Nov 19, 2022; Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA;  UAB Blazers interim head coach Bryant Vincent  talks to the side judge against the LSU Tigers during the second half at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

UAB holds off Miami (Ohio) late to win Bahamas Bowl

The bowl season began in dramatic fashion Friday as the UAB defense stopped Miami (Ohio) short of the goal line as time expired to hang on for a 24-20 victory in the Bahamas Bowl in Nassau.

Aveon Smith connected with Jalen Walker on a 13-yard pass on the final play of the game, but Walker was tackled at the 2-yard line to touch off a celebration by the Blazers.

UAB (7-6) had taken the lead on the previous series after making a bold decision. With no timeouts, 1:35 left and facing a fourth-and-1 at the Miami 12-yard line, the Blazers opted against attempting a game-tying field goal.

The gamble worked out even better than UAB hoped for, as Jermaine Brown Jr. burst through the offensive line and scampered untouched for the 12-yard go-ahead touchdown.

Brown paced UAB’s offense on the day with 24 carries for 116 yards and two scores. Dylan Hopkins completed 16 of 24 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown and Trea Shropshire caught six passes for 183 yards and a TD.

The Blazers have won back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history after winning the Independence Bowl last season.

Smith completed 15 of 27 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns for Miami (6-7). He also rushed 22 times for a team-high 50 yards. Mac Hippenhammer and Kenny Tracy caught touchdown passes.

The game featured four lead changes and saw UAB jump out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. Hopkins connected with Shropshire for a touchdown pass and Matt Quinn kicked a 42-yard field goal.

Miami battled back and took the lead in the third quarter on a 4-yard scoring rush from Kevin Davis. The two sides then exchanged touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

UAB won despite losing the turnover battle 0-3. The Blazers lost two fumbles and threw a pick. Miami’s offense simply wasn’t strong enough to take full advantage of those mistakes though. The RedHawks converted just 4 of 14 third downs and were outgained by 118 yards on offense by the Blazers.

It was the final game on UAB’s sidelines for interim coach Bryant Vincent. Former Super Bowl-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer takes the reins of the Blazers as their new head coach this offseason.

–Field Level Media

Nov 13, 2021; Huntington, West Virginia, USA; UAB Blazers running back DeWayne McBride (22) celebrates after running for a touchdown during the first quarter against the Marshall Thundering Herd at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

UAB, Miami (Ohio) chase 7th win of season at Bahamas Bowl

In the Bahamas Bowl, the winner will finish with a winning season. The other will go home with some extra sunshine and a losing record.

Miami (Ohio) will meet UAB in a battle of 6-6 teams in the first bowl game of the 2022 slate on Friday at 11:30 a.m. EST at Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium in Nassau.

While the teams enter with matching records, that’s where the similarities stop.

Miami is led by coach Chuck Martin in his ninth year, while UAB is in transition. This will be the final game that interim coach Bryant Vincent leads the Blazers before former Super Bowl-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer takes the reins.

Dilfer said last week that he will be in the Bahamas for the game and will work with Vincent and his staff on whatever they need him to do.

“I plan on serving coach Vincent and this staff any way I can. I mean that. He is the head coach,” Dilfer told the Tribune newspaper of Nassau. “I’m here to support him in the transition, to serve these young men, to serve this staff. I’m not joking — if they send me on coffee runs, I’ll go on coffee runs. … I want to help them finish strong. I also hope to earn their trust as we go through this together, because great things are coming.”

This game will mark the first-ever meeting between the Blazers and RedHawks.

UAB ended the regular season – its final run in Conference USA before transitioning to the American next year – with a 37-27 road victory over Louisiana Tech. The Blazers were powered by a rushing attack that racked up 414 yards and three touchdowns. DeWayne McBride led the way with 272 yards on 16 carries for a 17-yards-per-try average.

A junior, McBride was tapped as the C-USA Offensive Player of the Year this season. He leads all of FBS in rushing yards (1,713) and touchdowns (19). UAB has the nation’s fifth-best rushing offense, averaging 243.1 yards per game.

Miami’s defense is anchored by Ryan McWood and Matthew Salopek, each of whom has more than 100 total tackles this season. Brian Ugwu leads the team in tackles for loss with 9 1/2.

