Whoever scheduled Miami to open its Mid-American Conference season one week after the annual “Battle for the Victory Bell” grudge match with Cincinnati may have earned a gold star.
The best way for the RedHawks to put behind them their frustrating 21-17 loss to the Bearcats on Sept. 16, it seems, was to open conference play. Miami (2-2, 1-0) put together a solid, balanced effort while winning convincingly at Central Michigan, 31-14 , on Saturday.
The RedHawks did nothing special to get past the bitter defeat, fourth-year junior middle linebacker Sam Connolly said Monday.
“We made a great effort not to dwell on it,” Connolly said. “It’s a long season, and our goal is to win the Mid-American Conference, so it was easy to get excited.”
“Everybody did their jobs,” fourth-year junior tight end Nate Becker added. “We knew Central Michigan was a physical team, but we knew that if we did our jobs and had a solid game, we could overpower them, and we did.”
Redhawks coach Chuck Martin found many reasons to be “very pleased” with the win.
“We’re 1-0 (in the MAC) and tied with Ohio,” Martin said, referring to the MAC East standings. “It’s a road win, and everybody knows how hard it is to win on the road in any conference. It’s a win in a crossover game, and everybody knows how tough the other half (the MAC West) is. I’m proud of the way we responded. We responded in the right way.”
Miami’s defense limited a Central Michigan offense that had been averaging 490.3 yards per game to 345 and a passing offense that had been averaging 332.3 yards per game to 228. The RedHawks intercepted Chippewas’ fifth-year senior quarterback Shane Morris twice while the offense was turning in a turnover-free effort.
The win over the Chippewas wasn’t without its consequences. Junior middle linebacker Junior McMullen didn’t even make the trip, and junior running back-kick returner Maurice Thomas didn’t play. Senior safety Tony Reid was ejected after being flagged for targeting in the second half, which means he automatically has to sit out the first half of Miami’s game Saturday at No. 22 Notre Dame.
The 6-foot-1, 245-pound Connolly more than made up for McMullen’s absence. Connolly piled up a career-high nine tackles, including seven unassisted and one for a loss, and an interception on his way to being named on Monday the MAC East Division Defensive Player of the Week. Fourth-year junior Matt Merimee took over for Reid and logged his first career interception, returning it 47 yards to near midfield and set up a field goal to make it a three-possession game late in the third quarter.
“Continually, kids are stepping up, and we need them to continue to do that,” Martin said. “We have eight weeks left in the season. We need the kids to step up.
“We’ll see as the week progresses. There’s a chance we’ll get some kids back. There’s a chance we’ll lose some kids. Our traveling roster is 70, and it’s getting easier to make that.”
Note: Kickoff for Miami’s MAC East Division opener against Bowling Green on Oct. 7 at Yager Stadium has been scheduled for 2:30 p.m.