Miami’s Brett Gabbert threw an interception on the first play of Wednesday’s Mid-American Conference game against Bowling Green.
It got better from there for the RedHawks.
Mike Brown’s 76-yard interception return for a touchdown sparked Miami’s 37-point first half and the RedHawks became bowl eligible with a 44-3 whomping of Bowling Green at Yager Stadium.
“It was fun not to have to sweat one out,” Miami coach Chuck Martin said.
Junior running back Jaylon Bester scored two touchdowns and Gabbert threw three touchdown passes, two in the second quarter, as Miami (6-4, 5-1) took a 1-1/2 game lead over Buffalo and two-game lead over Ohio in the MAC East with two games to play. The Bulls are scheduled to play at Kent State tonight, and a Buffalo loss clinches Miami’s division championship and a berth in the MAC Championship Game on Dec. 7 at Ford Field in Detroit.
With wins over Buffalo and Ohio, the RedHawks own the tiebreak advantage over their two nearest competitors in the division. Miami will close out its home season with a 7:30 p.m. game against winless Akron next Wednesday before closing out the regular season at Ball State on Nov. 29.
“I’ll certainly be rooting for Kent, no doubt,” Martin said. “I said it at halftime. ‘Let’s go, Flashes.’ We’re excited about next week. It’s better being at home. Everything is easier at home. The schedule worked out perfectly. The two games we have to win are at home.”
Wednesday’s win was Miami’s fourth straight, its longest win streak since winning six straight in 2015 – the last season the RedHawks went to a bowl game.
The winning margin matched a 54-13 win over Buffalo in 2005,Miami’s widest since a 49-0 win over Indiana State on Aug. 28, 2002, as the RedHawks clearly avoided any semblance of a letdown after a huge win at Ohio. The win was Miami’s biggest in the series with the Falcons since a 54-6 win in 1950.
“I was probably more nervous than I’ve been all year,” Martin said. “Part of it was waiting around all day. As the day went on, I was less nervous as I thought about our kids.”
The teams combined for just six penalties for 40 yards. Miami committed just two for 15 yards.
Gabbert bounced back from that first-play turnover and later fumbling while being sacked to complete six straight passes for 167 yards, including a 35-yard scoring pass to fourth-year junior tight end Andrew Homer and a 60-yard strike to third-year sophomore wide receiver Jalen Walker during Miami’s four-touchdown second quarter.
The freshman quarterback started the game 1-for-7 for six yards.
“I wouldn’t say anything changed,” Gabbert said. “We finally woke up. Obviously, it wasn’t a great start. I think the pick might’ve woke us up, I think we played well overall.”
Bester converted senior nickel back Travion Banks’ first of two interceptions in the game – filling in for the injured Brown, who left after two series – by leaping over the lines for a 1-yard touchdown and followed up by breaking free for a 59-yard score to close out the explosive second quarter. Miami piled up 255 yards of total offense in the second quarter.
“We scored three touchdowns in five minutes,” Martin said. “All you heard was ‘Extra point team, extra point team.’ Every time you looked up, somebody else was making a play.”
Brown made his third interception of the season as Bowling Green went for it on fourth down following Gabbert’s interception. Banks’s interception also was his third of the season.
The half was Miami’s second-most prolific of the season. The RedHawks scored 41 in their 48-17 win over Tennessee Tech in Week 2.
Gabbert also added a 5-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Quentin Hardy with 5:58 left in the third quarter. The touchdown catch was the second of Hardy’s career. Gabbert finished 9-of-15 for 225 yards.
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