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Missed opportunity leads to what-if for RedHawks in LendingTree Bowl

<p>Junior running back Jaylon Bester carries the ball against the Buffalo Bulls on Sept. 28, 2019.</p>

Junior running back Jaylon Bester carries the ball against the Buffalo Bulls on Sept. 28, 2019.

MOBILE, Ala. — “I would’ve loved to punch the last one in to get it to 27-24, and then, who knows? There was plenty of time left.”

Who knows.

Those words are Miami head coach Chuck Martin’s immediate reaction just minutes after his team fell, 27-17, to Louisiana in Monday’s LendingTree Bowl.

The “last one” he references was the RedHawks’ final chance.

Down by 10 points with three minutes to go, they set themselves up with a first down on the Ragin’ Cajuns’ 2-yard line.

On the first play, junior running back Jaylon Bester, who had already scored two touchdowns, did not get the ball. Freshman quarterback Brett Gabbert threw incomplete to redshirt junior tight end Andrew Homer. 

Play No. 2 brought the same. Miami elected to pass once again, and Gabbert fired incomplete to redshirt junior wide receiver Jack Sorenson. Sorenson had been Gabbert’s favorite and most reliable pass-catcher to that point, grabbing 10 catches for 107 yards.

On the third play, Bester got his shot at his third score. He took a handoff but was stuffed at the goal line for a one-yard gain.

Fourth down. Miami’s comeback odds hung in the balance.

Gabbert sped his teammates back to the line of scrimmage, going uptempo and trying to catch the Ragin’ Cajuns sleeping.

With the play call, Martin and his staff decided to go back to Old Reliable, Bester.

“We were going to run the ball,” Gabbert said after the game.

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They didn’t get the chance.

Amid some pre-snap shuffling on the Louisiana defense, redshirt junior center Danny Godlevske snapped the ball too low for Gabbert to corral. It tumbled back to the 24-yard line, where Bester dove on it, killing the play.

That was the end of the drive and the end of Miami in the LendingTree Bowl.

“I hiked the ball, and I think it just slipped off Danny’s fingers,” Gabbert said. “That happens sometimes. You can’t control it. Never going to blame Danny. Danny’s a first-time All-MAC center. It just happened to be at that very play on fourth down. That didn’t lose us the game.”

The RedHawks got the ball back one more time, but it was too late.

If they pushed into the end zone from inside the 5-yard line on the second-to-last possession, the score would’ve been 27-24 with just more than three minutes left in the game. 

A lot still would’ve had to bounce in favor of the RedHawks for them to win, but crazier things...

Who knows?