UAB’s emotional, topsy-turvy season under interim head coach Bryant Vincent came down to one final play.

You expected something different?

In a year when the tenor of the season came down to one-score finishes, it happened again. This time, though, the Blazers found a way. They found a way to make one final defensive stop. They found a way to make one more play. They found a way to emerge with a 24-20 Bahamas Bowl victory over Miami of Ohio at Thomas A. Robinson Stadium.

Not surprisingly, Vincent shed a few tears of joy after becoming the only first-year coach in UAB history to finish above .500.

““It’s just like life – back and forth, back and forth,” Vincent said to David Crane on his postgame radio interview. “They make a play, we make a play. Momentum swings. Life throws you curveballs. Our kids fought to the very end and found a way to win this game. I couldn’t be more proud of this team and this staff.”

It could have been different. It could have been another heart-wrenching decision for a team that dropped five one-score finishes with four coming away from Protective Stadium. This time, a hectic 12-play drive by the Miami of Ohio offense, which began following Jermaine Brown’s 11-yard touchdown run, came down to a first down from the Blazers 15-yard line with one second left on the clock.

Miami quarterback Aveon Smith hit teammate Jalen Walker on the 5-yard line. Walker turned up field and UAB linebacker Reynard Ellis hustled over to twist him to the ground two yards short of the winning touchdown. Cornerback Starling Thomas, who earlier muffed a punt to set the RedHawks up for a score, assisted on the play and the celebration began. It was Ellis’ 10th tackle of the game and, by far, his biggest.  

“It’s never easy,” said Vincent on the radio. “Nothing’s easy in life. That’s why you never change, you never falter, you never blink. You fight to the end and you never change who you are, no matter what the situation is. That’s what this team stands for.”

The day began with speculation over DeWayne McBride’s availability. As expected, the country’s leading rusher, opted out of the game, giving the reins of the rushing game to Brown, who finished with 116 yards on 24 carries. Early on, though, it was the passing of quarterback Dylan Hopkins that fueled the offense. He opened UAB’s first offensive possession with a 46-yard strike to Trea Shropshire, marking the beginning of a huge day that included six catches for 183 yards, for the UAB receiver. Four plays later, Hopkins and Shropshire connected on a 10-yard touchdown pass.

UAB (7-6) built the advantage to 10-0 on Matt Quinn’s 42-yard field goal on the next possession. UAB controlled most of the half but the RedHawks were able to slice into the deficit with a 33-yard pass from Smith to Mac Hippenhammer with 34 seconds left in the half. The extra point failed when UAB’s Michael Fairbanks blocked the kick and the Blazers led 10-6 at halftime.

Miami took its first lead with 5:44 left in the third quarter on a 4-yard touchdown run by Kevin Davis. The score came one play after Thomas failed to field a bouncing punt and the RedHawks recovered at the 4-yard line

That started an ending, which included a fourth quarter filled with big plays, big blunders and three lead changes. UAB countered the score with a 12-play, 75-yard drive that took 6:37 off the clock. The touchdown run by Brown came with 13:29 left in the game.

Miami not only strung together a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that took 7:15 off the clock, culminating with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Kenny Tracy, but forced and recovered a fumble by Brown two plays into UAB’s possession.

The UAB defense stiffened, forcing a 47-yard field goal attempt that was missed. UAB was 70 yards away from the go-ahead score with just over four minutes left on the clock. The Blazers began with a 49-yard connection from Hopkins to Shropshire to set up a first down at the RedHawks 21-yard line. Brown handled the rest. He gained nine yards on the first three plays and burst for a 12-yard touchdown run on 4th-and-1 with 1:33 remaining.

“You know, Jermaine Brown is a winner, he’s a champion. I just can’t say enough about his heart, his desire, just the kind of teammate he is. I love him like a son and he’s special.

Miami (6-7) nearly found a way to win. The RedHawks converted on a pair of fourth-down plays as they worked down the field. Smith scrambled out of the pocket on a first down that started with 14 seconds left on the UAB 32-yard line. He made his way up the field before veering toward the UAB sideline to stop the clock. UAB cornerback Devodric Bynum grabbed his facemask while trying to keep him in bounds. That put the play on the 15 yard line for the final play.

UAB closes out an era that included 50 wins, two Conference USA championships, three C-USA West titles and three bowl wins since 2017.   

“This is very special, because of all the adversity we went through and all the ups and downs,” Vincent said. “A lot of teams and a lot of people would quit or they would give in or get negative. We never did. When you stick to your standards, throughout life, and you have a chance to come out of it at the end, that’s what this team did.”

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