Photo Cred: Nathan Wiseman

Ohio Drops Heartbreaking Loss to Appalachian State in Camellia Bowl, 31-29

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A 24 point rally in the second half by Appalachian State and two back-to-back turnovers cost the game for the Ohio Bobcats in the heartbreaking 31-29 loss to the Mountaineers in the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl. This is Appalachian State’s first ever bowl victory in school history.

“It was kind of two halves in the form of turnovers. They gave us a couple and we gave them a couple,” coach Frank Solich said.

The fourth quarter plagued Ohio with two early interceptions and a fumble by J.D. Sprague and Daz’mond Patterson that the Mountaineers turned into points; 21 points in 1:56. Appalachian State took back the lead for the first time since the first quarter, 28-24. Sprague was injured late in the fourth, bringing in Greg Windham instead of Derrius Vick.

“Derrius was only at 85 percent and was not able to function at a high level,” Solich said.

Jovon Johnson caused a safety to put the ‘Cats within two, and a field goal from Josiah Yazdani gave Ohio a one point lead, 29-28. It came down to a last second field goal by Appalachian State that went through the uprights to give the Mountaineers the victory.

Ohio had a dismal start to the game, going three and out on four straight possessions. Sprague scrambled all over the field, trying to get something going for the ‘Cats, but Appalachian State’s consistent pass rush caused some trouble, picking up two sacks. The ground game struggled to find its groove until the second quarter when Papi White returned to the gridiron for the first time since October, giving them the first drive where Ohio didn’t go three and out.

Appalachian State’s Marcus Cox and Jalin Moore ran all over the ‘Cats with a combined 83 yards in the first quarter alone, including a huge 55 yard run by Moore to put the Mountaineers in position to score their first touchdown halfway through the first. Zach Matics missed both field goal attempts in the first quarter, his first two misses of the season inside the 40.

The second quarter is when Ohio finally got comfortable. White’s presence helped tremendously, and Sprague found his feet, picking up a 16-yard gain on a third and long situation. That drive would lead to a 36-yard field goal by Yazdani to finally put the Bobcats on the board with 1:31 left in the first half, 7-3. Quentin Poling again proved his worth with a late pick six in the first half to put the ‘Cats in the lead, 10-7. Taylor Lamb would fumble the snap, and Tony Porter recovered the ball that would lead to an A.J. Ouellette seven-yard rush for his only touchdown with 46 yards on the night. Ohio scored 17 points in 1:11 and led at half 17-7.

That momentum shift proved to be vital for Ohio. Come third quarter, Ohio came out roaring back to put up another touchdown off of strip from Johnson.

“I just saw him flagging the ball and knew I could strip it. So I just did it,” Johnson said.

The Mountaineers would respond slowly but surely in the third quarter, testing the secondary and having Cox pound down the middle of the field, making him the Bart Starr MVP of the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl. Cox had 24 carries for 175 yards and one touchdown.

“I thought as an offensive unit we could have functioned better. If we could have gotten some things done early in the third quarter, that would have made it very, very difficult for them to come back and win. We struggled stopping their explosive play. They got their running game going which made it somewhat difficult, but I’m proud of the way our players played and how hard they fought. I felt badly for our players. Tremendous leadership from our seniors, and I feel for them,” Solich said.

“I think we [the seniors] went out as a group pretty well. I think we left everything out on the field tonight. My time here at Ohio has been amazing, all five years I’ve been here. I’ve loved every second of it,” Johnson said.

“We had a young team. I’m excited for next year with a lot of talent coming back. I’m going to miss these seniors like crazy. In the locker room, I can’t even look at them yet, “Ouellette said.

Ohio finished their season 8-5 and second in the MAC East. Appalachian State finished 11-2 with their first bowl win in school history and with the best record in Sun Belt history.