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Miami wins close one over NIU on Senior Day, improves to 3-4

The Miami RedHawks won a 27-24 battle against Northern Illinois Saturday at Yager Stadium, taking a 10-9 lead in the all-time series and getting its second straight victory over the Huskies.

“It was an awesome team win,” head coach Chuck Martin said.

With the win, the RedHawks improve to 2-1 in Mid-American Conference play and are tied for first in their division, along with Kent State and Ohio University.  

The game started out slowly, with punts on each teams’ first two possessions. From there, Northern Illinois went on an 11-play, 69-yard drive, highlighted by redshirt sophomore wide receiver Cole Tucker’s effortless 39yard, one-handed catch. Tucker was the Huskies’ leading receiver with six receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown. 

While the catch gave the Huskies the ball at the 5, Miami’s defense held tough, forcing the Huskies to kick a 25-yard field goal for the early 3-0 lead. 

For Northern Illinois, the game plan was simple: run it with redshirt junior tailback Tre Harbison early and often. Harbison finished with 26 carries for 83 yards, including five rushes for 19 yards on Northern Illinois’ first touchdown drive. 

During the drive, fifth-year senior starting quarterback Ross Bowers was injured and left for the game. A few plays later, redshirt junior backup quarterback Marcus Childers ran for a 1-yard touchdown, extending the lead to 10-0.

After taking over with 3:08 left in the first half, freshman quarterback Brett Gabbert and his receiving corps wreaked havoc on the Huskies’ secondary, ripping off pass plays of 26, 18, and 23 yards en route to a touchdown. Gabbert distributed the ball evenly on the drive, with catches from four different players. Junior running back Jaylon Bester ended the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to cut the Northern Illinois lead to 10-7 with 36 seconds to go in the half.

From there, the Huskies knelt the ball, content to go into halftime with the lead.

Miami came out firing in the second half, going on an eight-play, 90-yard touchdown drive to take a 14-10 lead. Gabbert was 4-for-4 for 71 yards on the drive, including a 45-yard touchdown catch and run by James Maye.

Gabbert was productive through the air, going 15-of-28 for 273 yards and a touchdown. Gabbert was also the team’s leading rusher with 42 yards, mostly on plays where no one was open and he needed to scramble for first downs.

After Northern Illinois scored again to take a 17-14 lead, Gabbert threw a 40-yard pass to Jalen Walker to set the RedHawks at the 1-yard line. Walker finished as the team’s leading receiver with seven catches for 138 yards. 

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From there, Bester ran it in from a yard out on third-and-goal to give the RedHawks a 21-17 lead, which they never relinquished. 

The RedHawks kicked two field goals in the fourth quarter to extend their lead to 27-17, which was all they needed to hold on and win the game.

After a 10-yard touchdown catch by Cole Tucker cut the Huskies’ deficit to three, Miami got the ball back with 2:44 left. 

On their next possession, the RedHawks narrowly avoided a costly mistake, fumbling on second-and-2 with under two minutes to go. Jalen Walker recovered, and the RedHawks punted the ball back to Northern Illinois with 1:44 left. The Huskies had one last chance to win the game or extend it to overtime.

Miami’s defense held its own, however, with a huge sack by true freshman defensive lineman Lonnie Phelps and senior linebacker Myles Reid on third-and-2 to force a pivotal fourth down. Childers targeted Tucker with the fourth-down pass, as he had all day, but a low throw fell to the ground, giving the ball back to Miami with under two minutes to go.

After the successful fourth-down stop, Miami lined up in the victory formation for three plays, running out the clock and ensuring a RedHawks victory.

“There’s a calm about these guys,” Martin said. “They prepare, they’re ready for the moment, they do get down sometimes, but they bounce back quickly. Obviously, an unbelievable team victory against a good team.”

The RedHawks will be looking to win their second in a row next Saturday at Kent State against the 3-4 Golden Flashes. The game is at 3:30 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN+.