Photo credit: Sean Neidig

Ohio’s 2016 Season Ends with Loss in Dollar General Bowl

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Although the Ohio Bobcats have been to a bowl game in seven of the past eight years, the Bobcats (8-6) still have not won a bowl since 2012 after their 28-23 loss to the Troy Trojans (10-3) in the Dollar General Bowl on Friday.

Four first-half turnovers by starting quarterback Greg Windham put Ohio in a hole that they weren’t able to overcome in the second half.

After entering the Mid-American Conference Championship and playing well, Windham got the start on Friday but had his worst game of an up-and-down season. His three interceptions and four total turnovers in the first half had the Bobcats playing from behind all night. Windham threw a fourth interception in the second half.

“Hard fought football game obviously,” Ohio coach Frank Solich said after the game. “Tough for our players, I thought they played tremendously hard, physical football.”

Ohio had several chances in the second half to take the lead, including on the final drive of the game, but the Trojan defense showed how stingy it could be.

With about two and a half minutes remaining in the game, Windham and the Bobcats found themselves in a very similar situation to the one at the end of the game against Western Michigan.

The Ohio offense had struggled for the majority of the game but had a chance to win on the final drive. After the defense forced Troy to punt, Papi White fielded the ball deep in his own territory with 2:20 to go. Windham hit receiver Jordan Reid for an 11-yard gain that brought the ball out to the 26.

After that completion though, Windham threw three incomplete passes, including one that could have been yet another interception, before hitting Bo Hardy with a fourth-down pass that was about two yards short of the line to gain. Troy took over on downs and was able to kneel and end the game.

“I felt all along we had a shot, we got off to not a very good start, but our players fought back,” Solich said. “I’m proud of them for that.”

Windham threw three touchdowns in his relief appearance in the MAC Championship but on Friday, the redshirt senior wasn’t able to find a rhythm. Troy’s defensive line was in Windham’s face all night and applied constant pressure that contributed to his interceptions.

“I wouldn’t trade Greg for the world,” Reid said. “That’s my boy. Been through a lot these past five years. It hurts to go out like that, it really does.”

It also didn’t help that the Ohio running game was virtually nonexistent. Ohio only ran for 22 yards in the first half and finished the game with 78.

“Neither team rushed the ball very well, lot of throws in the game,” Solich said. “Some big plays, but a lot of grinding it out kind of football, in terms of completions.”

Windham finished the final game of his career with 315 yards on 23-47 passing with two touchdowns and the interceptions and a fumble.

As was the case all year long, while the Ohio offense struggled, the defense was outstanding. Troy came into the game averaging 34.2 points and 439 offensive yards per game this season and the Bobcats actually outgained the Trojans, 393 to 322 yards.

The difference though was the field position. Because of the interceptions, Troy’s offense started in much more favorable situations. Two of Troy’s touchdown drives started in the red zone, including one that started at the Ohio 5-yard line.

Junior running back Jordan Chunn had three rushing touchdowns for the Trojans on only 56 yards.

The Ohio defense was able to keep the game close and had two interceptions of their own, both by redshirt senior safety Toran Davis. Senior defensive lineman Casey Sayles also had a final game to remember with a sack, a batted pass and several quarterback hits.

“It’s tough going out like that,” Sayles said. “You set goals and stuff, we got to the conference championship, obviously couldn’t [win] it. But we got to another bowl game. Losses do happen, it’s not like we got blown out anytime this year really. It is what it is.”

Reid, the redshirt senior wide receiver picked up where he left off in Detroit and had 162 receiving yards and a score on 12 catches. The rest of the Bobcats combined only caught 11 passes, only two of which were caught by senior Sebastian Smith.

Troy got on the scoreboard first after capitalizing on a two-play, 19-second drive on their first possession of the game to make it 7-0.

Both teams traded interceptions on their following possessions and Ohio tied the game after finishing off a 99-yard drive with a 44-yard touchdown pass from Windham to White. The 99-yard drive was Ohio’s longest of the season.

The teams yet again traded interceptions on their ensuing drives before Troy went ahead 14-7 on a Chunn touchdown run.

Ohio redshirt freshman kicker Louie Zervos added to his NCAA record of most field goals made by a freshman with a 33-yard strike to cut the deficit to only four points. Zervos finished the game with three made field goals and one miss.

The Bobcat defense forced the Trojans to punt on their next possession but Windham fumbled the ball away on Ohio’s next drive. However, the Ohio defense forced Troy to attempt a 20-yard field goal that missed the target.

Ohio wasn’t able to capitalize and Windham threw his third interception of the first half before Troy QB Brandon Silvers hit Emanuel Thompson for an 11-yard score to increase the Trojan lead to 21-10.

Ohio was able to answer that score with a touchdown of its own, Windham to Reid, which made the score 21-17 going into halftime.

Troy punted twice and Ohio punted once to open the second half but on Ohio’s second possession after the break, the Bobcats were pinned deep in their own territory when Windham dropped back to pass in his own end zone. The pass was tipped and intercepted by Troy at the 5-yard line and Chunn powered it in one play later.

Ohio added two field goals after that touchdown to make the final score 28-23.

The Bobcats are now 0-2 in back-to-back bowls in Alabama after losing in Mobile on Friday and Montgomery last year in the Camellia Bowl. The Bobcats are losing a talented group of seniors, including Windham, Smith, Reid, Sayles, Davis, Tarell Basham and Blair Brown, but will have contributors returning for 2017.