RedHawks upset Rockets in MAC title slugfest
By MIKE SMITH
DETROIT, MI -- Rashad Amos scored two touchdowns, the defense forced two turnovers and Graham Nicholson hit three field goals for Miami (11-2, 7-1 MAC) as the RedHawks upset No. 23 Toledo (11-2, 8-0 MAC) 23-14 Saturday in MAC Championship action at Ford Field.
It was Miami's fifth straight victory and first overall title since 2019. Toledo, which had posted eleven straight wins -- including a regular season victory at Miami -- failed in its bid to repeat as MAC champs. Toledo downed Ohio in the 2022 title game.
Toledo QB Dequan Finn, fresh off his Vern Smith Leadership Award as the MAC's top player (awarded earlier in the week), accounted for most of UT's offensive production. Slipping away from heavy pressure again and again, he completed 18 of 36 passes . . .
. . . for a total of 273 yards with one TD and an interception in the game's final minute. He also ran 13 times for a total of 33 yards and one score.
Junior Vandeross III led Toledo receivers with six catches totaling 106 yards. Tight end Anthony Torres caught three balls, good for 56 yards, a TD and a two-point conversion. However, Miami held standout running back Peny Boone to 41 yards and the Rockets' ground game managed 97 yards on the day.
Miami's offense sputtered at times as Toledo keyed in on the RedHawks run game. Eventually, MU generated 197 yards on the ground. However, 50 of those game on a late run by QB Aveon Smith. The sophomore finished with 21 carries for 99 yards. Rashad Amos contributed 74 yards with two TDs among his tough runs against an aggressive Rockets defense.
Miami's passing game chipped in 109 yards as Smith connected on just 6 of 16 attempts. Gage Larvadain (2) was the only MU receiver with more than one catch.
"Our offense did just enough to get it done," Miami Head Coach Chuck Martin said
Another factor affecting both team's ability to sustain drives was penalties. Miami was hit with eight flags for 84 yards, while Toledo was penalized nine times for 91 yards.
Miami, which trailed just once, took an early lead when Nicholson hit a 33-yard field goal to cap the RedHawks first possession. Later in the period, after a 39-yard UT punt and 21-yard return by Cade McDonald, the RedHawks. Six plays (and two Rocket penalties) later, Amos scored from 1 yard out to put Miami up 10-0.
Two Toledo possessions later, Toledo attempted a 39-yard field goal. That was blocked by Austin Ertle. However, UT later went 74 yards in nine plays, culminated with a Finn 13-yard pass to Torres. When MU was penalized on the PAT, Toledo converted a two-point PAT on a short pass to Torres.
Miami expanded its 10-8 halftime lead with three more points on a Nicholson 40-yard field goal at 10:55 of the third stanza. Toledo then responded with a four-play, 75 yard drive. Finn's 44-yard pass to Vandeross and a RedHawk pass interference penalty covered most of the distance. Finn streaked off the left side for a 3-yard TD to give the Rockets their only lead of the day, 14-13.
Miami's first attempt to reclaim the lead failed when Nicholson missed his first field goal of the season at 5:58 of the third period. However, he found the groove again for a 40-yard 3-pointer to put the visitors up 16-14 early in the fourth quarter.
Miami's final scoring drive featured one of the game's biggest plays. The RedHawks faced third and two at their own 35. After a time out, Smith slipped around the right side and sprinted the Toledo 15. Three plays later, Amos found a crease and went in from five yards out. With the PAT kick, Miami led 23-14 with just 2:41 remaining.
The Rockets rushed back down the field but were facing fourth and two. A decision was made to to for a field goal. That could make it a one-score game, albeit with less than a minute left.
Once again, the kick was blocked. However, it was picked up by a Toledo player and moved forward enough for a first down. Toledo again turned its efforts toward a touchdown, but Finn was intercepted by Yahsyn McKee in the end zone with 29 seconds left.
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.