ATHENS, Ohio – Despite three rushing touchdowns from sophomore quarterback Nathan Rourke (Ontario, Canada) the Ohio football team fell 26-23 to Central Michigan on Saturday at Peden Stadium.
Ohio attempted to make a comeback, though, scoring nine points in the fourth quarter. A punt block from redshirt junior Tyler Gullett (LaGrange, Ohio) resulted in a safety to make the score 26-16 with 7:41 left in the game. On the ensuing drive, Rourke threw for 39 yards and rushed for 27-yards, including a touchdown, making it a 26-23 game.
The Bobcats defense was unable to stop the Chippewas offense in the final three minutes of the game, which sealed the win for CMU.
"I was proud of the way the defense stepped up today, especially after a week like last week," said redshirt senior cornerback Bradd Ellis. "We didn't step up enough, and that starts with me. We all feel that we would be celebrating if it weren't for that penalty call. It's plays like that: just one play like that every now and again that really hurt our defense. It has to be corrected."
The loss dropped Ohio to 4-2 on the season and 1-1 in Mid-American Conference play. Saturday also marked Homecoming Weekend for the Bobcats.
The Bobcats totaled four turnovers, three fumbles and an interception, all coming from Rourke.
"It was the turnovers, you can look at any stats sheet and that's going to be the story," Rourke said. "If someone looks at the stats, they'll see we have to take better care of the ball and that we're really shooting ourselves in the foot. We had drives that, especially earlier in the game, we were driving and we were in their area. That's points that should have been on the board, at least a field goal, I know. That's a tie game right there. This game hurts because we did more things to stop ourselves than they did to stop us and that's what really makes it frustrating."
The quarterback rushed for 105 yards and three touchdowns, while passing for 160 yards on 31 attempts. His top target was redshirt senior Brendan Cope (Warren, Ohio) who caught six passes for 58 yards.
Besides Rourke's 100-plus yards rushing, redshirt junior running back A.J. Ouellette (Covington, Ohio) ran for 65 yards on 15 carries.
Junior linebacker Evan Croutch (Youngstown, Ohio) and redshirt senior linebacker Chad Moore (Grove City, Ohio) led the Bobcats defense with nine tackles apiece, with Moore picking up two tackles for loss and an interception. Graduate transfer defensive end Wyatt Shallman (Hartland, Mich.) made his first appearance of the season, totaling five tackles including a sack.
Both teams scored in the first quarter as Rourke completed a pass to redshirt freshman Cameron Odom (Bedford, Ohio) for five yards. Ohio got their first down when redshirt junior Ouellette rushed for six yards. Ouellette was able to rush 9 yards to the CMU 1-yard line. Rourke rushed that last yard for an Ohio touchdown, the first of the game to make it 7-0.
Senior quarterback Shane Morris rushed for 4 yards for CMU, and was stopped by redshirt Quentin Poling (Gomer, Ohio). The Chippewa's got a first down on a pass from Morris that was completed to senior Eric Cooper for seven yards to put CMU at the 49-yard line. On a CMU third-down, Morris hit senior Tyler Conklin for 19 yards to put the ball at Ohio's 21-yard line. Morris was able to connect with Conklin again, this time for 16 yards to make it 7-7 with 5:46 left in the first quarter,
In the second quarter, Rourke gained 22 yards to the 46-yard line for a first down before he was brought down by Bunting and sophomore Carlos Clark. Rourke got back into the end zone for his second touchdown of the game, rushing for 14 yards on the next play. Zervos capped it off with the extra point to put Ohio up 14-7 with 5:59 remaining in the first half.
With no time remaining in the second quarter, a 50-yard field goal attempt by Zervos was blocked and recovered by CMU defensive back Sean Bunting at the 40-yard line, who rushed for 60-yards and a CMU touchdown. A failed field goal attempt by Armstrong ended the second half with Ohio leading the Chippewa's 14-13.
In the opening half, Ohio rushed 26 for 128-yards, and passed for 97 yards. The Chippewa's rushed 10 for 21 yards, and had 119 total passing yards. Rourke passed for 97 yards, and rushed for 61.
Morris was able to connect with Mark Chapman for 17-yards and a CMU first down at the Ohio 18-yard line to start the second half. Ward rushed for a 1-yard touchdown with 12:13 left in the third quarter. A two-point conversion failed with redshirt freshman Tony Poljan's passed attempt being intercepted, as CMU led the Bobcats 19-14.
During the Bobcats first offensive possession of the third quarter, Rourke's pass, intended for Odom, was intercepted by senior defensive back Josh Cox at CMU's 31 yard-line, who rushed for 45 yards ending up on Ohio's 24 yard-line. On a fourth down in the red zone, Morris' pass to Ward was incomplete, with Javon Hagan on the breakup to give Ohio the ball.
"This was a difficult, strange game," head coach Frank Solich said. "Turnovers played a huge part in it. Four turnovers to one, that is not winning football. We really didn't play well enough on offense, defense, or special teams. We did not have one area that played winning football. When that happens you usually don't win football games. We hung in there and kept the score close to where if we'd stopped them on their last drive, who knows what would have happened. The end of the first half was outrageous in terms of what transpired. We lined up incorrectly on formation, we had a touchdown called back, a field goal blocked, they scored. Instead of being up 21-7 the score was 14-13 and that is huge."
Ohio returns to play next week when it takes on the Bowling Green Falcons on Saturday, Oct. 14. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET at Doyt Perry Stadium.