INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
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IOWA CITY — The Miami (Ohio) RedHawks saw some hopeless situations in 2015, and head coach Chuck Martin would be the first to tell you that.
But after Iowa won the season-opener, 45-21, before 68,390 at Kinnick Stadium, Martin said he saw none of that carry over to this season. He watched as his offense, led by quarterback Billy Bahl, put up 424 total yards and ran 70 plays against a Hawkeye defense Martin has tremendous respect for.
Bahl was 19 of 29 for 266 yards and two touchdowns, running backs Alonzo Smith and Maurice Thomas combined for 118 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown (a three-yarder from Smith), and receiver James Gardner caught two touchdown passes against Iowa corner Greg Mabin.
Most importantly, though, Martin never thought Miami was in a situation where they couldn’t find a way out — something that was very rare last season.
“At no point in time were we not getting positive plays on the ground,” Martin said. “Today we tried to run the ball … our bad plays against them were one yard, two yards. Going into the game, if we got two yards, I thought that was going to be a good play for our run game.
“There were times last year, we were hopeless. We weren’t going to get a first down. If we could get to punt it last year, that was great. (Today) didn’t look or feel like anything I’ve watched for two years. We felt like we could do some things.”
Miami’s undoing, though, came in the form of turnovers. Iowa defensive end Anthony Nelson forced two fumbles, and another was forced by linebacker Jack Hockaday — all of which were recovered by the Hawkeyes.
A pair of key plays that went against the RedHawks (0-1) looked very similar.
On the first, Bahl threw a screen pass to Smith, who turned up field and was hit by Hockaday — replacing ejected linebacker Josey Jewell — and fumbled. Parker Hesse recovered that, and it set up an Iowa touchdown. On the other, Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard passed to Riley McCarron near the goal line. It was ruled on the field McCarron caught the ball and fumbled it before the goal line and out of the back of the end zone, resulting in a touchback for Miami. The call was overturned and Iowa scored a play later on a five-yard run from Akrum Wadley.
Martin was visibly upset about the latter, but said after the game he’ll have to review the film for a better opinion on what happened.
Ultimately, he liked how his team played against the Hawkeyes (1-0), but the turnovers were too much to overcome.
“It’s frustrating for me because the Mo fumble was a very similar play,” Martin said. “They looked at that one and it was a fumble, and the other one (wasn’t). Now, I’ve got to watch it again. That guy might’ve been bobbling the ball, but to me, from afar, it was a very similar play. That was a tough, one obviously, but we’ve got to worry about the ones we didn’t get.
“It was a close game. It should’ve been closer without the dang turnovers. At least our team … felt like we had a chance.”
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