Photo Credit: Keegan Shaw

Akron Puts a Dent in Ohio Football’s MAC Title Hopes

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Ohio (8-3, 5-2) faced four yards to go on a fourth down with just under three minutes to play Tuesday night in the season’s biggest game. Nathan Rourke’s pass fell through the hands of Papi White, and the Zips sealed Ohio’s fate when Akron’s Kato Nelson inched past the first down marker on a third down and six the very next drive.

Akron (6-5, 5-2) ran three more plays and secured a victory at InfoCision Stadium. A 37-34 win breaks Akron’s nine-game losing streak against the Green and White. It also gives Terry Bowden his first victory against Ohio.

Most unfortunate for the Bobcats, it means they are no longer in the driver’s seat for the MAC East Division title. They now depend on Kent State, a team Ohio stomped 48-3, to defeat Akron next week.

A 68-yard touchdown on its second carry, a highlight reel trick play for a touchdown, and a blocked punt inside Akron’s five-yard line meant Ohio owned the first quarter.

After that, though, it was an uncharacteristic night for Frank Solich’s squad.

A week after surrendering three turnovers, three more giveaways — two Rourke picks and a fumble on a kickoff — resulted in 21 points for the Zips. The fumble contributed to a stretch where Akron scored three touchdowns on five offensive plays.

Though he earned 165 yards on the ground — including two touchdowns that left him tied for the Ohio single-season rushing touchdown record — Rourke’s offensive attack was far from balanced. The playmaker connected with a receiver only nine times on 22 attempts for just 110 yards, his worst passing performance since Bowling Green. He finished that afternoon 7-22 for 105 yards with two interceptions and a touchdown.

Meanwhile, Nelson burst onto the scene in a big way. Filling in once again for the suspended Thomas Woodson, the redshirt freshman quarterback turned heads by accumulating 367 total yards and slinging four touchdowns. Facing a third down with the game on the line, Bowden put the ball in his young gun’s hands, and Nelson rumbled for just enough yardage to put Ohio away.

Though Tuesday marked Nelson’s second start, he looked like a seasoned veteran. His decisions were consistently quick enough to alleviate an Ohio pass rush that registered four sacks against Toledo a week ago. The Bobcats didn’t sack Nelson once on Tuesday night.

A third down on a promising drive saw the Zips newest signal caller escape a barreling Quinton Poling, who sacked the Rockets’ Logan Woodside three times last week, and high step his way to a first down. The Zips scored the deciding touchdown the following play.

Ohio’s secondary fell victim to some miscommunications and failed coverages in the first half. Despite holding the Zips to 54 yards through the air after the break, the damage had already been done.

On a touchdown, during the first play of the second quarter, Ohio running back Dorian Brown took a big hit to the head and never returned to the game. Ohio wide receiver Brendan Cope was undercut along the sideline after making a catch in the fourth quarter and was carted off the field.

The Bobcats are hopeful for the return of both seniors when they travel to take on the Buffalo Bulls next Friday, November 24th.

And all of Athens will be watching next Tuesday’s contest as the Zips host Kent State in the battle for the Wagon Wheel trophy.

Ohio kicks off its final regular season game of 2017 from University of Buffalo Stadium at a time yet to be determined. Fans can find the game on ESPNU.