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Huge Miami run spurs win over Buffalo in MAC opener

Chuck Martin got a little choked up to begin his postgame press conference Saturday.

His Miami team (2-3, 1-0) had just beaten Buffalo, 34-20, to win its Mid-American Conference opener at Yager Stadium.

“One of the better team victories, and from Sunday to today, it’s as proud of a week as I’ve had coaching,” Miami’s head coach said. “I love these guys.”

After a 76-5 beating at the hands of Ohio State last weekend, Martin said his players were down. He had to spend the week rebuilding their confidence.

“Coming off of last week’s game, it’s hard,” Martin said. “Unless you live in denial, it’s hard. You can dismiss to college athletes that have pride, ‘Oh, it’s Ohio State. It’s OK.’ No, it’s not OK. We were bludgeoned.” 

His voice trailed off. It didn’t matter. Miami’s performance had picked it up for the last couple hours.

After falling behind 14-3, Martin said the RedHawks had no energy. Somehow, they found some and went on a 31-0 run, spurring the 34-20 victory. 

After three-and-outs by both teams on their opening drives, the Bulls (2-3, 0-1) struck first on a possession full of chunk plays. 

Redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Myers found junior wide receiver Carlton Todd for 17 yards to begin the drive. Myers escaped from Miami’s pass rush on the next play and scampered for 24 yards. He connected with junior wideout Antonio Nunn for a 20-yard score to cap the drive.

Buffalo held a 7-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.

On the first play of the second, senior kicker Sam Sloman made a 53-yard field goal to put the RedHawks on the board. The kick was the third-longest field goal in Miami history.

Two drives later, sophomore running back Jaret Patterson broke two tackles at the line of scrimmage and ran 82 yards to the house, extending Buffalo’s lead to 14-3.

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“We challenged them on Sunday, saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got to dig out of this hole.’ Then, we dug a deeper hole.” Martin said. “14-3, the hole was deep enough. I said, ‘Now, it’s on us. If you’re waiting for someone else to pull you out, no one’s going to pull you out of this.’”

Patterson tallied 110 first-half yards and finished the game with 183. His backfield brother, sophomore Kevin Marks, added 101 yards.

The RedHawks had the ball halfway through the period, but Buffalo forced a fourth-and-three. However, on fourth down, the Bulls committed a penalty that gave Miami a new set of downs at the 12. 

Freshman quarterback Brett Gabbert capitalized on the mistake, falling into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown a few plays later.

“The offense put together a big-boy drive,” Martin said. “We really, really could’ve used it. We put together a really nice drive.”

Redshirt junior linebacker Ryan McWood set up another Miami field goal with a forced fumble and recovery inside the five. Redshirt sophomore running back Davion Johnson was stuffed on three consecutive rush attempts from inside the 3, so Sloman converted a kick — this time from 21 yards out — to cut Buffalo’s lead to 14-13 with 40 seconds left in the half. 

That was the score at intermission.

On the third play of the second half, McWood hurried and leveled Myers as he threw. Myers’ throw was off target and went straight to junior defensive back Mike Brown. Brown picked it off and returned it for a touchdown, putting the RedHawks ahead 20-14 and giving them all the momentum. 

“High school, 2016,” Brown said about the last time he scored a touchdown. “I was at receiver.”

Miami forced a Bulls’ punt after three plays. Redshirt senior running back Maurice Thomas returned the kick for 26 yards to the Buffalo 39. 

Gabbert threw only once in the next six plays, as redshirt sophomore running back Jaylon Bester charged Miami down to the 13-yard line.

From there, redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jalen Walker caught a 13-yard touchdown on a fade route, making it 27-14.

Buffalo tried to recapture some of its early-game energy on the following possession. The Bulls drove to the RedHawks’ 33-yard line before the drive stalled.

In tough field-goal range, Buffalo coach Lance Leipold elected to go for it on fourth-and-11, but Myers’ pass attempt fell incomplete.

Miami took over, and Gabbert launched a 52-yard bomb to freshman wide receiver James Maye, putting the RedHawks at the Buffalo 4. Bester scored on the next play.

The Bulls fed Miami a heavy diet of Marks on their following drive. He ran for 66 yards on the possession, finishing it with a 39-yard touchdown. However, the RedHawks blocked the extra point, keeping Buffalo behind by 14 (34-20).

A couple drives later, Buffalo, trying to make it a one-score game midway through the fourth, tried to convert on fourth down. Once again, it was unsuccessful, as the backup quarterback, redshirt sophomore Kyle Vantrease, threw an incompletion.

The Bulls burned through all three of their timeouts on the next Miami possession. While it took less than three minutes off the clock, all six plays were runs. The RedHawks punted, pinning Buffalo back to its own 8-yard line with four minutes remaining.

In all, the Bulls gained four yards on four plays. On the final play, freshman defensive lineman Lonnie Phelps sacked Vantrease and caused him to fumble. It was recovered by redshirt freshman defensive lineman Josh Maize.

Four consecutive kneel downs by Gabbert left Buffalo with 26 seconds, effectively ending the game and clinching a 34-20 MAC-opening win for the RedHawks.

The Bulls out-gained the RedHawks 398-265. Both teams’ quarterbacks had ugly days, as Buffalo completed seven of its 20 passes for a touchdown and two interceptions. Gabbert finished 8-of-17 for 120 yards and one score.

Bester bailed out the RedHawks’ offense, posting career-highs in touches and yards. He carried the ball 24 times for 107 yards and a touchdown.

Playing his first game since Week One, Bester was supposed to receive the ball about a dozen times, per Martin. But once the tailback got hot, Martin didn’t want to take him out.

“I’m a little banged up,” Bester said. “Twenty-four carries is a lot, especially me being 5’8”, 185 (pounds). I’m not a big guy and being between the tackles is not an easy task. But I think I can maintain this. If they want to give me the ball 25 times a game, I can do it for the rest of the season.”

McWood and Brown were the dynamic defensive duo for Miami, as McWood played a large role in causing both of Brown’s interceptions. He tipped the first into Brown’s hands before pressuring the quarterback on the second.

“I appreciate him,” Brown said with a smile.

McWood tied senior linebacker Myles Reid with a team-high nine tackles.

Miami will not play next Saturday, as it has reached its bye week. The break will allow the RedHawks to recover from their growing list of injuries.