The last time Miami finished a football season undefeated at home was 2004 when the RedHawks finished 5-0 at Yager Stadium.
The 2019 edition of Miami football matched that record, completing a 5-0 home season by squeezing out a tougher-than-expected 20-17 win over winless Akron in a Mid-American Conference East Division game on Wednesday.
Junior Jaylon Bester gained a career-high 128 yards and scored a touchdown on 21 carries and freshman linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. set program single-game records with six sacks for 45 yards as the RedHawks held on after leading, 17-3, at halftime. The previous records of four and 27 yards were set by J.T. Jones against Eastern Michigan in 2015.
“They caught us by surprise,” Bester said about Akron. “They hadn’t won a game, and we’re going to the MAC Championship game. They hit us in the mouth a couple of times.”
Miami finished with a single-game record 12 sacks, four more than the previous record of eight set against Buffalo in 1999. The sack numbers cost Akron (0-11, 0-7) 71 yards, leading to a total of five rushing yards. Zips quarterback Kato Nelson overcame the constant harassment to go 15-of-25 for 197 yards and a touchdown.
“Their quarterback’s a talented kid,” Miami coach Chuck Martin said. “He’s not fun to play, I know that.”
Miami freshman quarterback Brett Gabbert was 10-of-21 for 117 yards with two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
“We’re excited for the opportunity to get better after watching the tape of this game,” Martin said. “Credit Akron. They made plays to stay in the game. Throwing the ball was bad – really bad. We didn’t throw the ball well. That kept Akron in the game. We’re going to have a hard time beating anybody if we’re not more efficient throwing the ball.
“We’re glad we won, but it didn’t feel awesome.”
All of Pace’s six tackles were sacks, including three on Akron’s final possession. He had two on back-to-back plays for a total of 18 yards to leave the Zips facing fourth-and-31 in the last two minutes.
“The defense always works as a unit,” said third-year sophomore safety Sterling Weatherford, who led Miami with 10 tackles, seven unassisted. “If we cover long enough, the defense is going to get home. Pace stepped up, especially for a freshman.”
Neither Weatherford nor Martin believed the RedHawks suffered a letdown with having clinched the MAC East championship.
“We still had a lot to lose, like the perfect home record,” Weatherford said.
“We ran the ball well,” Martin pointed out. “When you give up a touchdown on offense, it’s going to hurt you. The kids had a good week.”
The win extends Miami’s home winning streak to eight games, dating back to a 40-39 loss to Western Michigan on September 29 of last season when Sam Sloman went wide right on a 50-yard field goal with 27 seconds to go.
Miami (7-4, 6-1), which clinched the East championship with two games to play, will wrap up the regular season at Ball State on Nov. 29. The RedHawks have a berth in the MAC Championship game against the West champion on Dec. 7 at Ford Field in Detroit.
Miami tried to inject a little spice into the game with wide receiver Jalen Walker trying a pass that was broken up. After that, the RedHawks resorted to a run-heavy attack, gaining 164 yards on 25 carries, led by Bester’s 95 on 10 carries and Shelton’s 61 on 11 attempts in the first half. Each scored a touchdown before halftime after Sloman connected on a 44-yard field goal.
The RedHawks defense sacked Nelson in the first half five times for a combined loss of 30 yards as the Zips finished the half with minus-8 yards rushing. Sophomore defensive end Kameron Butler led the onslaught with two sacks.
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