Tuggle Bobcats Football
DeMontre Tuggle runs away from the defense in the Bobcats 41-20 win over Rhode Island on August 31, 2019. PHOTO: Yukai Peng/WOUB

Ohio Football: ‘Cats Run Past Rhode Island in Season Opener

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ATHENS, OH — Nathan Rourke and the Bobcats offense came out for the first time in 2019 backed up against their own end zone. Not an easy place for an offense to begin its season. 

With visions of how last season’s opener against FCS Howard hanging around the stadium, the senior quarterback took the snap, faked a handoff and ran the ball around the right end for a gain of eight. 12 plays and 86 yards later, those visions didn’t matter anymore.

Rourke scored the first of his three touchdowns on the afternoon to cap off that opening drive and the ‘Cats (1-0) never looked back, defeating Rhode Island (0-1) 41-20 on Saturday afternoon in Peden Stadium.

“(Last year) was in the back of my mind, I’m not going to lie,” Rourke said. “But knowing that I had my teammates and knowing that I was for something greater than myself, I realized that it’s not something I should be thinking about. I think about each play, and that’s why we were able to go 94 (yards).”

With the prolific stats that he put up last season, it could be easy to forget that Rourke started in week one last year but was benched after just three drives, but any fears that he would repeat that performance were dashed early on.

Rourke completed nine of 11 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown in the first half while also running for 42 yards and a score to lead the offense to 17 points, scoring on all three of its possessions in the first 30 minutes.

“Our expectation is to end every drive with a kick and take care of the ball,” Rourke said. “We know what we’re capable of and the bar that we set for ourselves is high. We came out and did what we expected to do.”

The senior finished the game going 16 of 22 through the air for 188 yards and two scores and rushing for a team-high 75 yards and a score.

“I think if we get the ball, we’re pretty good at putting points on the board,” head coach Frank Solich said. “But three possessions in a half isn’t going to get it down the road.”

Louis Zervos capped off the ‘Cats second drive of the game with a 35-yard field goal early in the second quarter to give Ohio a 10-3 lead. Rourke added to that before halftime when he hit Tyler Tupa over the middle for a 22-yard score to give Ohio a 17-6 lead at the half.

Tupa, who had not caught a pass in his first three years in Athens made the most of his first opportunity today. The redshirt-sophomore receiver caught three balls for 49 yards and couldn’t think of a better way to make his introduction to the Bobcat faithful.

“It’s been a long time I’ve been waiting. It felt amazing to be back out there, to perform and compete with my teammates,” Tupa said. “It’s nice to go out and prove I can still play a bit.”

In the second half, the Bobcats offense shifted focus to the ground game. In the final two quarters alone, the ‘Cats ran for 189 yards.

Leading the second-half charge was junior De’Montre Tuggle, who not only scored from six yards out on his first carry as a Bobcat, on the next Bobcats’ possession ripped off a 78-yard touchdown run that was called back for holding.

Six plays later, Tuggle broke off another long touchdown run from 55 yards away, and this time, it counted.

“I was running through the hole. (The offensive line) makes my job look easy,” Tuggle said. “They do all the hard work.”

“I was so gassed after those,” Tuggle added.

Tuggle finished the game with 65 yards and two touchdowns on just three carries. Julian Ross added 68 yards in his 14 carries and O’Shaan Allison, who didn’t return to the game after a minor injury in the third quarter, ended the game with 38 yards on six carries. 

“It starts with our o-line. There were a couple drives there where were running the ball down their throats and moving the ball extremely well,” Rourke said. “It’s good to know that whoever is in (at running back), we’re very talented.”

“Overall, I thought we did a pretty good job today offensively,” Solich said. “The experience we gained today will be very valuable as we go through the season.”

Defensively, the Bobcats had their lapses, mainly in the ability to get off the field. The Rams were able to drive down and score on three of their first five possessions before the defense was able to force their first three and out of the game.

“There were frustrating times, but as the game went on we settled down and played better,” Solich said. “Overall, I think it was an OK first game, not a great one.”

The secondary struggled to contain the Rhode Island passing attack throughout the game. Aaron Parker, who was named as a first-team All-Conference receiver in 2018, finished the game with 144 yards receiving and a touchdown on just nine receptions.

“Parker will probably have 144 yards against a lot of teams. He’s a very good player,” Solich said. “They’re gonna get yards.”

The defense helped to close out the game in the second half, shutting down the Rams in the final 23 minutes of game time. In that span, the Bobcat defense forced Rhode Island to punt twice and picked off a pass in the end zone.

Most importantly of all, the Bobcats did more than just avoid disaster against their FCS opponent this year. 

They won in a convincing fashion.

“A lot of times, the first game doesn’t show what you’re all about,” Solich said. “It takes two or three games to figure out what the team is all about.”

Ohio’s first real test comes next Saturday morning in Pittsburgh when they visit the Panthers from the ACC. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m.