Gabbert returns from injury, but Miami falls to Western Michigan

OXFORD -- Brett Gabbert’s sooner-than-expected return was not the shot in the arm hoped for by the ailing Miami offense.

The junior quarterback started a Mid-American Conference game against Western Michigan on Saturday at Miami’s Yager Stadium in his first appearance since suffering a left (non-throwing) shoulder injury late in the season-opening loss at Kentucky on Sept. 2. He finished 21-of-38 for 222 yards despite being sacked seven times.

The 6-foot, 205-pound Gabbert also scored the RedHawks’ only touchdown on a 9-yard fourth quarter scramble to make it a one-score game, but they couldn’t complete the comeback in a  16-10 loss to the Broncos.

“It was great to be out there,” Gabbert said. “It’s fun being out there with your teammates, but I would like to have won. Western Michigan is a good team, but we’re just as good. I didn’t play well. We only scored 10 points. That’s on me.”

Miami slipped to 3-5 overall and 1-3 and fell to fifth in the MAC East Division with its third loss in the last four games. The RedHawks’ last five games all have been decided by single scores.

“Obviously disappointed,” ninth-year coach Chuck Martin said. “It’s a tough loss. That’s five weeks in a row. Every inch counts.”

The RedHawks outgained Western Michigan, 305-304, on 12 fewer plays, but they picked up only 83 yards on the ground.

“Offensively, for three quarters, we did nothing,”  Martin said. “We had a couple of chances at the end. We need to protect better. We need to run the ball better. We didn’t run the ball at all. That’s a concern.”

A Family Weekend and Senior Day crowd announced at 21,618 watched in unseasonably warm weather and a sturdy, persistent wind from the south.

The RedHawks are scheduled to MAC East-rival Akron on Saturday. Kickoff is set for noon.

Gabbert, the MAC Freshman of the Year in 2019, was cleared by his doctor to resume football activities a couple of weeks ago, but he still needed that time to get back in football shape, Martin said.

“You can’t force it, because then you’ll have to deal with something else,” the coach said.

Gabbert, on his first possession since being injured, led Miami on a 64-yard, seven-play drive that was capped by Graham Nicholson’s 23-yard field goal with 10:50 left in the first quarter.

Miami kept Western Michigan (3-5, 2-2 MAC West) off the scoreboard for most of the first half with help from junior tight end Luke Bolden’s blocked punt, but the Broncos tied the game and took the lead with field goals on their last two drives of the first half, both of which seemed to have stalled or stopped by the RedHawks’ defense.

Junior cornerback Nolan Johnson appeared to have pried the ball away from Broncos’ wide receiver Corey Crooms for first career interception before a replay review turned the play into an incomplete pass. Two plays later, sophomore defensive end Caiden Woullard sacked Western Michigan quarterback Jack Salopek for a six-yard loss on third down at the Broncos’ 38-yard line, but Woullard was whistled for a horse-collar tackle, keeping alive the drive. Freshman Palmer Domschke, who missed a 39-yard field goal try in the first quarter, capitalized with a career-long 52-yard field goal.

The RedHawks forced a punt on Western Michigan’s next possession, but freshman linebacker Camden Rogers was penalized for roughing the kicker, giving Domschke the chance to kick a 46-yard field goal as time expired.

Running back Sean Tyler helped extend the lead to 13-3, breaking free for a 20-yard touchdown run with 7:15 left in the third quarter, and Domschke added his third field goal less than three minutes later after Gabbert lost the ball while scrambling to avoid being sacked.

“Those big plays mean a lot when you only score 10 points,” Martin said. “Those three points matter.”

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