THE University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers, the athletic programme that features Bahamian star Sydney Clarke on their women’s tennis team, came back to town on Friday and took home the 2022 HomeTown Lenders Bahamas Bowl football title.
The Blazers, with the go-ahead touchdown from Jermaine Brown Jr on 4th-and-1 with one minute and 33 seconds left, held on as Rennard Ellis tackled Jalen Walker at the 1-yard line on the final play of the game that was sealed with kicker Matt Quinn booting in the extra point for a 24-20 win over Miami (Ohio) RedHawks at the Thomas A Robinson National Stadium.
“There’s no doubt, it’s just our philosophy,” said UAB’s interim coach Bryant Vincent on their decision to go for the play on 4th-and-1. “We believe if it’s ever a yard or less, we have the offensive line, we have the tight ends, we have the quarterback and running backs that can get that yard.
“Doesn’t matter who we’re against, if it’s a yard or less, we’re going for it because we believe in who we are, what we stand for, and the players that we have.”
Brown Jr, who ended up rushing for 116 yards and two touchdowns, said what he did was an automatic play in any team’s book. He was just the one entrusted with the heroic effort after the Blazers completed five plays on a 70-yard drive.
“First of all, I want to thank God for giving me the opportunity to show my talent,” Brown said. I knew it was 4th and 1, and I knew we needed to score in 1:50. So, I needed that, and my team believed in me.”
While his performance will be the highlight of the game and one of the top plays on ESPN, which carried the game live, wide receiver Trea Shropshire and linebacker Michael Fairbanks II will be logged into the history book for their performances turned in on the two different ends of the field.
Shropshire was named the game’s offensive most valuable player (MVP) having tied the Bahamas Bowl record with 183 yards receiving and Fairbanks II was the defensive MVP having posted seven tackles, 1,5 TFL, 0.5 sack and a blocked extra point.
“It’s a blessing. It’s all thanks to God, my coaches, my teammates, and my family as well,” said Fairbanks as he shared his wealth on the honour received. “It’s a shoutout to me, and I’m very blessed to be honoured.”
UAB claimed its third bowl victory in school history with back-to-back bowl victories as they marked their 50th victory since 2017 when they made their debut here for the fourth edition of the bowl, only to come highly disappointed in a 41-6 crushing defeat to the Ohio Bobcats.
As they celebrated this time, UAB improved its Conference USA record to 7-6, dropping Miami to 6-7 in the Mid-American Conference after they got stopped when they marched down the field and attempted to score, but were stopped by Ellis on the final play of the game.
Miami head coach Chuck Martin said it was a game they should have won. They had exerted 6:37 to execute 12 plays that concluded with running back Kenny Tracy running 10 yards on a catch for the touchdown and kicker Graham Nicholson nailing the extra point to give the RedHawks a 20-17 lead.
That was at the 6:52 mark, which left more than enough time for UAB to mound their dramatic comeback as they were crowned the new champions, leaving a bitter-sweet taste in the mouths of Miami.
“Obviously, they jumped on us 10-0. When we got it to 10-6 before the half, I felt like we were in really good shape,” he said. “We had a chance at the end. We had a lead and got a huge turnover, had a chance for the offence to end the game right there.
“We don’t get it done. And credit to them they went 70 yards. Obviously [we are] really disappointed, not in our players, they always battle and fought to the end. We made a ton of plays made a ton of big plays and credit to UAB they made one more play.”
For at least two of the RedHawks’ players, quarterback Aveon Smith and senior linebacker Matt Salopek, they admitted that they gave it their best shot, but it just wasn’t enough to propel them over the top.
“We (have) been fighting through adversity all season, so it isn’t anything new to us,” Smith said. “We wanted to start it fast and make sure we finished but it didn’t go our way. Sticking together as a team is something we have been doing all year, so I’m proud of ourselves for sticking together.”
Added Salopek: “It’s been something we have been hanging our hat on all year, playing through bad plays and keep on fighting through the game. I know the offence was sticking together and we were trying to get them the ball back and the defence was sticking together trying to get a stop for them. I’m proud of how hard we fought today and UAB was just a great team.”
After receiving the prestigious Prime Minister Trophy, which was presented by Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Mario Bowleg, coach Vincent said there’s no better place to win a bowl game than in Paradise.
“The Bahamas is paradise. The way we were treated from the moment we got off the plane to right now has been first class. This is a first-class bowl game. The people here, the community here are all first class,” Vincent said.
“I’ll tell you this right now and our players said it too, if we could go to any bowl game, every year we would come to the Bahamas Bowl. It’s beautiful. We’ve been treated first class like I said. It’s just special.”
Vincent thanked the people and the organisation of the Bahamas Bowl.
“I’d come back every year if it was up to me,” he summed up. “It’s paradise, the people are first class, we’ve been treated with open arms, and we put on one heck of a game. I can’t thank you guys enough.”
The week-long experience was a tremendous one for both teams as they bonded in the immense attractions at their home base at Atlantis and participated in a youth training camp for the Bahamian children, many of whom came out and showed their appreciation during the game.