OXFORD -- Living up to preseason expectations became an uphill battle for Miami’s football team on Saturday.
The RedHawks, picked to win the Mid-American Conference East Division championship in a preseason poll of conference coaches, fell to 2-3 overall after dropping their MAC opener at Buffalo, 24-20, on a last-minute Bulls touchdown pass.
The loss left ninth-year Miami coach Chuck Martin regretting missed opportunities.
“Obviously, it was a gut-wrenching loss,” Martin said during Monday’s weekly media session. “We were in position to win on the road. We came from behind in the second half. We had opportunities to extend the lead and we didn’t do it. We didn’t execute defensively during the last drive. We won the turnover battle, but the only turnover we had cost us. We made critical errors in our red zone offense.
“They made plays that got us in the end.”
Led by redshirt-freshman quarterback Aveon Smith, the RedHawks took a 20-17 lead into the fourth quarter. The 6-foot-1, 203-pound Smith, the starter since junior Brett Gabbert suffered a season-ending injury late in the season-opening loss at Kentucky, put together his best game, going 14-of-26 for 119 yards with one interception and scoring touchdowns on runs of 73 and three yards while gaining 142 yards on the ground.
The Bulls made the most of Smith’s only miscue, scoring a touchdown after picking off a second quarter pass and returning it to Miami’s two-yard line and getting the ball on the one-yard line after the RedHawks were penalized for what the officials judged was an illegal block below the waist – by Smith.
“I liked the way he competed,” Martin said about Smith. “He competed his tail off. He put us in position to win the game.”
Junior cornerback Yahsyn McKee came up with an interception and redshirt-sophomore defensive tackle Kobe Hilton recovered a Buffalo fumble, but the takeaways weren’t enough for Miami to overcome 11 penalties that cost the RedHawks 96 yards. Buffalo was flagged three times for 36 yards.
The RedHawks also were called for being offside as Buffalo kicked a field goal that tied the game, 20-20, with 46 seconds left in regulation. The Bulls elected to take the points off the board and were rewarded with the game-winning touchdown.
“I felt like the kids played hard,” Martin said. “I felt like we played good enough to win. We had some critical errors. We moved the ball well enough to generate points. We just have to execute in key situations.
“We’re in a good place. We know who we are.”
The RedHawks are tied with Ohio and Akron for fourth place in six-team MAC East. Six of the MAC’s 12 teams are 0-1 after the first full weekend of conference games. Buffalo leads the East with a 2-0 record.
Sophomore Dominic Nardone was credited with 10 tackles, one solo, while filling in for seventh-year senior Ryan McWood, who underwent surgery on the hand he broke in Miami’s win at Northwestern on Sept. 24. Nardone is listed as the starter for Saturday’s game against Kent State (2-3, 1-0) at Yager Stadium, but Martin expects McWood to return. McWood had a cast put on his hand and returned to the Northwestern game.
“He’ll be looked at (Tuesday), but I think he’ll be good to go this week,” the coach said.
Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. for Saturday’s game, Miami’s second on its home turf in six games and first since a 31-14 win over Football Championship Subdivision Robert Morris on Sept. 10.
Kent State at Miami, 3:30 p.m., ESPN+, 980, 95.7