by MIKE SMITH
OXFORD, OH -- It took one of the wildest comebacks in losing streak history, but the Miami RedHawks emerged as 42-41 victors over UMass Saturday. With the win, Miami ends its Football Bowl Subdivision-longest losing streak at 21 losses. The Minutemen, who also entered the contest without a 2014 victory to their credit, once again came up short – by one point and several yards to be precise.
Few, if anybody, present could have predicted such a close finish after UMass raced out to a 41-14 lead with two minutes remaining before halftime. Miami, however, scored one touchdown before halftime and added three more in the second half while holding the previously unstoppable Minutemen scoreless the rest of the way.
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Miami’s final touchdown followed one of several UMass turnovers in the final stanza. Quarterback Andrew Hendrix took it in on a sneak with 2:58 remaining. Kaleb Patterson’s PAT kick put MU out front for the first time in the game, 42-41.
Sophomore DB Heath Harding, however, picked Frohnapfel off six plays into the ensuing drive.
Things looked good for the RedHawks, but they were unable to pick up a first down and punted into the end zone. That gave the Minutemen a final drive with 1:13 left.
Miami momentarily appeared to halt that drive, but a pass interference penalty kept UMass moving. Frohnapfel completed passes of 25 yards (Tajae Sharpe) and 26 yards (Rodney Mills) to put UMass, which was out of timeouts, on the Miami six yard line.
A mere three seconds remained, and many assumed Frohnapfel would spike the snap as soon as the official put it in play. Instead, he stood up and threw a pass to Shadrach Abrokwah in the right flat. Junior linebacker Joe Donlin sprinted to the sideline in time to tackle Abrokwah short of the goal.
With time expired, the entire Miami team, coaches and staff poured on the field to celebrate a win and the end of a streak. Band, cheerleaders and others followed.
Miami head coach Chuck Martin said coaches were anticipating a regular play and tried to get word to the defense. Some might have heard the warning, while others did not.
"You just really take it one play at a time at that point, because everything is happening so fast," MU linebacker Kent Kern said. "I didn’t even really know how much time was left on the clock, because they were running the hurry up (offense). I think we thought they were going to spike it, so some people weren’t even really ready for a play. But Joe Donlan made an unbelievable play."
" I wanted to sing the fight song so bad, it was good to finally be able to do it," said Harding, a sophomore who enjoyed his first win as a RedHawk. "We all know what we are capable of, and obviously the results haven’t been showing that every Saturday. But we knew (if) we keep coming out there and keep fighting, keep grinding, keep getting better each week, it (the win) was going to come eventually and this week was the week."
Both teams played far from perfect football, although UMass looked close to the part for one half.
1. Second half defense. MU not only kept the Minutemen off the board, it created – and capitalized on – UMass turnovers.
2. Senior quarterback Andrew Hendrix. The former Notre Dame backup who hails from nearby Cincinnati – not only provided his considerable skills, but also the confidence and leadership that was necessary to seemingly bring a team back from beyond the abyss. Hendrix finished with 528 yards of total offense, the second highest single game total in Miami history. Along the way, he completed 32 of 58 passes with no interceptions and four touchdowns. He also rushed for one TD, which set up Patterson’s game-winning PAT.
3. Wide Receiver Sam Martin. The 6-3 freshman from Colorado filled in for injured senior standout Dawan Scott on third down packages and made the most of it. He went from three catches on the season to four touchdown catches in one game – tying a Miami receiving record set by Andy Schilling back in 1986.
Hendrix noted Martin's work against Buffalo the previous week showed up on film reviews. "He’s consistently beating his guys," Hendrix said, "So this week, we decided he was going to be a guy that we were going to go to, because he just has so many physical assets. He’s big, he’s sneaky fast and he has ridiculously good hands. ... Did we think it was going to be four touchdowns? No, but the ball went his way and he made great plays."
Martin had eight catches for 111 yards overall. Rokeem Williams registered six receptions for 133 yards.
Tajae Sharpe was the leading Minutemen receiver, pulling in nine catches for 154 yards, but no TDs. Registering touchdown receptions were Jean Sifrin, Rodney Mills, Markin Michel and Abrokwah.
With each team shining in one half, they ended up remarkably close on both the scoreboard and stats. Miami totaled 557 yards to 554 for the visitors. UMass had one more first down (32-31).
Ultimately, turnovers hurt UMass, who totaled four. Miami had just one – a fumble on a kickoff return. It also allowed a kickoff return for a TD.
UMass scored touchdowns on every possession in the first half except for one drive short-circuited by a fumble on the 10th play.
By contrast, its second half drives were: punt, punt, lost on downs, interception, fumble, interception and end of game.
"We were pretty down at the end of the first half, especially toward the end of the second quarter. We came in (and) our coaches made some adjustments at halftime," Kern said. "We just said we are not going to look at the scoreboard for the rest of the game. We’re just going to go out there and play every series like we’ve got to get a stop"
Michel’s 18-yard reception opened scoring at 9:31 of the first quarter. Abrokwah tallied on a three-yard pass at 2:55.
Miami got on the board with 13:15 remaining in the second quarter on a 30-yard Martin reception.
UMass responded immediately when Khary Bailey-Smith took the kickoff up the left sideline for a 93-yard TD return.
Hendrix found Martin again for five-yard TD at 11:42, but the visitors tallied three straight touchdowns – two on passes (Silfrin, seven yards and Mills, seven yards). However, Blake Lucas’ PAT attempt on the latter went wide right, and that proved to be decisive miss.
Abrokwah’s six-yard scamper with two minutes left in the second period put UMass out in front, 41-14.
It appeared the route was on, but Hendrix managed to drive MU back down the field for a 19-yard scoring pass to Martin with 46 seconds left before intermission.
While the RedHawks defense made some specific changes, Hendrix indicated Miami’s offense stayed with its plan, feeling that it could continue to put points on the board.
"We cleaned up some protections stuff and they ran some linebackers to different areas than we really hadn’t planned. But overall, we liked how we played in the first half … (except) we were shooting ourselves in the foot. We had some penalties. We were going backwards. We cleaned all that up and all of a sudden we had a pretty potent offense in the second half.
After the MU defense stopped the UMass blitz, Murphy scored on a three-yard run at 2:33 of the third. Martin’s final TD catch of the day – a 16-yarder at 6:16 drew Miami to within a score at 41-35.
Three plays into the Minutemen’s next possession, redshirt junior linebacker Tre Clifton jarred the ball loose on an Abrokwah run. Jarrell Jones recovered.
Hendrix immediately went to Martin for 21 yards and followed that with a 13-yard strike to Williams. A 10-yard pass to Ryan Smith put MU at the visitor’s one. After McInnis failed to gain on a carry, Hendrix ducked in for the touchdown. When Patterson drilled the extra point, Miami had the lead.
"There is no way we were not gonna score. I can assure you that," Hendrix said.
Hardings interception thwarted the next UMass drive and the Minutemen came up short on their final possession.