‘It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had’ — RedHawks reflect on Victory Bell-win over UC

OXFORD — Between the congratulatory texts and calls from Miami alumni, former RedHawk teammates and friends and the raucous Uptown Oxford greeting the team saw and heard after returning early Sunday morning, senior defensive tackle Austin Ertl is pretty sure he’ll never forget the aftermath of his team’s watershed 31-24 “Battle for the Victory Bell” win at Cincinnati on Saturday.

“It was even bigger than after we returned after winning the (Mid-American Conference) championship in 2019,” he said Monday . “It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had.”

Fifth-year senior wide receiver Joe Wilkins Jr. had an extra reason to celebrate the win. The transfer from Notre Dame caught the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime from fifth-year junior quarterback Brett Gabbert. While he totally got the intensity of the rivalry, he considered the win payback for the Bearcats going into Notre Dame Stadium and beating the Fighting Irish in 2022.

“The atmosphere in the locker room was amazing,” he said. “The guys were jumping around. The bell was ringing. Trophy games are always big, but it was a personal game for me, too. Cincinnati took our season away at Notre Dame. I feel like I got two birds with one stone.”

Tenth-year Miami coach Chuck Martin’s celebration of his first career win over the Bearcats and the end of a 16-game losing streak in the series was a bit more understated.

“My phone blew up a little more than normal, but fortunately for me, I don’t have many friends,” he said with a coy smile. “My wife keeps telling me that. I say, ‘I have friends,” and she says. ‘No, those are my friends.’ I live under a rock. I’m a recluse.

“Boo Radley and I have a lot in common.”

Radley is a central character in the novel and movie “To Kill A Mockingbird,” even though he doesn’t say a word and, in the movie, viewers don’t even see him until the last few minutes.

Miami is 2-1 for the first time since winning the 2019 MAC championship and the GoDaddy.com Bowl in Michael Haywood’s second and last season as coach. The RedHawks play 0-3 Delaware State, a Football Championship Subdivision team, Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in their home opener at Yager Stadium. It’s Miami first chance at going 3-1 since the Ben Roethlisberger-led 2003 team finished 13-1 with MAC and GMAC Bowl championships under the late Terry Hoeppner.

Miami pulled in two undisputed MAC East Division Player of the Week awards and one shared honor on Monday.

Gabbert was named Offensive Player of the Week after completing 12 passes for 237 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for a career-best 75 yards.

Junior punter Alec Bevelhimer averaged 52.0 yards on four punts on the way to being named Special Teams Player of the Week. Two punts sailed 60-plus yards, including a career-best 63 yarder. He downed three kicks inside the Bearcats’ 20-yard line and allowed no return yards.

“We knew we had to be good on special teams,” Martin said. “Making them go 80 yards just to get into the red zone was a huge difference. We needed game-changing plays.”

Redshirt-junior linebacker Matt Salopek shared the Defensive Player of the Week Award with Ohio University linebacker Bryce Houston. Houston played a key role in Ohio’s gritty 10-7 home win over Iowa State — like Cincinnati, a Big 12 team. Salopek piled up a career-high 18 tackles to lead a defense that allowed just 24 points on eight Cincinnati trips into the red zone.

“We talked all week about making ugly stops,” Martin said. “Our defensive mindset was to keep the points down.”

“Our defensive mindset was bend-but-don’t-break,” Ertl said. “We practiced our goal-line defense all week.”

“A couple times I thought we were there and just didn’t get in,” first-year Cincinnati coach Scott Satterfield said after the game. “We didn’t do a whole lot down there. I thought they (Miami) did a really nice job up front. Their linebackers were playing downhill to stop the run game. We couldn’t spit any out into the endzone.”

Martin, who played college football from 1986 through 1990 and started his coaching career in 1992, still was shaking his head over the entire experience.

“There were 47,000 ebbs and flows,” he said. “That’s the most amazing game I’ve ever been a part of. It was over the top. Were we good enough to beat UC? Yes. Were we better than UC? No, but we found a way.”


Delaware State at Miami, 3:30 p.m., ESPN+, 980, 1450

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