Published Sat, Oct 1, 2011 8:42 pm Dateline
Updated Tue, Oct 4, 2011 3:39 pm
It was cold. It was windy. It was raining.
The game was slow and as ugly as the weather.
But during an afternoon that felt a lot like an October slap-in-the-face, Ohio found a way to beat Kent State for the first time since 2008.
A game like Saturday's will, naturally, bring much talk about the negatives (and in this case, injuries) of an underwhelming win over a mediocre conference opponent. But by trudging through what hockey fans would call "Neutral-Zone Carnage" (neither team seemed to be able to move past the opponent's 35), the 'Cats improved to 4-1 for the first time since 1997.
Games like this are often won by the team with superior playmakers, and Ohio clearly had that today, especially on three plays on one drive in the third quarter.
The first two kept the Bobcat drive alive and the next distanced Ohio from a scrappy, athletic Flashes team.
With Ohio leading 10-7 and the 'Cats staring at a fourth-and-inches from the KSU 33-yard line, Frank Solich decided to roll the dice. Tyler Tettleton rolled the pocket right, and the sophomore waited...and waited...and waited for his line to give him a crease. He finally found that crack in the trench and dove ahead for six inches (maximum) and a first down.
Next: On third and nine with three minutes to play in the third quarter, and Ohio at the Kent State 32-yard line, Tettleton threw a pass down the seam of the KSU defense to his most reliable target, LaVon Brazill.
The throw was a bit high, but Brazill climbed an incredibly tall, invisible ladder and hauled it in, giving Ohio a goal-to-go from the KSU 10-yard line.
"There's playmakers all over the field for us," head coach Frank Solich said. "LaVon is an excellent playmaker with his ability to come out of breaks and run routes and just beat one-on-one coverage."
Then, two plays later on a third and goal from the seven, Tettleton threw a pass into the flat to his left to running back Ryan Boykin. Boykin was lined up, one-on-one with KSU cornerback Darius Polk at the two-yard line.
If Boykin could find a way to score, Ohio would lead by 10. If not, the 'Cats would kick a field goal for a 13-7 lead.
17-7 and 13-7 look drastically different, especially on a day where both teams are gutting through a game-time temperature of 49 degrees.
Resume your imagination.
Boykin squared his shoulders and lowered his body into Polk's.
Boykin is 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighs 221 pounds. Polk only gives up an inch to the Ohio running back, but the junior cornerback weighs just 183 pounds.
Boykin destroyed Polk. Ran right through him. Bulldozed him. Boykin abused Polk, stayed on his feet and waltzed into the end zone.
Ohio led by 10 and the game was never really in doubt again.
As Solich likes to say, he has players who can make plays.
"Boykin is one of those guys who's always getting yardage on a play," Solich said. "He's always leaning forward on a run, he's always getting yards after contact, and the run into the end-zone was a special contact play.
"One-on-one, when he's going to come at you, he's a tremendous back to bring down. He's a collision back, and you have to love him for the way he plays the game."
"They blitzed and the corner stayed out there," Boykin said, bashfully smirking. "It was just him and the goal line, and I wasn't going to let him stop me."
This month is crucial for Ohio in its quest for a MAC title. In essence, the 'Cats cannot lose in October - against the bottom feeders of the MAC - if they want to go to Detroit. Every game can be an elimination game in conference play.
Because of those three plays, on quite possibly the most important drive of the season so far, Ohio lived to see another day.