Miami QB Smith shines in first career start

RedHawks handle Robert Morris 31-14 in home opener

OXFORD -- Aveon Smith’s first career college start wasn’t too big for him.

Smith, playing in place of injured junior quarterback Brett Gabbert, went 14-of-22 for 155 yards and the first three touchdowns of his career in a 31-14 win over Football Championship Subdivision Robert Morris on Saturday in the home opener at Yager Stadium.

The  6-foot-1, 203-pound redshirt freshman threw two touchdown passes to fifth-year senior wide receiver Mac Hippenhaer before giving way to redshirt freshman Henry Hesson, who logged the first completions of his career.

“It’s been three years since I really competed,” Smith said. “It was a great game to start with.”

Smith became the first Miami quarterback to throw at least three touchdown passes in his first career start since Andrew Hendrix in  2014.

“It was a good start,” RedHawks coach Chuck Martin said. “Aveon did some good things. He looked confident. He looked like the guy out there. He looked comfortable. He played the game the way it’s supposed to be played.

“I was as curious as everybody else,” Martin added. “I’m a big believer that when the lights go on, you know.

“Henry made some nice decisions, too. He looked comfortable.”

The Colonials connected on a 79-yard pass play down to the Miami 1-yard line on their second play of the game and took an early 7-3 lead.

“They hit us with sort of a trick play,” sophomore cornerback John Saunders Jr. said. “After that, we were like, ‘We’ve got to be ready. We’ve got stay deep and keep them in front of us.”

“Bad eyes,” Martin said. “After that, the defense was solid all night.”

Miami limited the Colonials to 49 rushing yards while generating 216 on the ground and a total of 408.

The RedHawks took the lead for good on Smith’s 17-yard touchdown pass to junior tight end and former linebacker Luke Bolden with 3:42 left in the first quarter. The catch and touchdown were the firsts of Bolden’s career.

The score followed Smith’s 6-yard pass to senior wide receiver Jalen Walker on fourth-and-2 at the Robert Morris 38-yard line.

Miami capitalized on two interceptions to score two more touchdowns in the second quarter. Saunders logged his fourth career interception and Smith found Hippenhammer in the right corner of the end zone for a touchdown with 12:37 left in the quarter.

Hippenhammer used a two-handed shove to create separation from the defensive back.

Saunders, Smith’s roommate also had a diving, open-field pass breakup at Miami’s 15-yard line early in the third quarter.

“He shouldn’t have been behind me,” Saunders said. “I should have been over the top. I shouldn’t have had to dive. It did feel good, though.”

McWood followed with his second career interception and Keyon Mozee went 1 yard on third down for a touchdown with 2:29 left before halftime.

Davis had a single-game career-high 63 yards rushing on just five carries by halftime, helping Miami build a 99-33 advantage in rushing yards and a 24-7 lead. The sophomore’s previous career high was 56 yards last November 27 at Kent State.

Smith scrambled 26 yards to the Colonials’ 25-yard line on third to keep alive a drive that ended with his second touchdown pass of the game to Hippenhammer, an 18-yard throw with 9:47 left in the game.

Robert Morris added a touchdown with 19 seconds left following Kevin Davis’s muff of a Colonials punt.

“They scored on our backups, which leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” Martin said. “I must be getting old. Time was, I would have had a conniption fit on the sideline. I was having one inside.”

NOTES: Sophomore Dom Dzioban’s 67-yard punt with 14:21 left in second quarter was a career high. … True freshman wide receiver Reginald Virgil and redshirt freshman tight end Scotty Nieman both recorded their first career receptions. … The RedHawks will meet arch-rival Cincinnati in the annual “Victory Bell” grudge match at noon Saturday at the Cincinnati Bengals’ Paycor Stadium.

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