Fewer than 48 hours had passed since Miami suffered what football coach Chuck Martin described on Monday morning as an “excruciating defeat” – the RedHawks’ heartbreaking 21-17 loss to archrival Cincinnati in the 122nd “Battle for the Victory Bell” on Saturday at Yager Stadium.
The question facing Martin and Miami is how to handle the sick feeling they have in their stomachs – strong enough, the fourth-year coach said, to almost make them vomit.
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From his point of view, they have four choices. The first three are undesirable – not caring, blaming others or playing “woe is me.”
“None of those three get anything done,” Martin said. “You can’t just move on. This is too important.”
The fourth coping mechanism? Every single person involved asking themselves, “What can I do that I could’ve done better?
“This isn’t going to leave us for a long time,” Martin said. “You’ve got to care. It’s got to hurt. It’s got to hurt bad. This is where it comes down to who you are and what you believe in.”
The RedHawks don’t have much time to determine their approach. They will open their Mid-American Conference season on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Central Michigan, and Martin knows the 2-1 Chippewas aren’t going to be feeling sorry for Miami – especially after losing, 37-17, to the RedHawks in Oxford last season.
“Central Michigan could give two you-know-whats about how we feel,” Martin said Monday. “They’re going to be wanting payback for maybe taking us lightly last year.”
Besides the stomach issues, Martin also was having trouble shaking the incredible letdown produced by the last three minutes on Saturday, when the Bearcats capitalized on an improbable series of Miami mistakes by almost every part of the team – from coaches to special teams, from seniors to freshmen – to score two touchdowns and pull out their 12th consecutive win in the series before a large, festive crowd of 21,811.
“It was a big day, from noon on,” he said. “That was an incredible crowd – not like anything Yager has seen in quite some time. We had a hundred recruits, and for them to see that environment was incredible. From 9 a.m. on, it was an incredible day until about 10:56 (p.m.). We played really bad for the last four minutes, unlike the first 56 minutes. We made some huge mistakes down the stretch to let it get away.
“We planned on the game being low-scoring. UC’s defense has been playing pretty well, and we knew it was going to be hard to carve out a running game.”
Miami’s offense was hampered by the absence of fourth-year junior running back Alonzo Smith, the team’s leading rusher, and the limited availability of junior wide receiver James Gardner, fourth-year junior quarterback Gus Ragland’s favorite target.
The ground and kickoff return games also were stymied by the loss during the game of junior Maurice Thomas. Replacements such as third-year sophomore wide receiver Luke Mayock, who caught four passes for 74 yards and a touchdown, and other second-tier players forced on to the field by various nicks and dings played well enough to win, Martin said.
“They should’ve been able to enjoy being involved in a win with half the football team down,” Martin said.
Smith, Gardner and Thomas all occupy their usual places on Miami’s depth chart for this week’s game, but actually playing still was undecided, Martin said.