More than eight weeks had passed since the Miami football team could sing the fight song in the locker room, but J.T. Jones still remembered the words.
“It feels great,” the fourth-year junior said Saturday after the RedHawks’ 28-13 Mid-American Conference win over Eastern Michigan at Yager Stadium. “We haven’t been able to sing it since the first game.”
Redshirt freshman running back Alonzo Smith gained 93 yards and scored a touchdown on 20 carries and true freshman quarterback Billy Bahl was 10-of-14 for 119 yards and a touchdown as the RedHawks snapped an eight-game in-season losing streak and a stretch of 11 consecutive losses against Football Championship Subdivision teams.
“We had more people making plays,” said second-year coach Chuck Martin, who wore a camouflage visor to help Miami celebrate Military Appreciation Day. “This win is huge for us. I really feel like we’re getting better. It could be rose-colored glasses, but I’m usually pretty critical.”
Smith led a rushing attack that churned out 291 yards, the most for Miami since racking up 369 in a 34-27 loss at Central Michigan in the second-last game of last season.
“It feels real good,” Smith said about snapping the losing streak. “It feels real good for the whole team.”
Miami (2-8, 1-5) enjoyed a record-setting sacks day on defense while limiting running back Darius Jackson, who was averaging 99.3 yards rushing per game, to 47 on 17 carries.
Miami’s defense maintained pressure on the Eagles’ two-headed quarterback tandem of Brogan Roback and Reginald Bell. Jones finished with a Miami single-game record four sacks less than halfway through the third quarter, and the RedHawks finished with a single-game school record nine, breaking the record of eight set in a 43-0 home win over Buffalo on Nov. 18, 1999.
“Coach Martin kept hyping that we needed more pressure,” Jones said. “That’s what we went for. We tried to cut it loose, get on the edge and get there. We feel like this league’s got a lot of mobile quarterbacks. It was a good feeling to get there, knowing that they’re pretty athletic.”
The RedHawks even were efficient penalty-wise, flagged four times for 30 yards, both marks the fewest in at least the last two seasons. Miami was not penalized in the first half.
“That was huge for us, especially on offense,” Martin said. “It’s hard for us to get 10 yards, but when you’ve got to get 15 or 20 … This gives us a chance and provides field position. When it’s second-and-nine or third-and-eight, you’ve got a chance. Third-and-15 is when a lot of turnovers happen.”
The win was Miami’s largest since beating FCS Southern Illinois, 30-14, at Yager on Sept. 8, 2012. It was the RedHawks’ largest over an FBS team since they walloped Akron, 35-3, on Nov. 3, 2011, also at Yager.
Miami gained 60 yards on the ground during an eight-play, 75-yard drive with the opening possession that was capped by redshirt freshman Gus Ragland’s nine-yard touchdown run.
True freshman Maurice Thomas set the RedHawks up to take a 14-0 lead with a 77-yard burst, Miami’s longest offensive play of the season and the longest RedHawk run since Thomas Meriwether’s 96-yard touchdown run in a 23-3 home win over Temple on Nov. 23, 2010. Smith went one yard on the next play to give Miami a 14-0 lead 33 seconds into the second quarter.
The explosive Thomas, a Talawanda High School graduate, leads Miami with 10 plays of more than 20 yards on 34 touches.
Bahl converted a fourth-and-one at EMU’s 36 with a three-yard pass to sophomore tight end Ryan Smith, then hit sophomore wide receiver Jared Murphy on a crossing pattern on the next play to give Miami a 21-0 lead with 10:25 left in the first half.
“I liked our first half,” Martin said. “We moved the ball very efficiently.”
Ragland, taking advantage of his most extensive playing time of the season, added a 12-yard touchdown pass to Murphy with 4:46 left in the third quarter, helping Miami open up a 28-10 lead and allowing the RedHawks to run the ball in the fourth quarter. Smith gained 40 yards on nine carries down the stretch.
“It was nice to be able to run the ball,” Martin said. “It made it where (EMU) didn’t have time to do anything.”
• The RedHawks wrap up their three-game home stand Saturday with a noon kickoff against Akron. The Zips (2-3, 4-5) scored 10 unanswered points after halftime to pull out a 17-13 MAC win Saturday at Massachusetts.
Akron had lost its previous two games and three of its last four before extending the Minutemen’s losing streak to five.
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