Rourke Bobcats Football
Nathan Rourke (12) eludes the tackle of a Marshall defender during the Bobcats’ 33-31 loss to the Thundering Herd on September 14, 2019. PHOTO: Ben Weilgopolski/WOUB

Ohio Football: Rourke’s Record-Breaking Night Not Enough to Keep Bell

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HUNTINGTON, WV — The bell rang on Saturday night, just not for the Ohio Bobcats.

The 60th installment of the rivalry between the Bobcats and Marshall produced big plays and points galore, but the Thundering Herd (2-1) came away with the 33-31 victory over Ohio (1-2) to reclaim the Victory Bell for the first time since 2014.

“You’ve got to play four quarters of football, generally, to win football games. We did not do that tonight,” Ohio head coach Frank Solich said. “Defensively, the first half was very poor in a lot of ways. Offensively, we showed flashes of being able to do some things in both halves.”

The first half resembled a track meet for the Marshall offense. The Herd racked up 27 points on 336 yards of offense in the first two quarters alone. 205 of those yards came on the ground.

“We were just miscommunicating, not hitting on our keys,” Ohio defensive end Will Evans said of the first half defense. “We just weren’t doing things right out there.”

For the second week in a row, tacking was an issue for the Bobcats’ defense. Thundering Herd ball carriers bounced off Bobcat tacklers for much of the first half, scoring on all but one of their meaningful drives in the first 30 minutes.

“We just did not muscle up early in the game,” Solich said. “That’s two games in a row now that that appears to be a problem for us.”

The offense, on the other hand, did just enough in the first half to keep the Bobcats within range. Twice in the first half, Ohio faced a seven point deficit and twice the offense came back to tie the game.

Nathan Rourke bounced back from what was, by his standards, a subpar game last week in Pittsburgh. The senior quarterback tossed two touchdowns in the first half.

The first was a 20-yard bullet to Shane Hooks early in the second quarter. The score was Hooks’ first as a Bobcat.

The second was a soft lob in the right flat to De’Montre Tuggle who caught the pass with one hand and ran 18 yards into the end zone to tie the game at 17.

However, the ‘Cats would still trail the Herd 27-17 at half.

“I think there’s definitely some good to take out of the game. I think that we have to get started quicker,” Rourke said. “It puts our defense in a tough spot.”

The Ohio defense flipped the switch coming out of the locker room and forced Marshall to punt on their first four possessions of the second half, allowing only 29 yards in those possessions.

“We knew we didn’t play well in the first half,” Evans said. “We knew we had to bring it to them in the second half.”

Rourke kept the Bobcats’ offense firing on all cylinders, going on a 7 play, 74 yard touchdown drive to draw Ohio within three, 27-24.

The touchdown, a seven yard strike from Rourke to Ryan Luehrman, would also represent a new record for Ohio football. Rourke passed Tyler Tettleton as the ‘Cats all-time touchdown leader with 83 career scores.

“He’s special. He’s shown great leadership from the moment he stepped on campus,” Solich said of Rourke. “He works at improving himself and he makes his teammates better.”

Rourke, himself, had very little to say about the achievement after the game.

“I wasn’t even thinking about it,” he said with a stern expression.

Early in the fourth, Rourke gave the Bobcats their first lead when he took an option play around the left end and went untouched to the end zone for a 72-yard touchdown.

However, the 31-27 lead the Bobcats fought for would not last long.

On the ensuing Marshal possession, the Herd marched 75 yards in 7 plays to retake the lead.

Xavier Gaines hauled in a pass from Isaiah Greene on the left sideline and took the ball into the end zone for what would represent the game-winning 43-yard touchdown.

On the play, the nearest Bobcat defender, Marlin Brooks, had fallen down, leaving Gaines wide open.

Ohio punted on their next possession and never saw the ball again.

The defense once again struggled in the final two Marshall possessions. The Herd was able to bleed the final 5:42 off the clock. 

The Bobcats were held without a sack in the game and failed to generate a takeaway for the second week in a row.

“Each week there’s something that we can build on,” Evans said.

Along with the new program record, Rourke had a career night on the stat sheet. For just the second time, the quarterback threw for over 200 yards and ran for over 100.

He finished the night 15-of-25 for 215 yards and three touchdowns through the air and added 118 and a score on the ground.

Six different players caught a pass from Rourke in the game with Isaiah Cox pacing that group with 61 yards on four receptions. Luehrman was right behind him with 60 yards on four catches.

O’Shaan Allison had the best night of the running backs, finishing with 60 yards on 12 carries before leaving the game in the third quarter with an injury. Tuggle added 45 yards on 10 carries.

“It was my only shot at this game, so obviously I’d like to come out on the other side of it,” Rourke said of the rivalry game. “Not bringing home this trophy is going to sting for a bit.”

The Bobcats’ trek through their non-conference schedule gets no easier next week when the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns pay a visit to Athens. Louisiana was picked to win the Western division of the Sun Belt in the preseason.

Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. at Peden Stadium.