Oxford, OH -- A second half comeback by the Miami RedHawks fell short Saturday as Western Kentucky posted a 31-24 win over MU on homecoming Day at Yager Stadium.
WKU (2-1) blew out Miami (0-3) last year, when it took a 49-7 lead into halftime and cruised to a 56-14 drubbing. Although Brandon Doughty, one of the top passing QBs in the FBS last year, is gone, Western Kentucky returned a very strong contingent this year.
Quarterback Mike White has picked up the gauntlet, guiding the Hilltoppers to a 2-1 start. Their only loss was a week earlier at Alabama.
White, who threw for 517 yards and three touchdowns in his WKU debut against Rice, completed 19 of 31 for 268 yards with two touchdowns and one interception against the RedHawks.
Wideout Nicholas Norris . . .
Quinton Baker helped Western Kentucky stay balanced, rushing 20 times for 119 yards and a TD.
The Hilltoppers totaled 404 yards of offense, while Miami finished with 429 yards. Most of the latter came via the pass. Sophomore Billy Bahl, who struggled mightily against the Hilltoppers and other early opponents in 2015, completed 20 of 41 with two long TDs this time around.
Bahl was also sacked seven times for 51 yards in losses. That brought the RedHawks rushing total down to 85 yards. Kenny Young led the ground game with 68 yards and Alonzo Smith added 30 yards against a very formidable defensive front. Miami head coach Chuck Martin noted even Alabama found the going against WKU tough at times.
Western Kentucky finally broke through in the second quarter, covering 63 yards in 11 plays, The biggest play came with WKU facing a third and long. White found Norris on a 32-yard pickup to the Miami two-yard line. Baker ran it in on the next play.
Special teams, a strong point for the Hilltoppers all day, provided the next score. Bahl was sacked on the first play of Miami’s next drive. Three plays later MU punted. Nacarius Fant fielded the boot and took it back 48 yards for a touchdown with 3:10 remaining before halftime.
Maurice Thomas’s 36-yard return return, coupled with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the play, gave Miami good field position following the kickoff. Bahl hit Jared Murphy with a 14-yard pass on the first play, and MU was already at the Hilltoppers 15. Miami, however, could get no closer than the 11 and settled for Nick Dowd’s 30-yard field goal to make it a 14-3 game.
With its back against the wall, Miami’s defense stiffened. When it got to fourth and goal at the one, WKU elected to go for the touchdown. White was stood up by the defensive line, and MU dodged bullet as time expired.
Western Kentucky resumed its scoring after intermission. Ryan Nuss kicked a 26-yard field goal at 9:42 and White hit Norris over the middle for a 53-yard TD on the next possession. That put the visitors in control with a 24-3 advantage at 7:46 of the third period.
Miami, missing receivers Chris Hudson (gone for the year) and Rokeem Williams (out for at least Saturday), managed to get its passing game going late in the period. Bahl hit James Gardner three times and Sam Shisso over the middle for 11 yards to reach the Hilltoppers nine yard line. Two plays later, unable to find an open receiver, Bahl tucked the ball and ran in for a nine-yard TD.
After a Western Kentucky punt, Miami squeezed in another touchdown thanks to a big play. Bahl threw one incompletion before lofting a long pass down the left side. A defender batted the ball, but it bounded upward. Gardner stayed with the bounce, grabbing it from the air and racing into the end zone for a 70-yard scoring play as the quarter ended.
Thanks to a 24-yard kickoff return, WKU started at its own 45. Three plays later, White hit Taylor for 36 yards and a touchdown, expanding the visitors lead to 31-17.
Miami drove 59 yards on its next possession, reaching the Western 15 before losing the ball on downs with 8:56 left.
MU got the ball twice more. The first drive barely crossed midfield, while the next started at Miami’s 49 with 3:45 left. Bahl hit Murphy for a first down at the Hilltoppers’ 38 and the quarterback added 11 more on a run.
Two sacks and an incompletion left Miami facing a 4th and 24. Bahl scrambled out of trouble once before lofting a Hail Mary to the right side of the end zone. When it bounced off one group of players, Sam Martin reached out to pull in the pass for a touchdown.
Dowd’s PAT brought Miami back to within seven points with 1:17 left, but the RedHawks were out of time outs. Sam Sloman’s onside kick attempt was recovered by the Hilltoppers’ Taylor, and WKU ran out the clock.