Moments after Miami football coach Chuck Martin had taken all the blame for the RedHawks’ wild loss to archrival Cincinnati on Saturday night, fifth-year senior defensive back Heath Harding turned it all away.
“Coach wanted to take all the blame,” the Dayton Christian grad said. “But this was on all of us.
“We are one and we have to have each other’s backs.”
For most of the game, it appeared Miami was going to break Cincinnati’s 11-year stranglehold on the Victory Bell.
The RedHawks led 17-6 and their defense had kept the Bearcats out of the end zone. Then came the final three minutes.
Cincinnati scored with 2:52 remaining on a 20-yard pass to Kahlil Lewis from Hayden Moore before converting the conversion to cut the deficit to 17-14.
Cincinnati opted to kick the ball deep, and true freshman Jaylon Bester — back deep because of a late game injury to Maurice Thomas — opted to bring the ball out of the end zone and was hit at the 5.
Miami was then flagged with a delay of game penalty on third and 2 and Gus Ragland was picked off on the ensuing play by Malik Clements, who returned it 14 yards for the game-winning score.
“Everything was going to plan and then we muck it up down the stretch,” Martin said after Miami fell to 1-2. “… The game should have been in hand.
“Our hands team was a mess because we were down three guys, and Jaylon knows he shouldn’t have taken it out of the end zone, but he is a true freshman and got nervous. But we still we should have run the ball, picked up a yard and a half and won the game. It was a miscommunication with the official that cost us the game. Period. End of story.”
After the pick six, Ragland led the RedHawks 55 yards to the UC 20 with 30 seconds left. On third-and-5, Ragland’s pass in the end zone to Luke Mayock was incomplete. The officials called defensive pass interference, then picked the flag up. On fourth and goal, Ragland’s pass into the end zone fell incomplete.
“It’s an incredible program win,” Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said. “To put yourself behind the 8-ball a little bit like we did and see the guys continue to fight and scratch and claw, there was no give-up in that. There was no pouting. There were no chins down, heads down. That’s what I’m most proud of. Obviously, we came down and we made the big play at the end to stop them to win the game, but to see how they fought and how they stayed together through some adversity, again I’m proud.”
Seeing UC take a knee and celebrate with the bell — again — was tough for Harding to take.
“This was my last time to play them and it hurts,” he said. “You never put a game like this behind you, but you use it so you never feel like this again and become stronger because of it.”
Miami built a 17-6 lead despite being flagged eight penalties through the first three quarters and being outgained 226-180 by the Bearcats.
Cincinnati (2-1) got an early field goal before Miami scored the next 14 points on a 24-yard scoring pass from Ragland to Mayock and a 1-yard Kenny Young run with 9:55 left in the third.
Ragland finished 16 of 31 for 221 yards while Young had 57 yards on 18 carries.
Moore was 24 of 43 for 222 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Gerrid Doaks carried 17 times for 71 yards.
Miami travels to Central Michigan to open Mid-American Conference play next Saturday.
“We’ve got to go,” Martin said. “If you want to win the league, then we need to come back and go.
“How do we bounce back from this? We tell them they are grown men and they are going to have to scratch and crawl to get where they want to go and that starts with bouncing back next week.”
Cincinnati travels to Navy next Saturday.