point conversion was deemed a failure. The second Ragland-Smith play concluded the scoring and brought the final score to a 31-26 halt and a RedHawks loss.

"Sometimes, you can look for a lot of reasons. Tonight, there's not a lot of reasons," Martin said on Saturday. "We don't throw a pick six, we don't give up two kickoff returns for a touchdown -- we win the game, probably by a couple scores."

This Saturday September 9, sees Miami play host for the first time since last season to Austin Peay State University. Kickoff for the 2017-18 home opener is set for 3:30 p.m. with ESPN3 broadcasting the action.