Miami’s second half at Ball State on Friday left football coach Chuck Martin feeling a little squeamish on the bus ride home.
The RedHawks went into halftime leading the Cardinals, 27-14. They went into the final whistle losing, 41-27, after being outscored, 27-0, in the second half.
“Sports are weird,” the sixth-year Miami coach said during Monday’s weekly media session. “Football is weird. We played a great first half in all three phases. We couldn’t have felt any better at halftime. Our second half was our worst half since the first quarter against Buffalo (in the Mid-American Conference opener).”
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Wide receiver Jack Sorenson admitted that clinching the Mid-American Conference East Division championship with two games to play allowed some complacency to creep into the Miami football program.
“I think the loss to Ball State was an eye opener,” the fourth-year junior said. “I think some complacency had set it. It was a great learning opportunity. We lost a game that, in our minds, we should have won.
“We had some injuries, but that’s no excuse. We’ve won games with guys out. It was a wake-up call.”
Sorenson’s classmate, cornerback Emmanuel Rugamba, agreed, but for a different reason.
“I wouldn’t say it was a wake-up call about complacency,” he said. “It was a wake-up call about if you don’t do your job, anything can happen.”
Martin pointed out that Ball State (5-7, 4-4) had something to do with Miami’s loss.
“They’re as good as anybody in the league,” he said. “They had Central Michigan down 17 points in the third quarter before letting them come back, but we didn’t play as well as we’re capable of playing.”
The good news for Miami (7-5, 6-2) is the loss didn’t impact the team’s berth in the MAC Championship Game. The RedHawks will face Central Michigan (8-4, 6-2) on Saturday at noon in Detroit’s domed Ford Field. Miami’s appearance in the title game is its fifth overall and first since beating Northern Illinois in 2010. The record includes a 35-10 loss to the Chippewas in 2007. The RedHawks are 2-2 in MAC Championship games.
Miami hopes to have true freshman quarterback Brett Gabbert back to face the Chippewas after he missed the second half against Ball State.
“He was banged up at the end of the first half,” Martin said of Gabbert, who’d started every game this season and became the first true freshman quarterback in program history to open the season as the starter. “People thought we were resting him. We weren’t resting him. If we wanted to rest him, he wouldn’t have played the first half. It’s more than probable he’ll play on Saturday. He has a little work to do, but everybody has a little work to do in Week 13. We’re more than optimistic he’ll play on Saturday.”
Sorenson anticipated that Miami will stick as close as possible to its normal routine while trying to keep from getting too amped up for the championship game.
“That will keep us grounded,” he said.
Still, the players were looking forward to playing on a National Football League field most of them had seen only on television. Four RedHawks – senior linebacker Kobe Burse, junior safety Mike Brown, fourth-year junior linebacker Ryan McWood and freshman defensive back Ja’Von Kimpson – all played high school state championship games at Ford Field, the home of the Detroit Lions. Brown, McWood and Kimpson all played on winning teams.
Rugamba is happy to be back playing for a championship. The last time was as a sophomore at Naperville (Ill.) Central High School. His team won the state title.
“I’ve got a streak to maintain,” the Iowa transfer said.
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