MT. PLEASANT, Mich. – A win can cure all ailments and a win is what the Miami football team got as it opened Mid-American Conference play with a convincing 31-14 win at Central Michigan on Saturday.
Gus Ragland accounted for the RedHawks’ (2-2, 1-0 MAC) first three touchdowns on the day and averaged nearly 20 yards per completion while their defense posted a second half shutout to secure their first league win.
The Red and White offense showed poise early on as Ragland converted a 3rd-and-12 early on a 13-yard pass to the Miami 36. Ragland later hooked up with Gardner again, going over the top for a 34-yard gain to put MU in business in plus territory. The 75-yard scoring drive was eventually capped when Ragland scrambled six yards for a touchdown to put the RedHawks on top 7-0 just over four minutes in.
After the teams traded punts, Central Michigan drove into Miami territory on its second possession, ultimately stalling at the 30 after a pair of incomplete passes. The Chippewas attempted a 48-yard field goal from the foot of Michael Armstrong, but Joshua Allen broke through the line and blocked the attempt to keep the RedHawks on top by a touchdown.
Following the block, Miami pressed the issue downfield again with Ragland hooking up with Sam Martin on a jump ball for 22 yards to get into Central Michigan territory. A nine-yard scramble by Ragland kept the drive alive on 3rd-and-8 and a 26-yard pass to Ryan Smith got the Red and White four yards away from the end zone. Three plays later, Ragland rolled right and found Quentin Hardy for a three-yard touchdown pass to up the lead to 14-0 after one quarter.
Trailing by a couple scores, the Chippewas embarked on a 14-play drive that traveled 75 yards with Shane Morris converting a 4th-and-goal from the two on a two-yard scramble to make it 14-7 in favor of the RedHawks with 10:39 left.
Undeterred, the RedHawks answered in an instant with Ragland opening up the next drive with a 24-yard pass to Jared Murphy. Two plays later, he threaded the seam to Sam Martin, who then pulled away from the CMU secondary for a 50-yard touchdown, giving MU another two-score lead at 21-7.
Following both teams trading punts, Miami got the ball near midfield and had an interception wiped off the board due to a roughing the passer penalty, moving it to Central Michigan’s 37-yard line. Two plays later, Kenny Young made several impressive cuts to lose defenders in their tracks before scampering 31 yards to the end zone and expanding the lead to 28-7 with 2:35 left in the half.
CMU countered by taking the ball 67 yards in six plays, ultimately cutting MU’s lead to 28-14 on a 28-yard pass from Morris to Eric Cooper with just a minute left in the half. With time winding down, the RedHawks were able to drive into Chippewa territory, moving to their 35 to give Samuel Sloman a crack at a long field goal. His 53-yard try fell short and was run back to the end zone, but a personal foul on CMU wiped the play out and gave MU another try from 38 yards, but the attempt went wide right and left Miami on top by a pair of touchdowns at the break.
The RedHawk defense opened the second half forcing a pair of three and outs by the Chippewas, but were unable to take advantage of good field position and went three and out themselves on their first two possessions of the half.
Late in the third quarter, Central Michigan appeared poised to draw closer when it got to the Miami five-yard line. However, a Matt Merimee interception at the goal line set the RedHawks up near midfield and quelled that drive in its tracks. MU managed to drive into the red zone, but stalled at the 16. Sloman came on, however, to drill a 34-yard field goal and bump the lead to three possessions, 31-14, with 1:38 left in the frame on the drive set up by the Merimee pick.
The Chippewas looked to get back into it in the fourth quarter and eventually got 1st-and-goal at the eight-yard line and reached the four a play later. An incomplete pass and a run stopped for a loss created 4th-and-goal from the five, where CMU attempted a conversion. Doug Costin came up big in that spot, batting down a Morris pass and turning the ball over on downs.
A subsequent CMU drive was then stopped in its tracks when Sam Connolly intercepted a desperation toss by Morris on fourth down to seal the game away.
The RedHawks outgained the Chippewas 394-345 on the day with Ragland accounting for 217 yards through the air on 11-of-19 passing with three total touchdowns (2 passing, 1 rushing). Young added a game-high 91 yards on 14 rushes with a touchdown while Martin’s 72 yards led all MU receiving. Connolly led the Red and White with nine tackles and made the game sealing interception.
Miami wraps up non-conference play with a trip to Notre Dame on Saturday. Opening kick is at 5 p.m. and the game is televised on NBCSN.