Late rally sends Miami past Cardinals
RedHawks secure Bahamas Bowl spot
By MIKE SMITH
OXFORD, OH -- Ball State held a 17-3 lead midway through the third quarter, but the Miami RedHawks fought back late to pull out an 18-17 win Tuesday night at Yager Stadium.
With the victory, Miami (4-4 MAC, 6-6 overall) secured a spot in the Hometown Lenders Bahamas Bowl. That game will be played Dec. 16, with MU's opponent to be named at a later date. Ball State (3-5 MAC, 5-7 overall) came into the game knowing the winner would get the bowl spot. Tuesday was BSU's third -- and final -- shot to secure bowl eligibility with a sixth win. However, it finished the campaign with three straight losses.
After taking leads of 14-0 and 17-3, the . . .
. . . Cardinals seemed to be in control. Standout running back Carson Steel, who scored on runs of 48 and 23 yards in the first half, finished the night with 180 yards on 26 carries (6.9 ypc). Kiael Kelly, meanwhile, added eight carries for 83 yards operating at quarterback.
"Steele is a great player," Miami Head Coach Chuck Martin said. "We knew it going in. You have to tackle him low. You can't tackle him high. . . . Once he gets clear, its over. He's too strong. He's too fast."
Ball State finished with 265 yards rushing, and during his time at quarterback, John Paddock completed 19-of-32 passes for 119 yards. He was, however, intercepted twice. Steele was the leading BSU receiver, catching six balls for a total of 35 yards.
Miami's offense sputtered much of the night against a stingy Cardinals defense. Even when MU put together a longer drive, it ended with a field goal attempts. Graham Nicholson hit two of three tries on the evening. His second, at 5:24 of the third quarter left the RedHawks trailing 17-6.
"Their defense dominated the whole game," Martin said.
Miami's own defense stiffened in the second half, allowing just three points. The turning point for its offense, however, came during the fourth quarter when Smith began to run the ball more. He would finish with 18 carries for 103 yards before subtracting for losses.
There was 6:12 left in the contest when Smith completed an 80-yard drive by weaving his way 18 yards through defenders for the RedHawks first touchdown. A two-point conversion try failed, and Miami trailed 17-12.
Ball State stayed with the run on its next drive and picked up one first down. After three more runs, the Cardinals faced fourth-and-one at their own 47. Eschewing a punt, BSU went with Steele. He was met by Brian Ugwu and Matthew Salopek, who stopped him short of the sticks.
"I kind of wanted them to go for it. . . . We've been really good in short yardage," " Martin said, adding "I just felt like, 'If they punt it, can our offense go 80 (yards) again? '"
Miami took over with 3:05 remaining. Six plays later, Smith launched a deep pass to Miles Marshall, who was tightly covered near the pylon. Nonetheless, Marshall came down with the ball. His 34-yard score gave Miami its first lead, 18-17. Another two-point try failed.
"The ball was inside, and he went and got it," Martin said of Marshall's catch. "It was a big time play."
Overall, Smith completed just 14-of-49 passes, totaling 217 yards with one passing touchdown and one interception. Marshall caught three balls for 49 yards, while Mac Hippenhammer led MU receivers with six receptions for 70 yards.
Ball State took over with 1:42 left, needing only a field goal to win. Five plays into the drive, however, MU's Brian Ugwu snatched a deflection out of the air for an interception. Miami was then able to run out the clock.
Editor-Publisher Mike Smith
Mike grew up in Mid-American Conference football and basketball territory and returned there after military service. He has been covering MAC football and men's basketball for much of the last several decades.