“I like going to bowl games where it’s warm,” Martin said. “For a lot of these kids and a lot of these families, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

This is the first time since the 2003 and 2004 seasons that the RedHawks have gone to a bowl game in back-to-back seasons. They are 6-5 all-time in bowl matchups.

UAB is 2-3 all-time in bowl games and has been bowl-eligible in six straight seasons but didn’t play in one in 2020 because of a pandemic-related cancellation. UAB played in the 2017 Bahamas Bowl, losing 41-6 to Ohio.

–Field Level Media

Sep 15, 2018; Toledo, OH, USA; Toledo Rockets head coach Jason Candle looks on during the fourth quarter against the Miami Hurricanes at Glass Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Nicholas Vattiato powers Middle Tennessee past Toledo

Nicholas Vattiato passed for 270 yards and two touchdowns to help Middle Tennessee record a 31-24 victory over Toledo on Friday in the Bahamas Bowl at Nassau, Bahamas.

Jarrin Pierce caught four passes for 114 yards and one score and Yusuf Ali also had a touchdown grab for the Blue Raiders (7-6). Mike DiLiello and Frank Peasant tacked on rushing scores as Conference USA’s Middle Tennessee scored 17 fourth-quarter points to win for the fifth time in its past seven games.

Bryant Roback gained 126 yards on 18 carries to top 100 yards for the sixth straight contest for Toledo (7-6), which had a three-game winning streak halted.

Roback became the fourth Toledo player to top 4,000 career yards. His total sits at 4,026, trailing only Kareem Hunt (4,945), Chester Taylor (4,849) and Wasean Tait (4,338).

Dequan Finn completed 18 of 39 passes for 212 yards, two touchdowns and one interception and also rushed for 83 yards and a score for the Rockets of the Mid-American Conference. Matt Landers caught four passes for 137 yards and a touchdown and DeMeer Blankumsee also had a scoring reception.

Middle Tennessee increased its national-best turnover count to 32 by forcing one. The victory put the Blue Raiders above .500 for just the second time all season — the other was after the season-opening win over FCS program Monmouth.

Toledo outgained the Blue Raiders 447 to 435.

DiLiello, a quarterback, scored on a 17-yard keeper on the first play of the final quarter to give the Blue Raiders a 21-17 lead. Later, Pierce shed the Toledo coverage and was wide open and Vattiato (23 of 35 passing) connected with him for a 59-yard scoring pass to push the lead to 11 with 6:24 remaining.

Just 46 seconds later, Middle Tennessee forced the turnover — the Rockets’ seventh of the entire season. Jordan Ferguson pressured Finn and the fluttering ball was intercepted by Zaylin Wood at the Toledo 23-yard line, setting up a 35-yard field goal by Zeke Rankin for a 31-17 lead.

Finn tossed a 13-yard scoring pass to Blankumsee with 1:08 left to pull Toledo within seven. Ali, however, recovered the ensuing onside kick and the Blue Raiders ran out the clock.

Toledo led 17-14 at halftime after Thomas Cluckey kicked a 32-yard field goal with 1:05 remaining.

Middle Tennessee struck first on Vattiato’s 6-yard scoring pass to Ali with 1:30 left in the opening quarter.

Toledo knotted the score when Finn exploded on a 40-yard run on fourth-and-1 and with 13:52 left in the half. The Rockets moved ahead when Landers made a great grab of Finn’s throw at midfield and turned it into a 90-yard touchdown with 11:11 remaining.

The Blue Raiders tied the score at 14 on Peasant’s 1-yard run with 8:58 left in the half.

–Field Level Media

Ball State faces off against Toledo at Scheumann Stadium Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.

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Turnovers will be front of mind as Toledo battles Middle Tennessee in Bahamas Bowl

Toledo guards the football better than any team in the country, while nobody unearths the pigskin better than Middle Tennessee.

Football protection will be a key component on Friday afternoon when the Rockets (7-5) battle Middle Tennessee (6-6) in the Bahamas Bowl at Nassau, Bahamas.

Toledo leads the nation by committing just six turnovers (two interceptions, four fumbles), while the Blue Raiders have forced a nation-best 31 (16 interceptions, 15 fumbles).

