The final score wasn’t indicative of how the Miami RedHawks and Akron Zips played on Saturday at Yager Stadium.
Miami won the contest, 34-21, but the RedHawks were up 34-7 going into the fourth quarter and could’ve easily put up more points on the lackluster Zips. Instead, Head Coach Chuck Martin elected to put in the second team defense and let his starters rest on the bench.
“We don’t have many games like this where we can relax and enjoy the fourth quarter,” Martin said.
Miami scored touchdowns on its first two drives of the game, as redshirt sophomore quarterback A.J. Mayer capped both drives with a touchdown pass. The first touchdown was an easy pitch and catch to senior Andrew Homer, while the second one was Mayer’s best play of the day.
On third down and six, the initial play wasn’t open, forcing Mayer to scramble to his right. The quarterback found sixth-year senior wide receiver Jack Sorenson behind the defense, and threw a perfect deep ball. Sorenson did the rest, strolling into the end zone to make the score 14-0.
On their next drive, the RedHawks gave Akron favorable field position with a fumble by second-year running back Keyon Mozee. The referees initially ruled Mozee down, but replays showed he fumbled the ball before being down.
The Zips took advantage of Miami’s mistake, scoring a touchdown just three plays later.
After the fumbled, the RedHawks responded. Mayer completed passes of 15 and 29 yards to Homer and Sorenson before senior running back Jaylon Bester plunged into the end zone for a five-yard touchdown.
It was Bester’s first touchdown since Jan. 6, 2020 in Miami’s 27-17 loss to Louisiana in the Lending Tree Bowl.
It’s been a long road for the senior running back. Bester tore his Achilles in 2020 and missed all of last season, and he has continued to struggle with injuries this season.
“I had a lot of down periods when I tore my achilles. I was down,” Bester said. “Then I got back up and I was at spring ball… I tore my MCL and PCL and now I’m back down. But at the same time I just had so much support from my teammates and my family. They just helped me get through that time.”
The score would remain 21-7 until halftime.
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Mozee made up for his earlier fumble on the RedHawks’ first drive of the second half.
Facing a third-and-one, Mayer handed the ball off to Mozee, who darted through the hole created by his offensive linemen for a 46-yard touchdown.
“We need those (runs). Obviously they make a big difference,” Martin said. “(It’s) the difference between scoring 14 or 17 points and scoring 30-something points.”
Akron blocked first-year kicker Graham Nicholson’s extra point, so the score remained 27-7.
On Miami’s next drive, the team broke off another long run, this time by second-year running back Kevin Davis. Davis took off on a 41-yard carry that set the RedHawks up inside the ten-yard line.
Two plays later, Mayer found Homer for the tight end’s second score of the game.
Martin mentioned that Homer was dealing with a family issue, and he was unsure if Homer would play in Saturday’s contest.
“He hadn’t been around all week and he kinda popped back Thursday,” Martin said. “I told him, ‘we’re good,’ and he said, ‘no, I need to play, coach…’ my happiest moment of the game was to see him make those plays.”
After Miami’s next drive ended in a blocked field goal, the starters’ days were over. Akron scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including a 50-yard touchdown pass, but it didn’t matter. When the clock showed zeroes, Miami was ahead, 34-21.
Mayer played perhaps the most efficient game of his career, completing 19 of his 27 passes for 229 yards and three touchdowns.
He completed those passes to seven different receivers, including Sorenson, who grabbed five passes for 113 yards and a touchdown.
It was a balanced effort by the RedHawk running backs, who gained 245 total yards on the day. Mozee was the team’s leading rusher with 73 yards, and Davis rushed for 49. Second-year running back Kenny Tracy added 50 yards as well. Bester had just 26 yards, but scored one of Miami’s five touchdowns on the day.
“I feel like we definitely have that brotherhood where it doesn’t matter who’s in the game. If Keyon breaks a run, we’re all celebrating. If I score a 3-yard touchdown, we’re all celebrating,” Bester said.
It was a dominant effort on defense as well. Akron threw for 291 yards and added 65 on the ground. However, the Zips had 138 passing yards and 43 rushing yards in the fourth quarter alone, after the RedHawks had already taken out its starters.
“Our defense is schemed up so we fill every gap… we give up some shorter (passing routes), and in turn we try to eliminate their entire run game. That’s something we were successful in doing today, and it feels really good,” redshirt junior safety Sterling Weatherford said.
Senior Cedric Boswell led the team with eight tackles (seven solo tackles), while third-year linebacker Matthew Salopek added six tackles.
Before the game, the team honored its seniors, as it was the last Saturday game at Yager Stadium this season.
Miami’s next game is Saturday, Oct. 23 at Ball State. The game is at 3:30 and will be broadcast on ESPN+.