ATHENS, Ohio -- Senior quarterback Nathan Rourke (Oakville, Ontario, Canada) threw for a career-high 342 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two more scores to help lift the Ohio football team (3-4, 2-1 MAC) to a critical 45-38 Mid-American Conference East Division victory over Kent State (3-4, 2-1 MAC) today at Peden Stadium.
The Bobcats posted their sixth-straight win over the Golden Flashes and moved into first place in the MAC East Division with the victory.
"It was a real statement game for us," said Rourke. "We had to show that we're better than what we've shown so far, and we need to show this in more games with good opponents like Kent."
Ohio racked up a season-high 45 points, 571 yards of total offense and 31 first downs with Rourke recording his first career game with at least 300 passing yards. He became the first Ohio quarterback to pass for at least 300 yards in a game since Greg Windham threw for 380 against Texas State in 2016. Rourke has now been responsible for at least four touchdowns in a single game 10 times in his career and extended his school record for career touchdowns responsible for to 94. He has now thrown for 6,249 yards in his career, giving him the distinction of being one of only two quarterbacks in program history to throw for at least 6,000 career yards along with Tyler Tettleton (9,125 yards; 2009-13). Rourke's 50 career passing touchdowns rank second in program history while his 42 career rushing touchdowns rank third.
"I think he showed his complete talent today, his throwing ability - some great catches by receivers also – and his running ability along with when it looks like he's down or stopped to be able to get another five or six yards, sometimes to pick up a first down and keep drives going. He was special at that today," said Ohio 15th-year head coach Frank Solich.
Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Isiah Cox (Jasper, Ala.) enjoyed a breakout game, matching his career high with four receptions, logging a team-high 115 receiving yards and hauling in a 49-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter.
Making his first career start, redshirt freshman wide receiver Ty Walton (St. Louis, Mo.) set career highs with four catches and 59 receiving yards.
As a team, the Bobcats racked up 229 rushing yards, with junior running back De'Montre Tuggle (Channelview, Texas) leading the way with a career-high 80 on a career-high 19 carries. He also matched his career high with two rushing touchdowns. Rourke added 79 rushing yards while redshirt freshman running back O'Shaan Allison (Norristown, Pa.) gained 51 yards on six carries before exiting the contest with an injury.
Ohio's big day on offense came despite missing the services of junior left guard Brett Kitrell (Ashland, Neb.), who did not play due to injury. Redshirt junior Nick Sink (Fishers, Ind.) started at left guard for the first time in his career in Kitrell's place.
"We have some really selfless guys in the locker room," said Rourke. "They are all working their butts off. They're young, but they come in and do the work, and when their number is called, they're ready for it. That's why we've been able to move the ball like we've been able to. It was great to see some guys have great games and get some recognition for the work that they've been putting in."
The contest was deadlocked at 24-all after 30 minutes of play, with the two teams combining for 48 points and 645 yards in the first half alone.
Ohio got the ball to start the second half and promptly moved 75 yards in 13 plays and just over seven minutes. Completions of 18 yards to Cox and 11 yards to Walton from Rourke set up a one-yard touchdown plunge by Tuggle, who picked up 34 all-purpose yards on the scoring drive that put Ohio back in the lead, 31-24.
Tuggle's touchdown marked the only one of the third quarter as Ohio took a seven-point lead into the final period. After Ohio was forced to punt on its first drive of the fourth quarter, Kent State went 94 yards in 10 plays. Aided by three penalties by the Bobcats, the Golden Flashes finished the drive off with a 27-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Dustin Crum to redshirt sophomore Raymond James, helping Kent State tie the score with 9:28 to play.
The Bobcats got right back to work on offense on the ensuing drive. Rourke got the march started with a 16-yard completion to redshirt freshman wide receiver Shane Hooks (Orlando, Fla.). A holding penalty and a pass interference penalty by the Golden Flashes on back-to-back plays helped Ohio move the ball to the Kent State 34. Rourke completed passes of 16 yards to Walton and nine yards to redshirt junior tight end Ryan Luehrman (Athens, Ohio) and ran the ball for 24 more yards, with the last going for seven yards and a touchdown to put the Bobcats back in front, 38-31.
Ohio's defense needed to make a stop, and it got it on Kent State's next drive. The Bobcats forced the Golden Flashes to go three-and-out after redshirt freshman linebacker Bryce Houston (Lewis Center, Ohio) hurried Crum and redshirt senior safety Javon Hagan (Jacksonville, Fla.) extended to make a play on the third-down pass to sophomore wide receiver Isaiah McKoy and come up with a big deflection.
"I was in cover one, and everyone was manned up, and Kent actually had a miscommunication on their part," said Hagan of his big defensive play. "I was covering deep middle and was following the eyes of the quarterback, and I just made a play, a big play that meant something to the team and got us off the field."
