ATHENS, Ohio -- The Ohio football team (8-4, 6-2 MAC) completed the 2018 regular season with a 49-28 Senior Day victory over Mid-American Conference East Division rival Akron (4-7, 2-6 MAC) today at Peden Stadium.
"It was a good win," said 14th-year head coach Frank Solich. "Glad that our guys were able to put it together and come out with somewhat convincing win. I don't know if it was one of our better games. There were a lot of penalties involved, way more than we're used to having in a game. It slowed the game down a fair amount. At times I don't think we played four great quarters, coming off of last game we wanted to continue that going forward. I think we were at an emotional peak before that last one and we were ready to play this one. We worked hard in preparation for this one. It was a great win, you take every win as it comes. I'm just really glad for the seniors that they were able to get this done and come up with a satisfying win. They're a special group and I look forward to going to a bowl game with them. They were a huge part in us going undefeated at home this year, which is something that hasn't happened since 1968, which is unique. I'm just proud of them."
The victory clinched Ohio's ninth eight-win season under Solich. The Bobcats went a perfect 6-0 at Peden Stadium in 2018, marking the first time Ohio has won all of its home games since 1968. Ohio went unbeaten at home for the first time since 1988, when the Bobcats finished their home schedule with a record of 3-0-1. Ohio has won its last nine home games dating back to the 2017 season. The Bobcats are now 7-0 at home against Akron during the Solich era.
Fittingly, many of Ohio's 20-member senior class contributed to the victory over the Zips.
Redshirt senior running back A.J. Ouellette (Covington, Ohio) rumbled for 169 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, marking the third game in a row he has rushed for at least 150 yards and fourth time in the last five contests he has run for over 100. He tallied his 13th career 100-yard game, which ranks as the fifth-most in program history. Ouellette eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the second year in a row, giving him the distinction of being the fourth player in program history to run for at least 1,000 yards in multiple seasons. He moved into third place on Ohio's all-time rushing list with 3,620 career rushing yards. His 12 rushing touchdowns this season are a career high and tie him for the eighth-most in a single season in program history, while his 32 career rushing touchdowns rank as the fourth-most in program history.
"Coming into the game, we had a good game plan of my style," said Ouellette. "Most of those big runs came on power plays, which is not really going to pop like that, but credit to our offensive line. When you have the two Joes (redshirt senior offensive linemen Joe Anderson and Joe Lowery) pulling, those D-ends and linebackers are kind of scared."
Redshirt senior wide receiver Papi White (Seminole, Okla.) became Ohio's all-time leader in career receiving yards. He caught three passes for a team-high 63 yards, giving him 2,530 receiving yards for his career, which broke the mark of 2,511 set by LaVon Brazill (2007-11).
"I think it was last week after the game my parents told me, and it's an honor," said White of breaking Ohio's career receiving yards record. "I'm pretty happy about it."
Redshirt senior running back Maleek Irons (Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada) ran for 126 yards on 18 carries, marking his fourth 100-yard rushing game of the year.
Defensively, senior linebacker Evan Croutch (Youngstown, Ohio) logged a team-high 10 tackles (six solo, four assisted) -- including two tackles for losses and one sack.
Redshirt senior safety Kylan Nelson (Lexington, Ky.) returned a punt 37 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter, marking the first time a Bobcat has run a punt back for a score since Travis Carrie took one 65 yards to the house on Sept. 3, 2011, in a 44-24 win over New Mexico State.
"It's cool. It's exciting," said Nelson of his punt return for a touchdown. "Thankfully, the guys that were blocking for me up front just had good blocks and they did what they were supposed to do. I did my part; that's what happened. It's just icing on the cake, man. I don't even like cake."
Junior quarterback Nathan Rourke (Oakville, Ontario, Canada) set a career high with four rushing touchdowns, becoming the first Bobcat to run for four touchdowns since running back Dorian Brown did so against UAB in the Bahamas Bowl on Dec. 22, 2017. He picked up 86 yards on 18 rushes in addition to throwing for 87 yards.
