New-found poise has RedHawks on the right track

There’s little doubt that, when Miami jumped offsides on a Kent State fourth-down field-goal in the first quarter of Saturday’s Mid-American Conference East Division game at Yager Stadium, many experienced RedHawk observers thought, “Here we go again.”

After all, penalties had been enough of a problem for Miami all season to have third-year coach Chuck Martin pulling out his hair. Flags against the RedHawks had reached double figures in four of their first six games.

The RedHawks shook off that ill-timed infraction, which prompted the Golden Flashes to take their three points off the board in favor of trying to score six. Senior linebacker T.J. Williams thwarted that Kent State possession with his first career interception, leaving the Golden Flashes with zero points, and Miami went on to commit just three more penalties for 23 yards in a 18-14 win – the RedHawks’ first victory of 2016.

The new-found poise didn’t go unnoticed.

“I said last week that we were better a week ago against Akron offensively, but not defensively,” Martin said on Monday during his weekly media session. “The things we were focusing on to give us a better chance to win were on display on Saturday.”

Whether Saturday’s development was a tease or another step on the road to being the kind of football team longed for by Miami fans could be revealed on Saturday when the RedHawks (1-6, 1-2 MAC) travel up Interstate 75 to face the Bowling Green Falcons (1-6, 0-3), who find themselves with Kent State and Buffalo in a position unusual for MAC East teams in recent seasons – looking up at Miami in the standings. Kickoff is scheduled for noon.

“We’re one game out of first place,” Martin beamed – bordering on crowed – on Monday. “We beat Kent, so that gives us the tiebreaker. By Saturday night, we may be tied for first place.”

The performance of quarterback Gus Ragland made Saturday’s win even more heartwarming for Martin. The third-year sophomore, who made his first career start after tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament on April 10, led Miami with 36 yards rushing while going 10-for-21 for 181 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning 55-yard swing pass to classmate Kenny Young with 1:34 left in the game, capping a comeback from a 14-3 third-quarter deficit.

Martin pointed out that Ragland, a Moeller product, was his first recruit after taking the Miami job in December 2013.

“I got the job on Friday and got him to commit on Sunday,” Martin recalled after Saturday’s game. “I remember his father asked me if I thought Gus was a Division I quarterback. I talked the coaches at St. Xavier and Elder and Colerain – teams that don’t necessarily like Moeller – and they all said they thought he was.”

The 6-foot-1, 211-pound Ragland, Miami’s third starting quarterback in three weeks after sophomore Billy Bahl and true freshman Noah Wezensky, came out of Saturday’s game relatively unscathed, Martin said.

“His knee is fine,” he said. “He’s pretty sore. You’re always sore after playing a football game, but he’s more sore than normal. You can’t take six months off and jump right in without feeling sore.”

Ragland will get his second career start on Saturday, Martin said. Left open was the status of Bahl, who made 12 consecutive starts before suffering a shoulder injury in the first half of Miami’s 17-7 loss to Ohio on Oct. 1.

“He’s getting better,” Martin said of Bahl, who was listed as Wezensky’s backup on the the RedHawks depth chart going into the Kent State game. “If we played (Monday), he would be the emergency quarterback, but we’re not playing today.”

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