PHOTO: Bottom Right Courtesy of Bobcat Athletics

Ohio Football: The Night That Built the Bobcats

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ATHENS, OH — By the time Dion Byrum has crossed the goal line and turned to look back at his teammates, the Ohio student body had already started rushing the field and fireworks boomed in the distance. 

The ESPN2 crew calling the game called it the biggest win in the history of Ohio Football. That was hard to deny.

On September 9, 2005, the Bobcats defeated Pittsburgh 16-10 in overtime on national television to kick off the Frank Solich era in Athens in front of a then-record crowd at Peden Stadium. 

“The excitement among Bobcat fans was palpable! The cheers in Peden Stadium during that game were some of the loudest that I can recall during my 13 years as President,” former Ohio University President Roderick McDavis said. “To win that game in overtime was truly a very exciting moment for Bobcat fans everywhere!”

“There could not have been a better introduction for Coach Solich to the fans of OHIO football than that game,” McDavis added.

But, even that night, Solich downplayed the game’s importance. 

“This gives us an early win, and that’s all it is,” Solich told the media that night. “We’ll try to build off of that.”

In the 14 seasons since the Bobcats have certainly built off of that and then some. The 2019 Bobcats are a far cry from what they were in 2005. 

Prior to Solich’s arrival at OU, the team had experienced just two winning seasons in the previous 23 years. There have been 10 such seasons in Solich’s tenure to go along with 10 bowl game bids, and four bowl wins.

Solich, now the second-longest tenured coach in the history of Bobcats football, sits just two wins from setting a new standard for victories by a head coach of Ohio. Bill Hess, the Bobcats’ coach from 1958-1977 hold that record at 108 wins. Solich is right behind him at 107.

The state of the program is better now than any could have hoped in 2005, and many inside and outside the football program trace the path the team has taken over the years back to that win.

“In my mind, it absolutely did (set the tone for the program). From a program standpoint, our players, our culture and the community, they all bought in,” offensive coordinator Tim Albin said. “It speaks volumes for the culture. I can’t believe it’s already been 14 years, it feels like it happened two weeks ago.”

Byrum scored both touchdowns for Ohio that night. The first came on a very similar play in the first quarter with the senior defensive back jumping in front of a short pass and going 38 yards to the end zone. The second pick-six was much longer, 86 yards, and came on the third play of overtime and ended with a massive pile of players and fans in the north end zone.

“I almost died that night,” Byrum said with a laugh. “It was when the students came on the field. I was at the bottom of the pile.”

Byrum called the game the best of his career but wasn’t sure how much impact it had on the program’s future.

“I’ve had people tell me it has (had a big impact). If it did, I’m honored to have a part of it,” Byrum said. “I’ve never sat down and thought ‘It’s because of that one game’, but if it did I’m happy to be a part of it.”

President McDavis, on the other hand, does believe that that particular game was the catalyst for the Bobcat Football Renaissance that fans have enjoyed during Solich’s tenure.

(The game) sent a singular message to students, alumni, and others that Bobcat football was coming back and coming back strong! That game, to me, definitely represented the rebirth of OHIO football,” McDavis said. “The “yes we can” attitude was firmly instilled in the team that night and has lasted through the years.”

Even Frank Solich, who downplayed the importance of the game that night and did the same on Monday afternoon in his weekly press conference, admitted that the game started the ball rolling for the Bobcats to be what they are today.

I think that certainly helped. I don’t know if people knew what to expect. As we started that season that year, it hadn’t been great previous years,” Solich said. “To have an opening game like that was special in a lot of ways and certainly for the program.”

However, even in finishing that statement, he was quick to shift focus.

“That’s in the past. This is a completely different team. Our team is, their team is, and it’s a whole different type of scenario and situation. That’s why I don’t want to dwell on that one bit,” Solich added.

Nearly 14 years later to the day, the Bobcats will meet the Panthers on the gridiron again, but this time in Pittsburgh. 

Unlike last time, if the ‘Cats come away from Heinz Field victorious, it will not be the same kind of landmark day for Bobcat football.

That, in itself, should show how far the Ohio Football program has come from that September night in 2005.