RedHawks headed back to MAC Championship game for first time since 2010

Jalen Walker and his roommates simply ran around their house.

Chuck Martin was on the phone with his wife, who was in Chicago.

For a team that had just clinched its first Mid-American Conference East Division championship and berth in the conference title game since 2010, the reaction among the Miami players and coaches was remarkably understated.

Matthew Trickett’s 44-yard field goal as time expired capped Kent State’s comeback from a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit to a 30-27 win over Buffalo on Thursday. The outcome gave the RedHawks a two-game division lead with two games to play, and since their record included wins over their two nearest rivals — Ohio and the Bulls — the tiebreaker advantage added up to the division championship.

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“We watched the whole game,” said Walker, a third-year sophomore wide receiver. “When they lined up to kick the field goal, we were on our toes on the couch. We were running around the house. Coaches were texting us.”

“I told my wife, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but this is a crazy comeback,’” Martin said. “I thought (Trickett) would make it. He’s a good kicker. I got a few nice texts. It wasn’t as crazy as you might think.”

Miami (6-4, 5-1) clinched the division championship with two games to play — against Akron (0-10, 0-6) on Wednesday at 7:30 and at West Division rival Ball State (4-5, 3-2) on Nov. 29. The RedHawks’ relatively calm celebration of their accomplishment might be traceable to a sense of businesslike confidence that grew as the wins piled up and peaked after the crucial 24-21 win at Ohio on Nov. 6.

“Since the locker room at OU, they’ve been feeling like they’re going to be MAC champs,” Martin said.

Miami hardly looked like a championship team after literally limping into the conference schedule with a 1-3 record that concluded with a 76-5 loss at Ohio State. The RedHawks trailed Buffalo, 14-3, at halftime of the MAC opener before reeling off 31 straight points on the way to a 34-20 win.

To many, that second half might be seen as the season’s turnaround point, but Walker had a different candidate. Oddly, it was the 38-16 loss at Western Michigan on Oct. 12 – or, least, the fallout.

“That was a big one because they (Buffalo) beat us last year, but I think Western Michigan was a big turnaround,” said Walker, who ranks second on the team with 16 receptions and leads with 348 receiving yards. “Coming out the bye week, we lost, but we were able to go big the next week and pick it back up.”

That was with a 27-24 win over defending MAC-champion Northern Illinois, the first of four straight conference wins that propelled the RedHawks to their satisfying division championship. The RedHawks will play the MAC West champion on Dec. 7 at noon at Ford Field in Detroit.

That could mean a rematch with Western Michigan, which owns a half-game lead over Central Michigan going into Saturday’s schedule.

Martin understandably takes pride in leading a once-proud program back to the level with which many Miami fans are familiar. Each week’s media game notes point out that Miami ranks first among MAC teams with 696 wins, 15 championships and seven bowl wins. He inherited a program that had gone 0-12 the previous season.

“It’s pretty basic,” the sixth-year coach said. “We took over a starter program. I told people we would have been better off never having played football before. It was broken. We built this thing, and we built it to last. We didn’t cut corners. We could’ve gone out and gotten a lot of transfers, but we wanted kids who want to play for Miami.

“As I’ve said before, it’s like the ‘Shawshank Redemption.’ You’ve got to have a good plan. You have to burrow through a wall with a spoon. Then you’ve got wade through two miles of manure.

“I’ve been a part of national championship teams, but nothing comes close to turning around Miami football,” he added. “We did it definitely the hard way. Nothing was set up for us. It’s awesome to be a part of. It really has been.”


Akron at Miami, 7:30 p.m., ESPNU, 980, 1450

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