Scoreboard more important than stat sheet
Victory Bell takes the High Street home
By MIKE SMITH
Some coaches are celebrators; some are not.
Although often animated, Miami Head Coach Chuck Martin is part of the latter. Hence, he appeared to be one of the calmer Miami football program members following the RedHawks upset win over Cincinnati Saturday at Nippert Stadium.
Speaking to the media Monday morning, he assured everybody that he appreciated the moment. "It's probably one of the most amazing game's I've ever been associated with," Martin said. "I'm (just) not a celebrator."
The veteran coach . . .
. . . alluded to Cincinnati's long winning streak in recent times, some of which were lopsided wins and some of which turned on a few key plays. "Sixteen years is a lot of demons to exorcise," he said.
Asked about his team's confidence coming into the game," Martin said, "You have to believe, yes. Our 'believe' was insane Saturday night ... but it was realistic belief as opposed to unrealistic belief."
Based on Cincinnati's resources, personnel and what it had shown in the first two weeks, there certainly wouldn't be an easy road to defeating the Bearcats.
"They had just run the ball down Pittsburgh's throats. Nobody runs the ball down Pittsburgh's throat," Martin noted, citing 216 yards rushing by UC in a 27-21 win over Pitt the previous week.
Given the 'Cats solid run game and a dual-threat quarterback in Emory Jones, the RedHawks recipe became limiting damage.
Cincinnati did move the ball, eventually outgaining MU 538-358 and nearly doubling the RedHawks in first downs (30-16). However, that effect was deluted by two antidotes:
-- Special teams
-- Red zone defense
Of the former, Martin observed, "We were lights out on special teams." Not only did special teams send the game to overtime with a blocked field goal, it also forced the Bearcats into long drives. "Backing them up and making them go 80 yards makes a huge difference," Martin said.
Cincinnati punted just once. However, out of ten regulation time drives, four covered over 70 yards and three more were between 57 and 62 yards.
When UC did reach the RedHawk red zone, Miami's defense stiffened considerably. Ultimately, Cincinnati managed just two touchdowns, settled for field goals three times and came up empty twice.
"Our defense had the mindset that we're going to keep the points down," Martin said. "We didn't say we were going to hold them to 220 yards. . . . "We played our tails off in the red zone. We talked about having ugly stops all week."
Offensively, MU got a big boost from an early score. Quarterback Brett Gabbert found Gage Larvadain for a 79-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. Even though UC quickly matched it on the ensuing posession, Miami gained even more confidence as neither team was able to establish a multi-score lead.
Martin's vision -- complete with "ugly stops" -- was for the game to come down to the fourth quarter. When Graham Nicholson booted a 20-yard field goal, it tied the game at 24-all with 5:10 to play. Miami then appeared to force a punt, but Cincinnati faked the boot and picked up a first down. When UC picked up two more first downs, the tide seemed to be swinging.
"Until that fake punt, I thought for sure we were winning that football game," Martin recalled.
This, however, was a night for Miami magic. The RedHawks needed a big play, and special teams provided it when senior DB Yahsyn McKee streaked off the edge to block Cincinnati's field goal try with 19 seconds left.
Although Miami had never previously won an overtime game -- or defeated a Big 12 team -- Martin was confident. "I thought there's no way we're not finishing this thing off," he said.
The RedHawks scored two plays into overtime. Gabbert ran for 17 yards and then hit Joe Wilkins with an eight-yard TD pass. Cincinnati went back and forth with several penalties mixed in across both squads. With fourth-and-two at the Miami two, Emory attempted a pass, only to have McKee step in for an interception that soon sent Miami players scrambling for the Victory Bell.
Within a couple hours, the bell and players were embraced by throngs of screaming RedHawk faithful at and around Brick Street in uptown Oxford.
"It's why college sports and high school sports are so awesome," Martin said. "Kids having that moment with the bell and the street and the noise and the honking ... It was a pretty cool moment for those kids and certainly a reward for not only nine months of hard work, but for their whole life of hard work."
With the RedHawks playing their first home game this week, many MU fans will have their first chance to see the 2023 RedHawks. Although Delaware State is winless, Martin noted the Hornets will be anxious to pull off their own upset.
"We are a pretty beat up football team right now," he said. "You have a great road win, and its always hard to come back. . . . We've got to bounce back physically. We've got to bounce back mentally. We've got to bounce back emotionally and get refocused."
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.