Updated Fri, Feb 8, 2013 8:25 pm
When the going got tough against the University of Massachusetts, Ohio running back Beau Blankenship got going. The redshirt junior bulldozed his way to a career-high 269 yards and a pair of touchdowns on a record-tying 43 carries to lead the Ohio Bobcats (5-0, 1-0) to a come-from-behind win over the Minutemen (0-5, 0-2) at Gillette Stadium, 37-34.
The win gives the Bobcats five consecutive victories to open the season for the first time since 1968.
"I’m just thankful to have the players around me," said Blankenship. "The offensive line did an absolutely great job up front opening up holes, and the receivers did a great job blocking up field. I’m just thankful that we came out and got the ‘W.'"
Though the end result was ideal, Ohio's path to victory lane was filled with plenty of roadblocks.
The Minutemen drew first blood just over five minutes into the game after forcing an Ohio three-and-out. UMass put together a 12 play, 82-yard drive capped off by a 27-yard strike from redshirt freshman quarterback Mike Wegzyn to redshirt senior receiver Alan Williams on 3rd and 8 to take a quick 7-0 lead. It was Wegzyn’s first career touchdown pass and the Minutemen’s first ever lead as an FBS program.
Blankenship and the ‘Cats began to hit their offensive stride on the second possession, but were unable to fully capitalize. The offense rolled 73 yards down the field before settling for a 27-yard field goal off the leg of Matt Weller. Blankenship piled up 42 rushing yards on the drive.
But UMass would provide the last points of the first quarter as Wegzyn completed three passes for 38 yards to set up a 30-yard field goal from Blake Lucas.
Ohio’s defense never looked comfortable in the first 15 minutes, surrendering 144 total yards to the Minutemen. Unlike Ohio’s first four victories, the defensive woes would remain constant throughout the night.
The Bobcats answered the Minutemen’s offensive outburst by scoring at will in the second quarter. Weller connected from 24 yards on the Bobcats’ initial drive that began in the first quarter to cut the deficit to four.
The charge continued after UMass’ first punt of the night; Blankenship picked up 72 of Ohio’s 79 total yards on an eight-play drive that ended with a Tyler Tettleton one-yard toss to tight end Troy Hill to give the ‘Cats a 13-10 lead.
Still, Wegzyn and the Minutemen offense were determined to match Blankenship and the ‘Cats stride for stride. On 2nd and 11 from the 50, Wegzyn found Williams all alone in the seam of Ohio’s defense for the longest touchdown of the night. Ohio’s defense allowed 248 total yards in the first half; the Bobcats entered the game giving up an average of 322 yards per game.
Tettleton was impressed with the resilience of the Minutemen.
"Their [UMass'] schedule hasn’t been easy. I give a lot of credit to them too for... coming out and fighting," he said. "They’re going to be good here in a couple of years."
As the Minutemen defense began to stack the box in an effort to contain a red-hot Blankenship, Tettleton took matters into his own hands. The captain unleashed a 41-yard bomb to redshirt sophomore Chase Cochran to give Cochran his first career touchdown reception and the Bobcats a 20-17 lead heading into the half.
Ohio rallied to outscore UMass 17-7 in the second quarter, but the Minutemen’s newly discovered passing attack would again prove formidable in the second half.
Wegzyn continued to shine for UMass by engineering a 12-play, 81-yard drive to open the second half that was finalized by a 26-yard strike to Deion Walker.
The Minutemen extended their lead to seven after Lucas knocked home a 23-yard field goal on the heels of a blocked Weller attempt.
UMass held a momentous seven-point lead heading into the final quarter of play with the better half of the 8,321 fans in attendance on their feet anticipating the program’s first ever FBS victory.
But if the Bobcats have proven anything this season, it is that their strongest play is often saved for the final 15 minutes.
Blankenship would continue his remarkable performance with a five-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 27. It took the Iowa State transfer 195 yards to hit pay dirt, but the trip to the end zone would not be his last of the night.
After the Bobcat defense forced a UMass three-and-out, Ohio tacked three more points on the board with another Weller field goal, this time from 26 yards away. Weller connected on four field goals and amounted 13 points on the night to pass former Northern Illinois running back Garrett Wolfe for fifth on the MAC all-time scoring list.
Then, after UMass’ second consecutive punt, the Minutemen received yet another dose of Beau.
Blankenship scampered for a 40-yard touchdown with 6:13 remaining to give the Bobcats some much-needed insurance.
Wegzyn connected with Williams for the pair’s third touchdown strike of the night just under three minutes later, but UMass would fail to score again. Wegzyn was just 1-for-6 on the Minutemen’s final possession as the Bobcat defense forced a turnover on downs and sealed the victory for the Green and White.
"Coach [Solich] preaches over and over (that) we’re a four-quarter football team, so no matter what happens in the first quarter we still got three more quarters to go," said senior tight end Jordan Thompson. "It’s a complete-game effort, and that’s what it was today. We made plays when we had to make plays and fortunately those plays were made late in the fourth."
Despite this being UMass' first year in the Mid-American Conference, Ohio coach Frank Solich was not surprised that the Minutemen gave the 'Cats an ultimate test.
"They played three BCS schools to open up the season and so they had a very, very tough schedule," Solich said. "I think they learned from that, and I think they got better from that."
Blankenship’s heroic effort marks just the sixth time a Bobcat rusher eclipsed the 250-yard barrier. His 43-carry performance ties former Bobcat running back Bill Gary as the most single-game carries in Ohio football history.
Tettleton also played a key role in Ohio’s offensive production, completing 15 of 27 attempts for 229 yards and two touchdowns. He also moved to third all-time in career completions for the 'Cats.
"Stats don’t mean anything to me," Tettleton said. "As long as we get the win and I contribute and do my part that’s all that matters."
Ohio returns home to Peden Stadium on Saturday for its second MAC contest. The University at Buffalo Bulls will invade Athens in hopes of dethroning Ohio from the top of the MAC East.