OXFORD, OH - One week earlier, Miami coach Shane Montgomery spoke of how his team needed to start making some big plays. At the time, he was primarily referring to his offense.
Eugene Harris Had a 44-yard Punt Return for TD / Photo: Mike Smith
Montgomerys RedHawks did turn in some big plays Saturday, but three of the biggest were on defense and special teams. Collectively, the plays helped Miami come from behind and then hold off a determined Charleston Southern University team, 38-27.
First, senior defensive lineman Joe Coniglios interception set up one Miami touchdown. Second, Eugene Harris returned a punt 44 yards for another TD near the end of the third period. Finally, Ben Bennetts 78-yard interception mid-way through the fourth quarter thwarted a key CSU drive and set Miami up for another touchdown.
The visiting Buccaneers, only the second 1-AA, or Football Championship Subdivision, team to face Miami, wasted no time in showing they were on a business trip. Kicking off to start the game, the Bucs successfully executed an onside kick.
Coach Jay Mills said his team had talked about using the onside kick if Miami started Daniel Raudabaugh at quarterback. Raudabaugh was shaken up late in the Michigan game a week earlier, but he was back at practice during the week and ready for duty Saturday.
After both teams punted to end their first possessions, Miami found it would be a day on which they would have trouble with Tribble senior quarterback Tribble Reese, who transferred to CSU from Clemson.
The trouble started when Reese connected on five passes for 42 yards during an 11-play, 64-yard drive that ended on a nine-yard TD pass from Reese to tight end Clayton Coffman. John Paglias kick made it 7-0.
Miami drove into CSU territory on its next possession, but forfeited a scoring opportunity with a fumble at the Bucs 15-yard line. Reese then guided his team 85 yards in 12 plays to pay dirt. Along the way he hit six passes for 76 yards, with the final pass going 12 yards to Gerald Stevenson. Paglias extra point try failed.
By halftime, Reese had connected on 15 of 21 passes for 135 yards with no interceptions. On the day, he threw for 257 yards, completing 26 of 40 with four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Miami's Ben Bennett heads up-field on a 78-yard interception return.
Photo: Mike Smith
Miami finally got on the board in the second quarter. After a pair of runs by Andre Bratton, Raudabaugh air-mailed a long pass, good for 49 yards, to Dustin Woods. Thomas Merriweather, a 5-10, 199-pound sophomore, went up the middle on the next play to score from four yards out. Nathan Parseghians extra point kick made it 13-7. Parseghian later converted a 22-yard field goal at 6:18 of the second period, but Charleston Southern held the lead, 13-10, at halftime.
I told our guys all week that we better be ready for anything from this team, said Montgomery, who spent eight years coaching at the 1-AA level before coming to Miami. I didnt expect those guys to come in here and lay down. I knew they would play hard.
Montgomery continued, Youve got to have a sense of urgency. I felt like we were waiting for things to happen on both sides of the ball in the first half. I challenged our guys.
Just three plays into the second half, Joe Coniglio made something happen. His juggling interception and return to the Charleston Southern one-yard line opened the door for some Miami momentum.
But while the RedHawks were able to cash in with another Merriweather touchdown. CSU came right back with two scoring drives of its own. The first was a seven-play, 80-yard scoring march. Reese, hitting four passes for a total of 45 yards, capped the drive with an 11-yard pitch to Stevenson. The successful kick gave CSU a 20-17 lead.
With some help from their hosts, the Bucs expanded the lead to 27-17 on their next possession. Miami had the ball for just three plays before turning it over with another fumble. The RedHawks had three fumbles on the afternoon and lost two of them.
Starting at its own 36-yard line, CSU moved 64 yards for another score. Reese again capped the drive with an 11-yard TD pass this time to Chris Coffman.
When weve got a chance to take that momentum, weve just got to take it. We get some momentum, and then give it back to them. We score, and then we let them go score, Montgomery said. Thats one area weve got to get better at.
Unable to get a first down on its next possession, Miami was forced to punt. Senior Jake Richardson not only boomed a 62-yard punt, but put it out of bounds at the Bucs two-yard line.
When CSU could only move two yards in three plays, it was forced to punt from its own end zone. Miamis Harris received the punt at the CSU 44, shook off a would-be tackler, and raced down the left sideline for a touchdown. Parseghians kick drew the RedHawks to within three at 27-24.
The visitors appeared poised to expand their lead again on their first possession of the fourth quarter. Starting at their own 48-yard line following an interception, they moved to the Miami 20-yard line in four plays. But when Reese tried squeeze a pass in to his receiver along the sideline, Bennett intercepted the ball and raced down the sidelines to the CSU 21.
Two plays later, Raudabaugh hit Armand Robinson with an 18-yard touchdown strike. Raudabaugh completed 19 of 30 passes for 305 yards while throwing one interception and one touchdown on the day. He credited the offensive line, which did not allow a sack despite some position changes this week due to an injury, with giving him good protection.
Merriweather, who had 74 of Miamis 102 yards rushing, scored his third touchdown on a one-yard run with 4:22 left, Parseghians kick made it 38-27 and ended scoring for the day.
I think like all well-contested games or games that are close, it comes down to mistakes, and we made a couple more mistakes, and they made a couple more plays particularly in the fourth quarter, Mills said
Montgomery, although frustrated with some aspects of his teams play, was happy to get a
win after two tough losses to start the season. It wasnt a pretty win, but we got a win, which we needed.
Miami travels to arch-rival Cincinnati next week in a battle for the Victory Bell.