Even while being stingy with the football, the Rockets of the Mid-American Conference had to win three straight games and four of their past five to reach a bowl game for the first time since 2018. The destination was the Bahamas Bowl that time too, with the Rockets falling 35-32 to Florida International.

Toledo averaged 43.2 points over the five-game run with star running back Bryant Koback topping 100 rushing yards in each contest. Koback ranks 11th nationally with 1,274 yards and is exactly 100 yards away from becoming the fourth Toledo player to reach 4,000 career rushing yards.

“We would be crazy after going through the last year and a half and taking anything for granted,” Rockets coach Jason Candle said, referencing the COVID-19 situation. “We aren’t taking this opportunity lightly. We’re going to respect this opportunity with great detail and put our best foot forward and try to win a football game.”

Toledo’s top effort of the season may have come in a loss on Sept. 11. The Rockets were winning late at then-No. 7 Notre Dame before the Fighting Irish scored with 1:09 left to pull out a 32-29 victory.

That close call didn’t spur on the Rockets, who were sitting at a disappointing 4-5 prior to the three-game winning streak to conclude the regular season.

“Three conference losses by a total of eight points, I think when those things happen, you have a couple of choices,” Candle said. “You can fold and go one way or you rally together and go a totally different direction.”

The November push earned Toledo the date with Middle Tennessee, a Conference USA program that has been above .500 just once all season — when it won its opener against FCS program Monmouth.

The Blue Raiders went 4-2 over the second half of the season and qualified for bowl consideration with a 27-17 victory over Florida Atlantic on Nov. 27.

Middle Tennessee also had to throw freshman quarterback Nick Vattiato into the mix after previous starter Chase Cunningham suffered a season-ending leg injury against Southern Miss on Oct. 30.

“This team went through so much adversity throughout the course of the year,” Blue Raiders coach Rick Stockstill said. “We went through four quarterbacks. We never really found a rhythm offensively. Games 3 and 4 after the Virginia Tech game (a 35-14 loss), we had 13 players out those two weeks because of injuries and other health issues.

“It sounds like an excuse. It’s not, it’s a fact. We just played more consistently (in the second half). We had more continuity. I feel like we’re close to breaking loose offensively.”

Middle Tennessee has a standout punt returner in Jaylin Lane, who led the nation with a 16.9 average. He also returned one for a touchdown.

Standout safety Reed Blankenship led the Blue Raiders with 100 tackles and three fumble recoveries and cornerback Quincy Riley had a team-best five interceptions.

Now the defensive task is to try to force the Rockets to cough up the ball or throw an errant pass.

“They’re very efficient offensively,” Stockstill said of Toledo. “It’s a very balanced team.”

Middle Tennessee is playing in its first bowl game since losing 45-13 to Appalachian State in the 2018 New Orleans Bowl.

–Field Level Media

Dec 24, 2019; Honolulu, Hawaii, USA; The Hawaii Warriors hoist the winning trophy at the end of the Hawaii Bowl at Aloha Stadium. The Hawaii Warriors defeated the Brigham Young Cougars 38-34. Mandatory Credit: Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN cancels Hawaii and Bahamas bowls

There will be no bowl games outside of the continental United States in 2020.

On Friday, ESPN Events announced it was canceling both the Hawaii Bowl and the Bahamas Bowl. ESPN, which owns and operates the two bowls along with 15 others, cited the coronavirus pandemic and travel restrictions as the reasons behind the decision.

“We are disappointed that we aren’t able to stage events at these premier destinations this year,” said Pete Derzis, ESPN senior VP of college sports programming and ESPN Events. “We are committed to bringing both games back in 2021.”

The two bowl games are usually played in December. The RedBox Bowl, in the San Francisco Bay Area, had previously announced it would not be played this season as well, which leaves the number of postseason major college football games still planned at 39.

Nonconference college basketball tournaments traditionally held in Hawaii and the Bahamas have also been canceled this season.

The 2020 Bahamas Bowl was to be a matchup between teams from Conference USA and the Mid-American Conference. The 2020 Hawaii Bowl would have featured teams from the Mountain West and either Conference USA or the American Athletic Conference.

The Hawaii Bowl, in Honolulu has been played since 2002. The Bahamas Bowl, in Nassau, has operated since 2014.

–Field Level Media