Published Sat, Oct 15, 2011 10:25 pm Dateline
Updated Wed, Apr 11, 2012 9:31 pm
In the last month, Ohio has scored quickly, given up points in bulk but slowly, and lost more than it won.
On homecoming Saturday, the story remained the same as Ohio lost to visiting Ball State 23-20 when kicker Matt Weller's late field goal drifted wide left.
"It's heartbreaking," Ohio running back Donte Harden said. "It's not supposed to happen."
Harden ran the ball very effectively - 19 carries, 89 yards - but his fourth-quarter fumble was just one example of how individual blunders doomed Ohio on a beautiful Saturday at Peden Stadium.
"No one feels worse than [Donte] does," head coach Frank Solich said.
Starting at its own five-yard line with just over three minutes left and trailing by three, Ohio escaped its own goal line and got into field goal range for one of the best kickers in Ohio University history. Weller is the all-time leader in made field goals and is second all-time in field goal percentage, but his 41-yard attempt slipped past the left-side upright.
"That really shocked me," LaVon Brazill said.
"He came off a great game against Buffalo," Solich said. "He's your best shot. He will win ball games for us in the future too, it's just unfortunate that it ended the way it did."
Ohio's inexperienced defense performed very well, all things considered. Freshman Antwan Crutcher made nine tackles and Ohio avoided giving up the big plays that haunted it at Buffalo. Noah Keller (15 tackles) had arguably his best game of the season.
But mistakes killed Ohio again. Tyler Tettleton threw two interceptions for the first time in 2011, and his poor throws happened at inopportune times.
At the end of the second quarter, Ohio possessed the ball with less than a minute to go. On first down, Harden rushed for 11 yards, and Solich decided to use a time out so the Bobcat offense would have time to get into field goal range. On the next play, Tettleton's pass to the right side numbers hit the helmet of a defender and was intercepted. Ball State kicked a field goal to finish the first half leading 13-7.
Even while committing three turnovers (to Ball State's zero), Ohio had a chance to win the game - precisely the theme of all three losses of its 2011 season. LaVon Brazill - eight catches, 158 yards, two touchdowns - had his best game as a collegiate player and his electrifying 74-yard, one-handed catch-and-run touchdown tied the score at 20 late in the third quarter.
Brazill also became Ohio's all-time leader in receptions later in the game when he made career catch number 150. He passed former Bobcat and current New England Patriots' wide receiver Taylor Price on the list.
"It feels good to be one of the top receivers at Ohio University," Brazill said. "But I wish I would have won the game with those catches."
But even with all the miscues, the 'Cats fell short in crunch time again. Ohio allowed Ball State to convert 12 of 22 third down chances, turned the ball over in tough spots, and Weller missed with the game on the line.
"I'd be lying if I said we shouldn't have won those games," Keller said. "We need to play up to our level like we know we can for the rest of the season and hope to catch some breaks."
"We can't defeat ourselves," Harden said. "We can't turn the ball over, that'll be the key. I feel like our destiny is in our hands."
In reality though, this team of destiny no longer possesses it.
The 'Cats drop to 4-3 overall and 1-2 in the MAC with the loss, which places Ohio a full game back of MAC East-leading Temple. Ohio hosts the Owls November 2.
Many thought the Wednesday night game with the Owls would be the make-or-break contest for Ohio in 2011. Many thought if Ohio could beat Temple it would win the MAC East and have a chance at the conference championship.
Few thought the game between Bobcats and Owls would be meaningless for Ohio, but it could be just that.
Now, the Bobcats' season is on the brink. Unless the MAC East erupts into every-team-beats-every-other-team chaos, Ohio will need to win out and get help to win the division it has won twice under Frank Solich.
For now, though, the mood has completely changed.
"I think they're just down right now," Solich said. "They're frustrated and they are angry. It was very quiet in the locker room. They had high expectations and some of that is slipping away a little bit.
"There's a lot of football left to be played. This is tough to overcome because they had such high expectations...the closeness of it makes it sting a little more."