Photo Credit: Keegan Shaw

Ohio Outlasts Eastern Michigan in Double Overtime Slugfest

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The Ohio Bobcats (3-1) overcame their first hurdle in booking consecutive trips to the Mid-American Conference title game Saturday with a 27-20 double-overtime road victory over the Eastern Michigan Eagles (2-1).

A season ago, Brogan Roback led an Eagles comeback by tossing two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to hand Ohio its first conference loss of 2016. This season, sophomore Nathan Rourke flipped the script, leading two touchdown drives in consecutive overtime periods to seal head coach Frank Solich’s seventh straight 1-0 start in MAC play.

Rourke solidified his starting role on Saturday by playing every snap. After three weeks of quarterback drama, Solich decided on the sophomore and it paid dividends.

Rourke’s ability to extend plays showed throughout the afternoon. Escaping collapsing pockets and scrambling when needed are becoming trademarks of the dynamic Canadian, and a 21-yard completion across his body to Jerrid Marhefka on third and 18 exemplified this trait. He finished the outing with 197 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns.

The Eagles defense kept Rourke and his comrades pretty quiet for most of the game, however, as Ohio didn’t score an offensive touchdown in regulation. The Bobcats put a lot of emphasis on the rushing attack in the second half and had success, amassing 123 yards in the back half alone.

Running back A.J. Ouellette tacked on another 100-yard performance, his second in a row. The captain totaled 145 yards and caught one pass for 42 yards.

Ohio’s defense also played well, bailing out the offense on more than one occasion Saturday. When Louie Zervos missed a field goal with 1:50 remaining in regulation, the Bobcats forced a three-and-out to give Ohio another crack on offense.

Last season, Roback gashed the Ohio secondary for 347 yards and three scores on the way to victory. Even though Roback totaled 305 yards this time around, the results weren’t nearly as costly, and the Bobcats’ secondary got its long-awaited redemption.

Ohio’s Bradd Ellis is a playmaker in an improved secondary, and he is slowly becoming the best cornerback in the MAC. The former walk-on came into the contest leading the conference with six passes defended. Ellis neutralized Sergio Bailey II, the biggest threat in EMU’s passing attack, shadowing the star wideout for most of the game.

Not to mention he provided the biggest play of the first half when he jumped an out route along the sideline, returning it 46 yards untouched for Ohio’s only touchdown in regulation.

Eastern Michigan falls to 2-1 on the season with the loss. The Eagles entered the conference opener coming off a bye week and will travel to Kentucky a week from now.

Ohio improves to 3-1 on the season and now sets their sights on a road date with the UMass Minutemen next Saturday.

Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. from Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium.