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Miami basking in glow of historic turnaround

Chuck Martin doesn’t have to apologize any more.

The third-year Miami football coach distinctly remembers the struggles he and the RedHawks faced in his first two seasons.

“We weren’t competitive against anybody who could walk and chew gum,” he said. “We couldn’t defend ourselves. I would tell other coaches after games, ‘That wasn’t even a good scrimmage for you. You didn’t have to play hard to kick our butts.’ It was ugly for two years.”

Martin was describing late Tuesday night how far Miami had come. He still was basking in the glow of the RedHawks coming from behind to edge Ball State 21-20 and complete the comeback from a 0-6 start to finish 6-6 and become bowl-eligible. Miami finished the regular season 6-2 in the Mid-American Conference East Division, tied with Ohio for first place. The Bobcats earned the division championship because they beat Miami in the conference-opener Oct. 1, but that did nothing to dull the luster of the RedHawks’ historic accomplishment.

Miami became the first team since the NCAA in 2006 started allowing teams to play 12 games in the regular season to start 0-6 and finish 6-6. The RedHawks are eligible for the 11th bowl game appearance in program history and first since the 2010 season.

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“We’re ahead of schedule,” Martin said. “It’s astonishing. It’s a pretty cool thing to be a part of.”

Sophomore quarterback Gus Ragland, who returned from knee surgery in April to start the seventh game and spark the winning streak, went 26-of-35 for a career-high 380 yards and three touchdowns. He teamed with fifth-year senior Rokeem Williams for a 36-yard score on Miami’s fourth play of the game and on a 74-yard bomb on the RedHawks’ first play of the second half. Then he threw a low pass that Williams’ classmate, Sam Shisso, scooped up like an infielder grabbing a sinking liner and turned into the game-winning touchdown with 5:44 left in the game.

Ragland now has thrown 178 career passes without an interception.

“Gus is a great competitor,” said Williams, who has three TD catches this season and nine in his career. “That’s a big part of what we’re doing. That has trickled down through the team, and he gives us an edge with his ability to throw and run the ball.”

Williams insisted that the 6-6 Miami team really wasn’t much different than the 0-6 RedHawks — and he might be right. Three of Miami’s six losses were by one score and a fourth by just 10 points, while four of the six wins were by at least 11 points.

“We were still competitive,” he said. “When we were 0-6, we were competitive. We just weren’t seeing the results. Now, we’re seeing the results.”

Fourth-year junior cornerback and Dayton Christian-product Heath Harding was all over the field defensively against the Cardinals, tying safety Tony Reid for the team lead with six solo tackles while breaking up three passes and coming up with his fourth interception. His pick in the end zone on first down from Miami’s 18-yard line stopped a Ball State threat and helped sum up Miami’s season.

“The RedHawks like to make things dramatic,” he said. “The turnaround from where we were to being bowl-eligible is surreal.”

“From being 0-12 (in 2013) to the rough start this year, there were plenty of times when we could have thrown in the towel and lost our focus,” Williams added. “Now, being 6-6 and bowl-eligible — watching it all come together, you can’t ask for a better feeling.”

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