ATHENS, Ohio -- Senior quarterback Nathan Rourke (Oakville, Ontario, Canada) threw for 188 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score as the Ohio football team (1-0) picked up a school-record 10th-straight home win, opening up the 2019 season with a 41-20 victory over Rhode Island (0-1) this afternoon at Peden Stadium.
The Bobcats improved to 10-5 in season openers under 15th-year head coach Frank Solich. Solich, who now owns a 107-75 record as head coach at Ohio, is now four wins away from passing Herb Deromedi (110; Central Michigan, 1978-83) for the most by a Mid-American Conference head coach.
With the win over the Rams, Ohio has now won 15 of its last 16 games played at Peden Stadium.
"We won the ballgame," said Solich. "I think that's great. I think we played a pretty good football team, a fairly talented football team, and fought. We're obviously going to have to do things better, really, on both sides of the ball and in special teams also. We have a lot of improvement to do. I'm proud of the guys for getting it done today, and even though we seem to get off to a slow start, I thought as the game went on, we did things much better."
Rourke led the way for the Ohio offense, completing 16 of his 22 pass attempts (72.7 percent) and recording his 14th career outing with multiple touchdown passes. He also led the team with 75 yards on the ground via 10 attempts. Rourke improved to 18-7 as the starting quarterback at Ohio and has now been responsible for 80 career touchdowns, putting him three away from breaking the school record. Ohio scored on all seven of its drives with Rourke in the game and went a perfect 5-for-5 on red zone opportunities.
"Our expectation is to end every drive with a kick and take care of the ball and do what we did today," said Rourke. "We know what we're capable of and the bar that we set for ourselves is high, so we came out and did what we expected to do."
Rourke completed passes to nine different receivers, with redshirt junior Tyler Tupa (Brecksville, Ohio) leading the way with a team-high 49 receiving yards. He matched redshirt freshman wide receiver Jerome Buckner (Columbus, Ohio) and redshirt sophomore wide receiver Isiah Cox (Jasper, Ala.) for the team lead with the three receptions. Both he and redshirt junior tight end Ryan Luehrman (Athens, Ohio) hauled in their first career touchdown receptions.
Including Rourke, three Bobcats picked up over 50 yards on the ground to pave the way for a 278-yard rushing day for Ohio. Redshirt sophomore Julian Ross (Kansas City, Mo.) rushed for 68 yards on a team-high 14 carries while redshirt junior running back De'Montre Tuggle put together a breakout performance in his first game as a Bobcat, rumbling for 65 yards and two touchdowns on just three carries -- including a 55-yard scamper in the third quarter.
"When my number's called I want to take advantage of every moment I get, just focus on the end goal, which is winning," said Tuggle. "Transferring here (from Kilgore College), coming in, I already knew what the situation was so, from day one, I just wanted to make sure to prove myself and prove that I belong here. Hopefully that's showing."
Defensively, Ohio was led by redshirt junior linebacker Jared Dorsa (Kings Mills, Ohio), who accumulated seven total tackles (five solo, two assisted) -- including a half a sack. Redshirt senior Eric Popp (Loveland, Ohio) logged a career-high seven total tackles (four solo, three assisted) while junior linebacker Dylan Conner (Fort Wayne, Ind.) logged a career-high six total tackles (four solo, two assisted) and redshirt senior safety Javon Hagan (Jacksonville, Fla.) chipped in five (two solo, three assisted). Senior defensive tackle Cole Baker (Pinson, Ala.) and junior cornerback Jamal Hudson (Miami, Fla.) tied for the team by reaching recording a sack, and junior cornerback Marlin Brooks (Miami, Fla.) logged the second interception of his career. The unit helped limit Rhode Island to just 84 rushing yards.
After the Ohio defense forced Rhode Island to punt on the game's opening drive, the Bobcats drove 94 yards on 13 plays on a march that took over six minutes off of the clock. Rourke completed six of his seven pass attempts for 76 yards and rushed for 16 more on Ohio's opening drive of the season, capping it off by keeping it himself for a five-yard touchdown.
