Big plays lift Miami over Bearcats
All three phases contribute as RedHawks reclaim bell
By MIKE SMITH
CINCINNATI, OH - Miami Head Coach Chuck Martin noted that even Miami alums who don't follow the football team all that closely still want to know when it will happen. When will Miami get the Victory Bell back?
Thanks to his RedHawks' 31-24 overtime victory over Cincinnati Saturday at Nippert Stadium, Martin now has a perfect reply: "The Victory Bell IS back ... (and) it sounds good."
Cincinnati took a 16-game series winning streak into Saturday's contest, and the new Big 12 member was again a solid favorite on its home field. Final stats show the Bearcats outgained MU by 180 yards and nearly doubled the RedHawks in first downs (30-16).
"Obviously, they outgained us," Martin said. "We didn't have a lot of style (points) ... but defensively we found ways to . . .
. . . keep (quite a few) points off the board right down to the last fourth down stop."
According to Martin, the RedHawks recipe for upsetting Cincinnati included making some big plays in all phases. Offensively, MU wasted no time. On the first play from scrimmage, quarterback Brett Gabbert hit Gage Larvadain with a 70-yard touchdown pass. Martin noted the quick strike boosted his players confidence and, although UC evened the score with its own touchdown less than three minutes later, the RedHawks avoided the kind of multiple score deficits that had marked a number of recent MU vs UC matchups.
Cincinnati did go up by three with a field goal at 1:40 of the first period, but Miami reclaimed the lead with a 17-yard Gabbert to Javon Tracy pass at 9:22 of the second quarter.
The Bearcats responded with a long drive of their own and reached the Miami five-yard line. However, MU's defense stiffened and forced the hosts to settle for a 23-yard Carter Brown field goal. That left Miami in front 14-13 at intermission.
Cincinnati was able to edge back in front midway though the third period. However, the RedHawks once again limited damage by forcing a field goal after UC had driven inside the five. The Bearcats eventually finished 5 of 8 on red-zone chances, but Martin called his team's goal line defense - whether preventing any points or limiting the 'Cats to field goals - a key to the game. Cincinnati would finish the night with two TDs and three made field goals. Ultimately, the outcome would be decided in red zone plays.
"They were down there all night," Martin said. "We didn't play good defense to let them down there. But when (they) got down there, we kept fighting. It was ugly ... and our defense kept finding ways to get stops."
Now down 16-14, Miami quickly responded with a nine-play, 75-yard drive. Gabbert completed three passes along the way and scrambled to the Cincinnati one before getting shaken up on the play. He briefly left the game but returned.
Martin noted that although the junior is certainly not known as a running threat, he was able to keep several drives going by picking up first downs. In fact, final stats showed Gabbert providing 75 of MU's 121 rushing yards. "He's as competitive an athlete as I've been around," Martin observed. "He's a steely-eyed competitor. I've really enjoyed being around him this year."
Kevin Davis' one-yard touchdown run at 3:01 of the third quarter put Miami back in front 21-16. However, the Bearcats retaliated with a 17-yard run by quarterback Emory Jones early in the final period. That gave the hosts a 24-21 advantage.
The teams traded punts before Miami began its final scoring drive. Gabbert kick-started the trip with a 38-yard completion to Miles Marshall. A pass interference call against UC and a 23-yard completion to Javon Tracy also helped as MU reached the Bearcat two-yard line. This time, it was UC coming up with a stop, forcing Miami to settle for a 20-yard Graham Nicholson field goal to tie the game at 24-all.
Cincinnati's subsequent drive appeared to fizzle early, but with the 'Cats facing fourth-and-nine, Chamon Metayer took a fake put 27 yards. By the time Miami got another stop, Cincinnati was looking at fourth down and 10 from MU's 18. There were just 19 seconds left and sophomore Carter Brown, who had not missed a field goal in 2023, was set to kick a 35-yarder that would likely win the game.
"I said if we're gong to beat Cincinnati, we're going to need a game-changing special teams play," Martin recalled, adding, I said, "This is our last chance."
Senior Yahsyn McKee, who minutes earlier, made a big tackle, came through, bursting off the edge to block the field goal try. That forced overtime.
Miami got the ball first and scored in just two plays. First, Gabbert ripped off 17 yards on a run. He then found Joe Wilkins on the left edge of the end zone for an eight-yard TD. Nicholson added the PAT.
Cincinnati. meanwhile, made it to the Miami two on just two plays, the second aided by an interference call. However, the 'Cats drew their own penalty one-play later. After two runs moved UC to the one, it was again penalized. One more run put the 'Cats at the two-yard line, but facing fourth down. Jones attempted a pass. The receiver slipped and Mckee was there again -- this time for a game ending interception.
"Our kids fought like crazy tonight and ended up getting what they deserved," Martin said. The immediate reward was a rush to recover the Victory Bell. Beyond that, there's probably a niche in Miami football history. He recently told the team, "If you can be the group that wins it (the bell), people will remember you forever ... People will talk about this win for a long time, especially how it happened."
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.