As a team, Ohio has now run for 38 touchdowns in 2018 -- the third-most in a single season in program history. The Bobcats ran for 381 yards in the win over the Zips, marking the fifth time this season Ohio has run for at least 380 yards in a game. Conversely, Akron's 32 rushing yards marked the fewest by an Ohio opponent in 2018.
After forcing Akron to go three-and-out on the first drive of the game, Ohio moved 80 yards in five plays. Rourke hit White for gains of 35 yards and 11 yards, then kept it himself and ran for 18 yards to set up a 1st-and-goal. Ouellette then took a direct snap and ran into the end zone from six yards out to put the Bobcats in front.
Ohio's defense came up with its 30th takeaway of the season on Akron's third drive of the contest when redshirt sophomore defensive end Austin Conrad (LaGrange, Ohio) picked off sophomore quarterback Kato Nelson at the Zips' 20 for his first career interception. An 11-yard run by Irons gave the Bobcats a 1st-and-goal at the nine. After Rourke lost seven yards on a run, he gained 15 on the next play to set up a 4th-and-goal at the one. Ohio went for it, and Rourke kept it himself again and scored to give the Bobcats a two-touchdown lead.
The Bobcats forced the Zips to punt again on the ensuing drive -- this time from the shadow of their own end zone and, Nelson ran it back for a score to help extend the Ohio lead to 21-0.
Akron got on the scoreboard with 14:48 left in the half, cutting Ohio's lead to 21-7. The Zips marched 69 yards in eight plays with Nelson throwing a 10-yard touchdown pass to senior running back Van Edwards to cap off the drive. A personal foul penalty on the Bobcats and a 25-yard completion from Nelson to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jonah Morris helped set up the score.
After forcing Ohio to punt, Akron moved 33 yards to the Bobcats' 30. The Bobcats forced the Zips to settle for a 47-yard field goal attempt by senior kicker Nick Gasser, whose try sailed wide left. On the first play of the Bobcats' ensuing drive, Rourke completed a 17-yard pass to White. Ouellette then rushed for 51 yards on four touches, with the last carry going for 16 yards and a touchdown and helping the Bobcats go back up by 21 with just over five minutes to go in the first half.
The Bobcats and the Zips traded punts on their first drives of the second half. Akron came up with a turnover on Ohio's second drive, with redshirt senior cornerback Darian Dailey picking off Rourke at the Zips' 16. Seven plays later, Nelson capped off an 84-yard drive by tossing a 17-yard touchdown to sophomore wide receiver Andre Williams to make it a two-score game.
Ouellette put Ohio on his back on the ensuing drive, ripping off runs of 25 yards and 44 yards to give Ohio a 1st-and-goal at the six. Three plays later, Ouellette kept it himself and scored from a yard out to help push the Ohio lead to 35-14.
Akron made it a two-score game again with just over 14 minutes to play, completing a 10-play, 79-yard drive with a six-yard scoring strike from Nelson to senior tight end Brian Reinke.
Ohio responded with a 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended in Rourke running it in from five yards out. All 75 of the Bobcats' yards came on the ground on the scoring drive as Ohio made it a 42-21 lead.
Passes of 23 yards and 50 yards from Nelson to wide receiver Jeremiah Knight set up a 12-yard touchdown pass from Nelson to redshirt senior wide receiver Mykel Traylor-Bennett.
After Rourke ran for a gain of nine yards on the first play of Ohio's ensuing drive, the Bobcats fed the ball to Irons on 10-straight plays for a gain of 63 yards. Rourke finished off the drive with a three-yard touchdown with five seconds left to seal the win for the Bobcats.
Nelson finished the game 24-of-41 for 356 yards and four touchdowns with one interception for Akron. Williams led all receivers with seven receptions for 81 yards and a score. Redshirt senior defensive end Jamal Davis II led the Zips with a game-high 11 total tackles (seven solo, four assisted) -- including two tackles for loss. Sophomore defensive back Zaire Jacobs also finished with double-digit tackles, tallying 10 total (eight solo, two assisted).
Stayed tuned to OhioBobcats.com next weekend as the Bobcats await their 2018 bowl fate. Ohio is bowl eligible for the 10th season in a row and has appeared in bowl games in each of the last three seasons.