Miami is leading Kent State 27-24 with just over a minute left in the fourth quarter. The game should be over, Miami has dominated all game. But the Golden Flashes rallied for 10 unanswered points in the final quarter.
Now it’s 4th and 6 with Miami’s offense on the field. The ball is on the Kent State 46-yard-line.
Coach Chuck Martin and the RedHawks face an agonizing decision.
Miami could kick a field goal and give Kent State an opportunity to stage a comeback. Or they could go for it. If they get the first down, the game is over. If the Golden Flash defense makes the stop, they’ll have prime field position to make a field goal to send the game to overtime.
This situation feels all too similar.
Last season, the RedHawks scored 18 points in the fourth quarter to force overtime against this same Kent State team.
The Golden Flashes scored seven points in their first overtime possession. In Miami’s possession, star quarterback Brett Gabbert needed just one play to complete a pass to Jalen Walker for six points.
Miami faced a decision. Settle for the extra point and extend overtime, or put everything on the table and go for two.
The RedHawks went for two. Gabbert’s pass failed to find the end zone, and Kent State won.
This situation is slightly different.
The biggest factor is Gabbert. He hasn’t played since week one because of a shoulder injury.
This time freshman quarterback Aveon Smith, known more for his legs than his arm, will have to make the pass to win the game.
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Coach Chuck Martin said the decision was an easy one. Miami’s defense was slowing down, and Martin saw an opportunity to ice the game.
“We had a good drive going, we had momentum,” he said.
Smith dropped back and threw a quick pass to tight end Jack Coldiron who picked up 16 yards and a first down. Smith kneed the ball on the last play to end the game in a 27-24 victory.
Smith said he was happy Martin gave him the chance to go for it. He said he knew what the play call would be because the team had been setting it up all game.
“I knew it was gonna be a good play,” Smith said. “I just had to be ready to execute as a team and as an offense.”
The bold play finished off an excellent bounce back performance for the Miami squad. After upsetting Northwestern on the road, the team fell short against Buffalo. The team had to shift focus to shutting down Kent State.
Last year, the RedHawks defense allowed 303 rushing yards to the Golden Flashes. Martin said the focus for this matchup would be to prevent the run at all costs. The strategy worked.Miami allowed only 109 rushing yards.
“We’re not gonna let them get their heads up running the ball,” Martin said.
A big part of the defense’s success was defensive back Matthew Salopek, who racked up nine tackles and two sacks in the effort. He said his teammates and game plan helped the RedHawks take home the win.
“We got a bunch of confident dudes, and we had a great game plan,” Salopek said.
As for the offense, Smith had a much-needed bounceback game after disappointing outings the past two weeks. He went 9/14 passing for 179 yards and one interception while picking up 71 more yards with his feet.
The best pass of the day for Smith was when he connected with Miles Marshall for 76 yards in the first quarter. Tyre Shelton scored a two yard touchdown on the next play. Smith said the game wouldn’t have been close if he hadn’t missed a few passes.
“If I hit all those [passes], that game’s not even close,” he said. “You gotta get better and keep executing.”
While the offense and defense performed well, special teams put the RedHawks over the top. Caiden Woullard blocked a Kent State field goal attempt on their first drive of the game. Dom Dzioban averaged 44.2 yards in his five punts and Graham Nicholson hammered 45 and 49 yard field goals. Martin said having a kicker like Nicholson helps the team succeed.
“It's just the confidence to send him out there,” he said. “We don't even blink. We send him out there.”
The RedHawks continue MAC play at Bowling Green, Saturday, Oct. 15, at noon.