Pre-game activities before Akron and Miami squared off on Tuesday in a Mid-American Conference matchup at Oxford’s Yager Stadium centered around the quarterbacks.
Fourth-year junior Gus Ragland returned to the RedHawks’ lineup after missing three games with an injury.
Senior Thomas Woodson was scratched from the visiting Zips’ lineup, suspended by coach Terry Bowden for a violation of team rules. Redshirt-freshman Kato Nelson took over for Woodson.
Once the game started, Ragland had to share the spotlight with Kenny Young. The fourth-year junior running back set career highs with nine catches, one for a touchdown, and 98 receiving yards and rushed for 100 yards on 14 carries, leading Miami to a crucial 24-14 win.
“We looked sharp offensively the whole night,” Miami coach Chuck Martin said. “We stopped the run. We played a lot of man-to-man. We might’ve played man-to-man on 50 plays. It’s a nice step in the right direction. Good teams play like that 12 weeks in a row.”
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Ragland, showing a bit of rust, threw two first-half interceptions, but he also threw for three touchdowns in the game as Miami snapped a four-game losing streak in the series against the Zips. Ragland finished 19-of-32 for 244 yards.
“I feel pretty good,” said Ragland, who had a bag of ice strapped to his left knee. “I was able to move around a little bit. I feel better than I thought I would. There were a couple of balls I didn’t need to throw, but I convinced myself that if I just kept playing my game, everything would be alright. We were able to get things clicking and come out with a (win).’
Sophomore defensive end Doug Costin, who went into the game with two career sacks, finished with three, half of the six racked up by the RedHawks’ defense.
“He’s a very dynamic player,” Costin said. “Our mindset was to keep him in front of us. The first guy probably wasn’t going to get him, so it was up to the second and third guys to finish the job.”
“Kato’s a special, special athlete,” Martin said, going back to the movie “Rocky” for a metaphor. “Our guys looked like Rocky Balboa chasing that chicken.”
Akron (5-5, 4-2 MAC East Division) went into the game tied with Ohio for first place in the East. Miami (4-6, 3-3 MAC East) went in needing to win its last three games to match last season’s 6-6 regular-season record and qualify for a bowl bid. Ohio and West Division-leading Toledo are scheduled to play Wednesday at Ohio.
Nelson helped give Akron a 7-0 lead with a seven-yard run that capped a six-play, 35-yard drive following free safety Shawn Siverstone’s interception and 41-yard return.
The RedHawks immediately responded. True freshman Jaylon Bester returned the kickoff 23 yards to the Miami 30 and Ragland completed two 19-yard passes, the second on third-and-five to Sam Martin in the end zone for a touchdown with 1:05 left in the first quarter.
The teams combined for 208 yards of total offense in the quarter.
The defenses started asserting themselves in the second quarter, which ended with Miami taking a 10-7 lead on sophomore Sam Sloman’s 28-yard field goal as time expired.
Ragland and Young connected on a 30-yard touchdown pass on second-and-10, helping the RedHawks open up a 17-7 lead with 6:45 left in the third quarter. Ragland was hit as he threw but still was able to get enough on the throw to get it to Young at the 10-yard line near the left sideline. Young twirled counter-clockwise to escape one would-be tackler and bulled through two more at the goal line for the score.
“We try to get the ball to him as much as we can,” Martin said. “Twenty-three touches is probably his max.”
The RedHawks scored on their next possession as Ragland found junior James Gardner in the end zone for a 19-yard TD with 34 seconds left in the third quarter. An official ruled the pass incomplete, but a review led to that call being reversed, giving Miami a 24-7 lead.
Miami’s defense limited the Zips to 18 yards of total offense in the third quarter.