Published Thu, Nov 17, 2011 1:07 am Dateline
Updated Thu, Nov 17, 2011 3:41 pm
When he lined up for the game-winning field goal, Ohio kicker Matt Weller didn't fully know what was on the line.
But for arguably the best kicker in school history, the pressure didn't matter. Weller drilled a 24-yarder as time expired - his fifth three-pointer of the game - to beat Bowling Green 29-28 and send Ohio to its third Mid-American Conference championship game in seven years under Frank Solich.
Ohio (8-3, 5-2 MAC) clinches the MAC East, a spot in the conference title game and a bowl game appearance (the two teams in the MAC Championship game are guaranteed a bowl spot) because Western Michigan beat Miami (OH) 24-21.
The most ironic aspect of Ohio's one-point road win was that the 'Cats didn't play particularly well for 47 minutes.
Ohio fumbled twice in the first six minutes of the first quarter, committed five penalties for 62 yards and gave up 347 yards, but "found a way" in Winning Time.
Ohio trailed Bowling Green (4-7, 2-5 MAC) 28-19 with 13:41 remaining, after Falcon quarterback Matt Schilz found Eugene "Binky" Cooper for a three-yard touchdown.
The season wasn't technically in the balance as Tyler Tettleton and the offense took the field for its next possession. If Ohio would have lost Wednesday, the Bobcats still could have clinched the MAC East with a win over Miami in the regular-season finale.
But championship-caliber teams, like this Ohio bunch, don't care about that.
Donte Harden's 33-yard kick return set Tettleton up inside BGSU territory, and it took the sophomore quarterback just five plays to put six more points in Ohio's column.
Tettleton - who rushed for 134 yards on 23 carries - ran for 37 yards on three straight carries, including the four-yard score, on the touchdown drive. That pulled Ohio within two at 28-26.
Ohio's defense struggled mightily and was gashed at times by Schilz (23/34, 232 yards, 3 TD), but on third-and-six from the Ohio 40, Blake Jones got around the Falcons' right tackle and sacked Schilz to force a punt.
With 7:34 left in the fourth and down by two points, Ohio embarked on its longest drive - time wise - of the season.
Ohio drained the Falcons on a 15-play, 83-yard drive that chewed up all the time remaining on the clock, and Weller finished the job. The 'Cats exploded off the sideline, holder/punter Paul Hershey embraced Weller and a couple players dumped some Gatorade on Frank Solich.
Coming into the game, Ohio was 4-31 under Solich when trailing entering the fourth quarter. Ohio was winless in 2011 and 16-31 under Solich when the opponent scored first, as Bowling Green did Wednesday.
But this team has found its clutch gene, and although it starts and ends with the technically-inexperienced but clearly-poised sophomore under center, it seems as if the whole team has inherited it.
Notes: Ohio punches its ticket to the MAC Championship game, and will likely see Northern Illinois in Detroit on December 2.
LaVon Brazill became Ohio's single-season receiving touchdowns leader (10) with a great catch of a 24-yard beauty from Tettleton - the play was #6 on the SportsCenter Top 10 plays of the night. He also is the school's leader in single-season receiving yards, after his five catch, 43-yard performance. The redshirt senior now has 868 receiving yards in 2011, and is nine yards away from holding the career record for receiving yards.