The Rams responded with a 15-play, 57-yard drive that ticked over seven minutes off of the clock and ended with junior kicker C.J. Carrick converting knocking down a 35-yard field goal less than two minutes into the second quarter.
Carrick's ensuing kickoff ended up out of bounds, giving the Bobcats the ball on their own 35. Rourke, Allison and Ross combined to pick up 43 yards on the ground over the first three plays of the drive, but Ohio stalled at the Rhode Island. Redshirt senior placekicker Louie Zervos (Tarpon Springs, Fla.) came on to connect on a 37-yard field goal, extending Ohio's advantage of 10-3 with just over 10 minutes to play in the half.
Ohio forced Rhode Island to punt, then finished off a seven-play, 61-yard drive with Rourke connecting with Tupa on a 22-yard scoring strike – the first touchdown reception of Tupa's career – that pushed Ohio's lead to two touchdowns with three minutes to go before halftime.
"It just felt amazing to back out there, preforming competing with my teammates," said Tupa. "They believed in me these past couple of years, and it's just nice to be able to go out and prove that I can still play a bit. It felt like the first time I was playing football again. It was that same feeling of excitement being out there with all my brothers."
The Rams added three more points to their total just before the end of the half. A pass interference penalty by Ohio and a 38-yard completion from redshirt junior quarterback Vito Priore to senior wide receiver Aaron Parker put the ball on the three yard line for Rhode Island. The Bobcats dug in, though, and forced the Rams to settle for a 19-yard field goal by Carrick.
The Bobcats moved 72 yards on 10 plays after receiving the second-half kickoff. Rourke hit Cox for a 16-yard completion on a 3rd-and-7, kept it himself for a gain of 17 and finished the drive off by finding Luehrman for a four-yard scoring strike.
Rhode Island answered with a touchdown on its first drive of the half, though, cutting Ohio's lead to 24-13. A roughing the passer penalty on the Bobcats helped set up a 34-yard touchdown from Priore to senior wide receiver Aaron Parker.
Ohio increased its lead back to 14 points on the ensuing drive as Zervos connected on a 42-yard field. The three-pointer was set up by redshirt freshman wide receiver Shane Hooks (Orlando, Fla.) make a great one-handed grab along the sideline for a gain of 30 yards for his first career reception. The Bobcats then got the ball back at the Rams' 15 after Rhode Island fumbled on the punt attempt. Ohio scored three plays later on a six-yard touchdown run by Tuggle, giving Ohio a 34-13 advantage going into the final quarter.
After forcing Rhode Island to punt again, Tuggle made up for a 78-yard touchdown run that was negated by a holding penalty by racing into the end zone from 55 yards out six plays later.
The Rams got a break when Ohio fumbled on a punt return and then scored the very next play when Priore found junior wide receiver Isaiah Coulter for a 38-yard touchdown, cutting the Bobcats' lead to 21 points. Ohio sealed the victory, though, when Brooks picked off Priore on Rhode Island's next possession with just over three minutes to play.
Priore finished 22-of-42 through the air with 291 passing yards and two touchdowns. Parker led all receivers with a game-high nine receptions on a game-high 144 yards. Junior running back Zoe Bryant was the game's leading rusher with 89 yards on 17 touches.
Next up, Ohio hits the road for the first time in 2019, traveling to Heinz Field for a matchup against Pitt on Saturday, Sept. 7. Kickoff is slated for 11 a.m. ET from the Steel City. The contest will be televised on the ACC Network. The Bobcats are set to battle Pitt for the first time since Sept. 9, 2005, when Ohio knocked off the Panthers in overtime, 16-10, at Peden Stadium in Athens. Ohio last visited Heinz Field on Sept. 11, 2004 -- a 24-3 loss to Pitt. Ohio is set to play an ACC team for the second year in a row. The Bobcats fell to Virginia, 45-31, on Sept. 15, 2018, in a contest that was moved from Charlottesville to Nashville due to Hurricane Florence.