Updated Wed, Nov 23, 2011 8:05 am
For the first time since September 18, 2010, Ohio's offense was shut out in the first half of a football game.
The offensive silence didn't last.
The Bobcats turned Senior Night against rival Miami (OH) into Record Night, Mug Night and Winning Night in a 21-14 win.
"It just feels awesome," senior defensive lineman Jeff King said.
"I was in tears out there listening to the band do the alma mater for the last time," senior wide receiver Riley Dunlop said. "We hate [Miami], we really do."
The two captains and the rest of the senior class have never lost to the Redhawks.
"I think everyone wanted [the senior class] to go out with a win," head coach Frank Solich said. "They're a special group in that they led this program through some tough times and got it turned around to where there's some consistency here.
"Primarily you don't do that without a good group of upperclassmen and great leadership."
Ohio trailed 7-0 at the break and accounted for just 150 yards in the first half, but nearly tripled that with its second half total. The Bobcats finished with 435 yards of total offense.
"We just came out real slow and sloppy in the first half," Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton said. "They were blitzing us a lot and that threw us off."
"We touched on a lot [at halftime]," Solich said. "There was a lot we weren't doing very well, so we addressed those issues, and that's just making sure we kept our composure and din't find ourselves beating up on one another for not playing well.
"We've got enough talent that if we do that…good things are going to happen for us."
While Ohio's offense struggled, its defense bent but rarely broke against Miami quarterback Zac Dysert, who threw for 372 yards on 53 attempts and two touchdowns (one rushing). The Redhawk pace was furiously fast.
"It frustrates you a little bit," King said. "When they get in a rhythm it's sometimes hard to stop them, but we made some adjustments at halftime, and we got the stops when we needed to."
After a first-quarter touchdown run by Dysert, the Bobcat defense forced six punts on Miami's final eight possessions (including one turnover-on-downs) to do its part.
Tyler Tettleton threw for 203 yards on 18 of 26 passing for three touchdowns, and after his bad third-quarter interception (just his seventh of the season) in the red-zone, the Bobcats scored touchdowns on their next three possessions to take a 21-7 lead.
Tettleton found tight end Jordan Thompson in the back of the end zone for the tying score, Donte Foster for the second touchdown and senior Riley Dunlop for the final one.
"I think they bit down on Jordan and we'd been repping that all week in practice," Dunlop said. "Our [scout] defense bit on it too, and I just happened to be wide open."
"Being 14 points up on a quarterback like Zac [Dysert]…that's not much," Solich added. Those words were extremely true late in the fourth quarter.
Dysert - who threw 53 passes - found Nick Harwell (14 catches, 163 yards and a touchdown) for a 16-yard touchdown to bring the score to 21-14, but a pressure-filled - literally and figuratively - final drive for Miami.
The Redhawks ran 17 plays on the final drive (which started with 4:17 remaining), and found itself with a first down at the Ohio 14 with less than two to play. Dysert threw three straight incomplete passes and was rocked by Ohio cornerback Mose Denton on an edge blitz on third down.
Then, on fourth down, Ohio sent the same blitz from the outside, and Denton got Dysert to effectively end the game.
"To hold a team like that to just 14 points is pretty good," Solich said. "The blitz at the end was real important for us. We hadn't blitzed a lot leading up until then, this one we really needed it."
"We had some good speed on the field," King added. "We just told them 'this is it.' It was just determination and wanting to beat Miami."
The win came with a price, however, as starting linebacker Noah Keller left the game in the first quarter with a left hamstring injury and starting center Skyler Allen left the game in the third quarter with a leg injury. Neither player returned to action against Miami. Solich said both were "in question" for the conference title game.
Ohio clinched the MAC East six days ago in Bowling Green, and will know its opponent for the MAC Championship game (Dec. 2 at Ford Field in Detroit) after this Friday's conference action.
If Northern Illinois beats Eastern Michigan, the Huskies will be Ohio's opponent. NIU dual-threat quarterback Chandler Harnish is a Walter Camp Award semi-finalist for the nation's best college player. Dysert accounted for all but four of the Redhawks yards, including 57 on the ground for the junior QB.
"Both teams that are eligible to win the West (NIU and Toledo) are both high-powered offenses," Solich said. "So we're definitely going to have our hands full there and we're going to need to score some points."
Mobile quarterbacks have torn Ohio's defense apart in 2011 (see: Coyer, Chris). Harnish is a much better runner, to say the least, than either Coyer or Dysert and runs more often.
"I'm not sure how to address it," Solich said. "Mobile quarterbacks hurt everybody. We've got one, and so we hurt other people. That's just the nature of the game anymore."
Tettleton finished with 111 yards on 12 carries - including an electrifying 48-yarder to set up a touchdown in a third quarter torrential downpour. Tuesday marked the second straight game in which the redshirt sophomore has rushed for more than 100 yards.
"The last two teams we played were physical football teams. It's hard to just rush the ball in a lot of traditional ways," Solich said. "We didn't really want to run him a lot…but we couldn't keep it from happening."
Even though the regular-season finale meant little on paper, the rivalry was all this Ohio team needed to "get up" and beat Miami for the sixth consecutive time, tying the longest streak in program history (1934-41).
"It's a rivalry," Dunlop said, laughing. "You have to hate your rivals. We didn't need any extra motivation."
"It's been a long-standing rivalry," Solich said. "I don't buy into that losing your focus just because you have something wrapped up. There was a clean way to get to Detroit…and anything other than that isn't what we're after."
"This was their bowl game, this was their last game," Tettleton said. "I feel like we didn't back down at all."
Every time Ohio beats the Redhawks in football, each member of the team gets a mug to commemorate the victory. This senior class has a perfect set of four (and sometimes five) remembrance mugs.
Ohio beat Miami in historic fashion, as many more marks fell in a season that has rewrote the Bobcat record books.
Wide receiver LaVon Brazill (three receptions, 34 yards) became Ohio's all-time leader in receiving yards with 2,267.
Tettleton has now completed more passes in a single-season - 229 - than any other Bobcat quarterback. His three touchdowns also tied his career high and moved him into sole possession of fourth place on Ohio's career passing touchdowns list.
Kicker Matt Weller is tied for the most successful point-after-attempts in a career with 115.
Ohio's offense scored its 383rd point of the season with Tettleton's last touchdown to Dunlop, which breaks the record for most points scored in a single-season. The record was previously held by the 1968 Bobcat team that finished the regular season undefeated and lost in the Tangerine Bowl to Richmond 49-42.
Under Solich, Ohio is 0-7 in postseason games. It will have two more chances to win either its first conference championship in 43 years or its first bowl game in school history.