This Miami University football season has been nothing short of remarkable.
The RedHawks finished the regular season campaign with 10 wins for just the fifth time in Miami football history, which dates back to 1888. The RedHawk defense gave up just 86 points in Mid-American Conference (MAC) play, the conference’s best scoring defense since 2000.
Junior kicker Graham Nicholson had the best kicking regular season in recorded college football history at any level, making 23-of-23 attempted field goals. That’s the most kicks any player has made since at least 1976 while making 100% of his regular season kicks.
The season was full of twists and turns, and the RedHawks have the chance to give it a happy ending this weekend in the MAC Championship game. Miami plays No. 23 University of Toledo on Saturday Dec. 2, at noon in Detroit. After that, no matter what, the RedHawks will play in a bowl game, but a MAC Championship would be their season’s crowning achievement.
Here are the five most important moments from Miami football’s 2023 season:
Sept. 1: Miami gets smoked in season opener, 38-3 at Miami (Fla.)
Going into this game, RedHawk fans were quite optimistic.
The RedHawks were returning nine starters from a defense that was the best in the MAC a season before. Star junior quarterback Brett Gabbert was back after an injury-riddled 2022 campaign. The RedHawks had a chance to shock the world against the school that causes ours to be infuriatingly known as “Miami (OH)” or “the one in Ohio.”
After the game, there wasn’t much reason for optimism for the Red and White.
“After the game at Miami, I’m walking with our police guy,” Miami football head coach Chuck Martin said just last week. “And I barely knew him back then. I’m just wondering what he’s thinking like, ‘What a waste of time walking with this loser.’ Where [the team] has gotten to since has just really been fun to be around.”
Despite that embarrassing Week 1 loss, Martin said it positively affected Miami’s season. The RedHawks went into the game at the University of Miami expecting to embarrass the Hurricanes on their own turf. Since then, they’ve been willing to claw and play ugly, striving to win in any way possible.
Sept. 16: Miami beats Cincinnati for the first time since 2005
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In Week 3, Miami won its biggest rivalry game for the first time in 18 seasons.
With the game against the University of Cincinnati tied at 24 and less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the RedHawks forced a huge three-and-out by Cincinnati. Miami was going to get the ball back with about four minutes left.
Then the Bearcats faked a punt on fourth-and-nine from their own 26-yard line and converted it for 27 yards.
Cincinnati then marched the ball down the field, chewing time and gouging chunks out of the RedHawk defense. Nine seconds remained on the clock at the last fourth down, and all Cincinnati needed to do to win was nail a simple 35-yard goal.
But the RedHawks blocked it. Yahsyn McKee flew around the right side of the Cincinnati line and smacked the Victory Bell from the jaws of the Bearcats.
That sent the game to overtime. Gabbert led the RedHawk offense to a touchdown in two plays. The Bearcats’ turn lasted 11 plays. On the 11th play, the day’s hero came through again. Cincinnati’s pass was intercepted in the end zone by McKee, and the RedHawk sideline went wild.
“There will be people who don’t know what our end-of-year record is,” Miami head coach Chuck Martin said after that game. “But they’ll know we beat Cincy.”
Oct. 21: Brett Gabbert injured as Miami falls to Toledo 21-17
Week 8’s MAC Championship prequel was heartbreaking for RedHawk fans in multiple ways.
Miami went into halftime losing 21-3 to the University of Toledo, the MAC Championship favorite. Coming out of halftime, the offense got rolling. Miami scored an early touchdown and was about to score another to cut the Toledo lead under one possession when a Toledo lineman fell on Gabbert’s leg as he tried to push into the end zone from the Toledo 2-yard line.
Gabbert suffered a broken tibia and fibula on the play, and an ambulance took him to Mercy Fairfield hospital. He underwent surgery for the season-ending injury that night.
After Gabbert’s injury, redshirt sophomore quarterback Aveon Smith entered the game. The RedHawk defense forced four straight punts on the Toledo possessions after Gabbert’s injury, but Smith and the RedHawk offense wouldn’t score another point either.
“The only thing we talked about is what Brett Gabbert would expect from us,” Martin said after the game. “If that son of a gun knew we were over here pouting, he’d be very disappointed in us. He’s laying on the field talking about winning the game. He’s holding my hand talking about, ‘You got to win this game coach. We’re going to win this game.’”
Oct. 28: Smith and the RedHawks upset Ohio
Whoever won Week 9’s Battle of the Bricks between Miami and Ohio University, who were both 3-1 in MAC play at the time, was going to be in the drivers’ seat to the MAC Championship. Whoever lost would have to win out and hope the other lost two of its remaining three games.
Smith and the RedHawk offense put up 30 points in the crucial win. After allowing 128 yards and 10 points on the first two Ohio chances of the game, Miami’s defense forced eight straight fruitless drives for the Bobcats.
It was a statement win for the RedHawks, one that helped them get back on track after the loss of their most important player. If Miami hadn’t stepped up amid that adversity, it’s likely the 2023 season would have been just another “if only.”
Nov. 15: RedHawks beat Buffalo to clinch a spot in the MAC Championship
The RedHawks never trailed in their 23-10 win over the University at Buffalo.
“These kids have been working their whole lives for this,” Martin said after the game. “… In your life, these moments are hard to get. It’s what we do this for.”
With the win, Miami punched its ticket to the MAC Championship game for the first time since 2019. It saved the RedHawks from having to sweat out last week’s game against Ball State, which Miami won due to a last-minute blocked kick from Yahsyn McKee.
The RedHawks will play the No. 23 Toledo Rockets for the 2023 MAC title this Saturday, Dec. 2, at noon, at Ford Field in Detroit.