The Bobcats got back in the end zone on the fourth play of the ensuing drive, with Tuggle running it in from 19 yards to make it a two-touchdown game. The score was set up by a 29-yard pass from Rourke to Cox.
Kent State got the ball back with 2:31 remaining and moved 65 yards on 11 plays. The drive ended with Crum throwing an eight-yard touchdown to senior wide receiver Mike Carrigan with 31 seconds left. Ohio sealed the victory, though, when redshirt junior tight end Adam Luehrman (Athens, Ohio) recovered the ensuing onside kick from Kent State sophomore kicker Matthew Trickett.
The scoring began early and often, with Kent State moving 75 yards in five plays on the game's opening drive and capping the march off with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Crum to Carrigan.
Ohio answered with a seven-play, 58-yard scoring drive. A career-long 36-yard run by Allison gave the Bobcats a fresh set of downs at the Kent State 22-yard line. The drive stalled out, though, and Ohio was forced to settle for a 35-yard field goal by redshirt senior kicker Louie Zervos (Tarpon Springs, Fla.) that cut Kent State's lead to 7-3.
After forcing Kent State to punt, the Bobcats took over on their own 35. After a nine-yard run by Allison and a seven-yard completion from Rourke to redshirt junior wide receiver Cameron Odom (Bedford, Ohio), Rourke found Cox wide open down the middle of the field for a 49-yard touchdown pass, allowing Ohio to take a 10-7 lead midway through the first quarter.
The Golden Flashes struck back with a 16-play, 83-yard drive that chewed 5:50 off of the clock and ended in a 12-yard scoring strike from Crum to senior wide receiver Kavious Price, putting Kent State back in front, 14-10, with 1:36 to play in the first quarter.
Ohio wasted no time in responding, with a 51-yard touchdown pass from Rourke to a wide-open redshirt freshman Jerome Buckner (Columbus, Ohio) putting an end to a six-play, 75-yard scoring march and giving the Bobcats a 17-14 lead with just under 14 minutes to play in the first half.
The Golden Flashes tied the game on a 27-yard field goal by Trickett, capping off a 10-play, 66-yard drive.
The Bobcats drove 49 yards to the Kent State 26 on the ensuing drive. Zervos came on to attempt a 43-yard field goal, but the try went wide right, keeping the score even at 17-all with 6:20 to play in the half.
Kent State regained the lead on the next drive. A 54-yard pass from Crum to Price set up a two-yard touchdown run by redshirt senior running back Will Matthews, putting the Golden Flashes ahead, 24-17, with 2:40 remaining in the second quarter.
Ohio tied the contest at 24-all on the ensuing drive, moving nine plays and 72 yards in just over two minutes. Rourke completed passes of 14 yards to Hooks, 12 yards to Tuggle, 20 yards to Cox and 24 yards to Ryan Luehrman. After Kent State was flagged for defensive holding and pass interference on back-to-back plays, Rourke kept it himself for a three-yard touchdown with 13 seconds left to help even the score.
Rourke finished the half completing 12-of-17 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns while adding 28 more yards and another score on the ground.
Kent State finished the game with 476 yards of total offense, with Crum throwing for 262 yards and four touchdowns on 24-of-35 passing while adding a team-high 96 rushing yards on 16 attempts. Carrigan and McKoy each hauled in seven receptions to tie for a game-high, with Carrigan compiling 72 receiving yards and catching two scores. Matthews added 85 rushing yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.
The Bobcats were led defensively by redshirt freshman linebacker Keye Thompson (Barberton, Ohio), who finished with a career-high 10 total tackles (two solo, eight assisted) while making his first career start at weakside linebacker. Redshirt sophomore nose tackle Kai Caesar (Cache, Okla.) and redshirt junior right defensive end Austin Conrad (LaGrange, Ohio) each recorded a sack. Conrad finished the game with a team-high two tackles for loss.
"I think as you go through the season, you are fortunate if you don't have guys banged up and you don't have to have guys step in and play crucial roles for you. We have guys that are doing that, and that's all a huge plus for us," said Solich of younger players like Thompson stepping up and making plays. "I think it makes those guys feel good that they're able to step in. We've got confidence in them in terms of contributing and for them to contribute the way they did in this game on both sides of the ball. I think that was great."
Ohio will play its final Saturday game of the 2019 regular season next week (Oct. 26) when it travels to Muncie, Ind., to take on MAC West Division leader Ball State (4-3, 3-0 MAC). Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET from Scheumann Stadium. The game will be streamed live on ESPN+ in addition to being broadcast live on the Ohio Sports Network from Learfield IMG College.