Appalachian State Mountaineers vs. Miami (Ohio) Redhawks Pick & Prediction DECEMBER 16th 2023

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The third- and fourth-string quarterbacks for Miami (Ohio) have a chance to put their names next to the greatest signal-caller in school history. The RedHawks are looking for their 12th win — second only to Ben Roethlisberger’s 13-1 2003 squad — when they meet Appalachian State for the first time Saturday afternoon in the Cure Bowl in Orlando, Fla. Miami (11-2) has won five straight games since starting quarterback Brett Gabbert’s season-ending leg injury on Oct. 21. Backup Aveon Smith went 5-0, including a 23-14 victory over Toledo in the Mid-American Conference title game on Dec. 2, but entered the transfer portal on Dec. 4. RedHawks coach Chuck Martin said little-used Henry Hesson will start under center against the Mountaineers (8-5), with Maddox Kopp also seeing some playing time in the bowl game. Hesson attempted five passes last season and none this year. Kopp completed 15 of 28 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown in two games at Colorado last season before transferring to the RedHawks. “We’ve had a lot of bumps in the road along the way, all the way back to the beginning of the season,” said Martin, whose team opened the year with a 38-3 loss at Miami (Florida) on Sept. 1. “Every time it seems like it wasn’t going to go our way, somebody would make a play and we survived, and we’ve been doing that for 13 weeks.” The RedHawks’ 11 wins equal the 1973 and 1975 squads for the second most behind the 2003 team led by “Big Ben,” who went on to win two Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers. “We’re trying to get in some select company,” Martin said. Appalachian State had a five-game winning streak snapped with its 49-23 loss to Troy in the Sun Belt title game on Dec. 2. The Mountaineers handed 10-0 James Madison its first loss of the season and nearly upended then-No. 17 North Carolina on Sept. 9, falling 40-34 in two overtimes. Coach Shawn Clark’s Mountaineers are also dealing with a notable transfer portal departure in running back Nate Noel, who rushed for more than 3,000 yards over the past four seasons in Boone, N.C. Quarterback Joey Aguilar started the season as a backup. But his first pass off the bench on Sept. 2 went for a go-ahead TD as part of a four-TD performance and he never relinquished the job. Aguilar passed for a school-record 3,546 yards with 33 touchdowns and nine interceptions and also rushed for 231 yards and two scores this season. Only Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels of LSU and Heisman finalist Bo Nix of Oregon have thrown more TD passes (both with 40). Before the Dec. 2 loss to Troy, the Mountaineers’ first four losses this season were all by seven or fewer points. Clark credits a defensive scheme switch at midseason for the second-half surge. “We are excited to play in the Cure Bowl against Miami (Ohio),” Clark said. “Our team kept digging all season. We have battled through adversity, and we won the Sun Belt East division. We will be proud to travel to Orlando and to represent our university and one of the best conferences in America.” Appalachian State won its first six bowl games before losing 59-38 to Western Kentucky in the 2021 Boca Raton Bowl. The Mountaineers did not play in a bowl last season. Miami (Ohio) is 3-4 in bowl games during the 21st century, including a 24-20 loss to UAB in the Bahamas Bowl last season. –Field Level Media

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