College Football: Miami overcomes loss of Gabbert to win season opener

Miami fullback Zach Kahn celebrates a touchdown during Wednesday's 38-31 season-opening win over Ball State at Yager Stadium. Miami Athletics photo
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Miami fullback Zach Kahn celebrates a touchdown during Wednesday's 38-31 season-opening win over Ball State at Yager Stadium. Miami Athletics photo

Credit: Jeff Sabo

Credit: Jeff Sabo

The Covington Catholic connection of quarterback A.J. Mayer and tight end Jack Coldiron was enough for Miami to withstand the loss of Brett Gabbert – with help from Ryan McWood.

McWood, a fifth-year senior linebacker, intercepted a pass at Ball State’s 24-yard line and returned it to the 6-yard line, setting up fifth-year senior Zach Kahn’s second touchdown of the game, a 2-yard run with 10 seconds left that lifted the RedHawks to a 38-31 win on Wednesday.

Mayer came off the bench to throw three touchdown passes, two to Coldiron, as the RedHawks pulled out the win over at mostly empty Yager Stadium in a Mid-American Conferenceopener delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The third-year sophomore hadn’t thrown a pass in a game since high school, but his first career touchdown pass was a 6-yard toss to Coldiron that cut the Cardinals' lead to 21-17 with 7:20 left in the third quarter.

That play followed senior wide receiver Jack Sorenson’s diving catch of Mayer’s 5-yard pass on fourth-and-2 from Ball State 38 to keep alive Miami’s first drive of the second half.

Mayer’s second career scoring pass was a 14-yard laser to Coldiron, a redshirt freshman, in the back of the end zone under the goalpost, helping them take a 24-21 lead into the fourth quarter. That play completed a 98-yard drive.

Mayer made it three touchdown passes in three drives with a 12-yard throw to fourth-year junior wide receiver Jalen Walker with 9:48 left in regulation.

Justin Hall and Caleb Huntley each scored two touchdowns for Ball State in the teams' only inter-division game of the MAC’s six-game season.

Miami is scheduled to play at Buffalo on Tuesday. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. The Bulls, who won at Northern Illinois on Wednesday, were picked in a preseason poll of MAC media members to win the East Division.

Gabbert left the game after being sandwiched by two Ball State defenders while trying for a first down on third-and-9 play. He lay on the artificial turf for several minutes while being attended to before walking off the field under his own power and later to the RedHawks locker room with 12:33 left in the second quarter. The 2019 MAC Freshman of the Year did not return.

Ball State senior safety Bryce Cosby was penalized and disqualified for targeting.

Mayer, who played in high school at Covington (Ky.) Catholic, took over for Gabbert and threw his first career completion to fourth-year junior tight end Adam Mehelic while leading the RedHawks to a game-tying score on fifth-year senior running back Kahn’s 2-yard run with 11:03 left in the second quarter.