OXFORD — Despite a pair of miraculous touchdown catches and three forced turnovers, the Miami University football team came up short on Homecoming, falling 31-24 to Western Kentucky University on Saturday afternoon at Yager Stadium.
The RedHawks (0-3) outgained the Hilltoppers with 424 yards of total offense and held possession for over 35 minutes. Sophomore quarterback Billy Bahl went 20-of-41 with a career-high 339 yards and two touchdown passes. Sophomore wide receiver James Gardner continued his terrific start to the season with five catches for 136 yards and a touchdown.
The opening quarter proved to be a quiet one, as both teams struggled to complete successful offensive drives, including turnovers on the Hilltoppers’ (2-1, 1-0 C-USA) first two possessions. WKU’s first outing was interrupted by an interception by Miami sophomore linebacker De’Andre Montgomery with 11:17 remaining in the first quarter. This was followed up by sophomore cornerback Deondre Daniels forcing a fumble that was recovered by sophomore Brad Koenig at the 7:29 mark.
The turnovers continued into the second quarter as senior defensive end Austin Gearing forced a fumble that was picked up by junior cornerback Heath Harding. Miami proceeded to drive down the field, making it to the WKU 33 before sophomore kicker Nick Dowd missed from 50 yards out.
The Hilltoppers finally opened up scoring with an 11-play, 63-yard drive that culminated with freshman running back Quinton Baker punching it in from the 2-yard line to make it 7-0 WKU with 5:23 left in the half.
Following a quick Miami drive, junior wide receiver Nacarius Fant extended WKU’s lead with a 48-yard punt return touchdown at the 3:02 mark.
On the ensuing possession, the RedHawks earned their first points of the afternoon with a 30-yard field goal by Dowd with 1:21 remaining. The kick capped off a 6-play, 31-yard drive and made the score 14-3.
After a 79-yard kickoff return by junior wide receiver Kylen Towner, the Hilltoppers were unable to capitalize on their field position as their drive was stopped on the 1-yard line as time expired. The goal line stand by Miami’s defense involved three straight run stops in the final minute of the half.
Miami began the second half promisingly, but saw its drive falter when Bahl fumbled on a sack and gave WKU possession at the Miami 14-yard line. The Hilltoppers would capitalize with a 26-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Ryan Nuss at the 9:36 mark of the third quarter.
Following a Miami three-and-out, WKU bolstered its lead to 24-3 with a 53-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Mike White to senior wide receiver Nicholas Norris with 7:37 remaining in the quarter.
The RedHawks responded with an 11-play, 78-yard drive that was finished off with a 9-yard touchdown rush by Bahl at the 2:29 mark.
On its next possession, Miami pulled off the highlight of the game as Gardner hauled in a deflection by a WKU defender for a 70-yard touchdown catch. Gardner crossed the goal line as the quarter clock expired, making it 24-17 WKU heading into the fourth period.
WKU regained command of the game to begin the fourth quarter as White hit senior wide receiver Taywan Taylor for a 36-yard touchdown pass with 13:44 remaining in the game.
In the fourth, Miami’s offense compiled a pair of nine play drives, but both stalled out and led to WKU regaining possession.
Both teams would trade punts until Miami scored another touchdown off a tipped pass. Bahl’s 41-yard deflected heave on 4th-and-24 was pulled in by junior tight end Sam Martin, bringing the score to 31-24 with 1:17 left in the game.
The resulting RedHawk onside kick attempt was then handled by the Hilltoppers, who kneeled to close out the game.
Miami will now turn its attention toward a matchup against the University of Cincinnati next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Nippert Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPNews as Miami looks to regain the Victory Bell for the first time since 2005.