Photo Credit: Ohio Athletics

Ohio Football Wins Regular Season Finale Over NIU

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Entering Tuesday night’s showdown between the Ohio Bobcats and Northern Illinois Huskies, the Huskies had won 22 November games in a row. Some stout defense and a punishing ground game helped the Bobcats keep that streak from reaching 23 in a 26-21 road win.

The Bobcats (8-4, 5-3) ripped off 230 yards on the ground, and sophomore running back AJ Ouellette accounted for 140 of those on his way to an Ohio season-high individual rushing performance.

On the other side of the ball, the ‘Cats kept the Huskies (8-4, 6-2), a team that rushed for 226 yards a game before Tuesday, to just 73 rushing yards.

Another impressive point in the Bobcats win is the fact that they won with the third string quarterback playing the majority of the final three quarters.

Tied at 7-7 in the opening minutes of the second quarter, the Bobcats found themselves in the Huskies’ red zone after they recovered a muffed punt. A little bit of Ohio trickeration resulted in the loss of their starting quarterback. Ouellette took a handoff from JD Sprague, and reversed the ball to Brendan Cope, who then threw it over the head of Sprague, who had run down the field. Sprague got a hand on the ball that went over his head, but he fell hard to the ground and missed the rest of the game.

Greg Windham came in, in relief, but the Bobcats couldn’t punch it in. Josiah Yazdani then kicked a 22-yard field goal to give Ohio a 10-7 lead.

Along with Ouellette’s legs, Windham proved his worth with two minutes left on the clock in the third quarter, and after the Huskies cut the Bobcats’ lead to six at 20-14. Windham threw for 48 yards—32 of which came on a 32-yard pass to Cope— and added 13 yards on the ground on the way to a 26-yard field goal.

Ohio got off to a good start in the game, as it drove 80 yards to the end zone on its second drive of the game to take a 7-0 lead. On the touchdown score, Sprague aired it out to Reid, and the tight end caught a 28-yard pass in stride and outside the left hash on his way to the end zone.

After the Bobcat defense forced the Huskies to punt, the ‘Cats were pinned at their own 10.  With a 12-yard pass to Sebastian Smith, the drive was off to a good start, but he fumbled and Northern Illinois recovered on the 22-yard line.

The Huskies ran it four times for an easy score. Jordan Huff finished off the short drive with a 5-yard run into the end zone.

The Bobcats continued to be the beneficiary of good field position in the second quarter. Another Huskies’ punt put the ‘Cats on their opponent’s 45. Windham threw an 8-yard pass, and then Ouellette took Ohio down the field 31 yards in four rushes. Following four straight rushes, Ohio flipped the script with a play action pass to tight end Keith Heitzman for a 5-yard score.

With a 17-7 lead, Yazdani kicked his second field goal of the day to give Ohio a 20-7 lead and the half’s last score.

The game’s momentum started to shift at the start of the second half. Ohio got down to the Huskies’ 37-yard line on its first drive of the half, but it stalled after two passes fell incomplete.

Northern Illinois responded with a three-play, 86-yard drive that used just 1:11 on the clock. Juwa Brescacin took the ball down the field on a 62-yard pass on a slant route. Then, Kenny Golladay made it a one-score game with a 27-yard touchdown reception.

Under five minutes to go in the third, the Huskies were driving again and were on the Ohio 42.  That’s when the ‘Cats stole the momentum back after linebacker Chad Moore picked up a strip-sack fumble. The Huskies recovered the fumble, but lost their quarterback Ryan Graham with an injury to his left leg. To add insult to injury, the Huskies had to punt facing fourth down and 29 yards to go.

It was on the following drive that Yazdani set the score at 23-14.

On the Bobcats’ next drive, head coach Frank Solich again trusted Yazdani’s leg, with the wind at his back, for a 48-yard field goal. The kick was blocked, but since the ball didn’t pass the line of scrimmage, Ohio’s Kent Berger was allowed to advance the ball 20-yards down the field after he recovered the ball.  With 7:42 left in the game, that gave Yazdani another chance. The reigning MAC Special Teams Player of the Week punched in his fourth field goal of the night, from 26 yards away, to give Ohio a 26-14 lead.

The Huskies kept it interesting with an 11-play, 90 yard touchdown drive that ended with 1:45 left on the clock. But Ohio recovered the onside kick attempt to clinch a win in its last regular season game.

Eight wins gives Ohio their best record since going 9-4 in the 2012-13 season. The Bobcats have a chance to match that mark in their inevitable upcoming bowl game. currently projects Ohio to make a trip to the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl, or the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.