The 2017 edition of the Miami RedHawk football program took the field Saturday at Yager Stadium for the first time this season, and controlled the game from start to finish. Following an underwhelming week one performance against the Thundering Herd of Marshall, a physical run game combined with opportunistic defense and sound special teams led Chuck Martin's squad to a 31-10 victory over the Austin Peay Governors (0-2, 0-0 Ohio Valley Conference).
From the opening kick, Miami (1-1, 0-0 Mid-American Conference) played the brand of football that Coach Martin has been preaching since his arrival in Oxford -- dominating the line of scrimmage and controlling time of possession. The Red and White held the ball for over 11 minutes longer than the Governors, while taking advantage of athletic receivers down the field.
Redshirt junior quarterback Gus Ragland only completed 11 of 23 passes for 145 yards on the afternoon, yet consistently gave his receivers a chance to make big plays deep. The most frequent recipient was the 6'4'' matchup nightmare James Gardner. The junior wide receiver hauled in 5 catches for 117 yards and two touchdowns.
"He's always open even if there's a guy on him," Ragland smiled and said after the game. "Sometimes even if there's two guys on him, throw the ball high to him and that dude's going to make plays. He's a special player and he's really fun to be on the field with."
However, what made the passing game so effective was the balanced attack led by a tenacious offensive line. Redshirt junior running backs Alonzo Smith and Kenny Young combined for 120 yards rushing on the day.
The 'Hawks kept the Governor defense guessing between run and pass while seeing risks pay off. Four times Chuck Martin decided to roll the dice on the fourth down, and three of those times his team delivered.
"[We wanted to] send the message that we're going to be on our toes, that we're going to keep trying to be a great football team," Martin said. "We're not going to sit back and relax."
Part of the reason the 'Hawks' head man was bold enough to risk turning the ball over on downs was the stellar play of his defense.
"Obviously it was a defensive game," Martin said. "Our defense is athletic. They have a playmaker mentality, and they have to make the plays that are their plays."
Of such playmakers, none made a bigger impact than junior safety Tony Reid. Reid was good for five tackles, one fumble recovery and an acrobatic interception deep in Miami territory. He turned the tide of the game to Miami for good in the fourth quarter.
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"He beat me inside a little bit," Reid said of the interception. "But I just played the ball right through his hands, kept my eyes on the ball, and made a finish."
The performance of Reid by itself is undoubtedly impressive, but even more impressive is the adversity he overcame to prepare for this game. Reid mentioned dealing with bleeding the past two weeks, while having a colonoscopy Friday -- one day before playing an outstanding college football game.
"I have Crohn's disease," Reid explained in a post-game press conference. "I've had it since 2010 so it's been something that I accepted, but it's not going to stop me from doing what I have to do. I love my teammates. I put my all out for my team."
Reid will be looked at to continue to play well as the RedHawks return to action this Saturday, looking to go to 2-1 against the Cincinnati Bearcats in the battle for the Victory Bell. Kickoff is at 8 p.m. at Yager Stadium.