Miami (Oh.) beats Toledo to win MAC championship
Published 10:06 pm Saturday, December 2, 2023
DETROIT (AP) — Rashad Amos ran for two touchdowns, Graham Nicholson kicked three field goals and Miami (Ohio) beat No. 23 Toledo 23-14 in the Mid-American Conference championship game Saturday.
The RedHawks (11-2) last won the MAC title in 2019 when they beat Central Michigan. It’s the first time since 2003 that Miami has won 11 games in a season.
The Rockets (11-2) were attempting to become the first Toledo team to win 12 straight games since 1971.
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Following a 40-yard field goal by Nicholson at the start of the third quarter, Dequan Finn gave Toledo its only lead of the game with a 3-yard run. Nicholson put Miami in front for good, 16-14, at the beginning of the fourth quarter when he made another 40-yarder, and Amos sealed the win when he ran 10 yards for a touchdown with 2:41 left.
“The whole game the defense was phenomenal and special teams set up field position all day,” Miami coach Chuck Martin said. “Up until that last drive, we had done just enough on offense to be right where we wanted to be.”
It’s the second MAC title for Martin and the 17th all-time for the RedHawks, who were playing without starting quarterback Brett Gabbert. He suffered a season-ending right leg injury in Miami’s loss to Toledo on Oct. 21. Gabbert’s replacement, Aveon Smith, had 109 yards passing and 99 yards rushing Saturday and set up the final score with his 50-yard run with about three minutes left.
“Right after Brett going down, it was a huge loss,” Smith said. “You prepare for moments to play but not under circumstances like that. It was tough on us as a team. So I’m fortunate to get it done.
“This is pretty special. We got it done for him (Gabbert) for sure.”
Miami took a 10-0 lead on a 1-yard run by Amos that was set up by a targeting call against Kiel Eldridge, who hit Smith on third-and-13 from the Toledo 16 with 1:25 left in the first quarter.
Toledo scored 9 seconds before halftime on Finn’s 13-yard pass to Anthony Torres. The pair also connected on the 2-point conversion to pull the Rockets within two.
“The rhythm of the game never got going,” Toledo coach Jason Candle said. “We would get ourselves ahead of the sticks. We’d get a costly penalty to push us back. When you’re behind the sticks and you’re in a long yardage situation, advantage defense.”
Nicholson, who has made a field goal in all 13 games this season, saw his streak of 25 straight field goals end when his 48-yard try was wide left with 5:58 left in the third quarter. It was the first miss all season for the MAC Special Teams Player of the Year. Nicholson is a finalist for Lou Groza Award, which recognizes the nation’s top kicker.
Miami’s defense held Toledo’s Peny Boone in check for most of the game. He finished with 41 yards rushing. The junior now has 1,400 rushing yards and moved into a tie for ninth on Toledo’s single-season rushing list with Bryant Koback. Boone came in averaging 113 yards per game.
SPECIAL SPECIAL TEAMS
Miami’s special teams have been among the best in the country this year. In addition to Nicholson’s solid day, Austin Ertl blocked two field goals and Alec Bevelhimer averaged 46.8 yards on six punts.
“I thought that certainly impacted the game,” Candle said. “That’s a very good special teams unit that we played today. They’re going to put pressure on you.”
The Rockets and RedHawks find out their bowl destinations Sunday. The MAC has six bowl-eligible teams, but the conference champion does not automatically qualify for a specific bowl.