Rourke Bobcats Football
Nathan Rourke (12) waits for the snap during the Bobcats 45-25 loss to Louisiana. PHOTO: Ben Weilgopolski/WOUB

Ohio Football: Bobcats Grind Out Tough Overtime Win Over Buffalo

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AMHERST, NY — No one ever said a win had to be pretty and Ohio has to be very happy that is the case.

After the month the ‘Cats had in September, any win is a good win.

The Bobcats (2-3, 1-0 MAC) went into a stadium they hadn’t won in in over 10 years and won a game that they never held a lead until the final snap, defeating Buffalo (2-4, 0-2 MAC) 21-20 in overtime.

“I’m feeling amazing. That was a win we really needed,” Ohio linebacker Eric Popp said. “That’s huge for us.”

It was a huge win that hinged on kicker Louis Zervos being as automatic as he has been his whole career (97 percent) and knocking through an extra point try in the first overtime.

“When we scored, I took the headset off,” Ohio head coach Frank Solich said. “That’s how much faith we got in him.”

It’s easy to have faith in Zervos hitting a PAT given his track record, but heading into Saturday’s game, the same could not be said for the Bobcats’ defense.

No one aspect was more disappointing in the Bobcats’ first four games of the season than the defense.

The bye week granted the unit a chance to regroup and fix some of the issues, namely tackling, that had plagued them in the first month. However, after one half against Buffalo, it looked like more of the same.

Despite only giving up seven points, Ohio had given up two long drives to a Bulls offense that came into the game looking very one-dimensional on paper, leaning heavily on a strong running game. In their three possessions in the first 30 minutes, they rushed for 99 yards on a 5 yards per carry clip. 

This led to long drives for the Bulls that kept the Bobcats offense off the field for much of the first half.

That all changed in the second half. The Bobcat defense stiffened up against the relentless Bulls ground game, holding them to just 82 yards in the final two quarters and overtime on 23 carries, a rate of 3.6 yards a run.

Along with forcing just their third takeaway of the season, Ohio was able to keep themselves in the game with defense by forcing three consecutive Buffalo three and outs while their offense was struggling.

Buffalo came into the game as the 18th ranked rush attack in the country, but the Bobcats defense held them to just 181 yards for the game, nearly 60 yards less than their average of 240 yards per game.

The 181-yard output is also the fewest rushing yards the Bulls have finished a game with this season.

It was much the same story for the Bobcats offense in the first half. Through two quarters, Ohio had just two meaningful drives due to the ground-and-pound Bulls offense grinding away the clock.

The ‘Cats, despite only having the ball twice, almost made the most of their second possession, having a 1st and Goal from the 1-yard line. They were unable to punch it in on four straight plays. Ohio managed just 83 yards of offense in the first half and went into the locker room down 7-0.

Whatever was said at halftime must’ve sparked something in the Bobcats offense, though, as they came out of the locker room and went down the field with ease.

The 8 play, 78-yard drive was capped off by a Nathan Rourke 5-yard run and the game was tied at seven.

The ‘Cats continued to move the ball well in the second half with a bruising rushing attack led by O’Shaan Allison fresh off missing time with an injury.

“He ran behind a very good performance from our o-line,” Rourke said of Allison. “That drive in overtime, I really just handed the ball off and let them go to work.”

The redshirt freshman running back carried the ball 16 times in the second half and overtime for 66 yards and two scores and was able to wear down the tough Buffalo front seven.

“He was a warrior today,” Rourke added.

Allison tied the game at 14 early in the fourth with a one-yard plunge and tied it again in the first overtime at 20 with a five-yard run.

“We knew, if we get in the end zone, we’re going to win,” Allison said. “I ran my hardest. I just stuck to what I had to do each and every play. It means a lot. This is a game to remember.”

Late in the game, both teams missed field goals that could have ended the game in regulation.

Zervos kicked a 52-yarder into the wind with just under seven minutes to play and the kick traveled exactly that distance. The ball came down directly on the crossbar, bounced high in the air and back onto the field of play just short for a kick that was ruled no good.

Five minutes later, Buffalo’s kicker Jackson Baltar was sent out to attempt a 46-yard field goal that had the distance but drifted wide right.

Baltar’s afternoon got worse in overtime when he missed the PAT after the Bulls scored to start overtime.

The freshman kicker for the Bulls missed both of his field goal attempts and an extra point on the afternoon, leaving seven points on the field.

Allison finished the game with 96 yards rushing on 27 carries and two scores. All of those are career highs for the running back.

Rourke had a good, but not great, day throwing the ball, finishing 12-of-19 for 155 yards with no touchdowns and a pick. His lone touchdown on the day came on the ground, where he rushed for 63 yards on 16 attempts.

Seven different receivers caught passes from Rourke in the game. Ryan Luehrman leed the way with 30 receiving yards on two catches followed by Cam Odom with 25 yards on two catches.

The Bobcats came into the game needing a win to keep their MAC Championship going. A fourth straight loss would have put a lot of pressure on a team full of young and inexperienced players.

It was by no means a pretty or decisive win, but it was a win nonetheless and it pushes the Bobcats closer to their goals.

“We’re even closer than what we were coming in. And we were a close football team coming in,” Solich said. “You don’t have things happen the way they did for us in the first four ball games, and come play a tough football team and play the way we did to pull it out without having it be with a special group of guys.”

The conference schedule gets no easier for the ‘Cats next week as Northern Illinois pays their first visit to Peden Stadium since 2014. The Huskies, despite their 1-4 record, will be a tough test for an Ohio team looking to pull out to an early lead in the MAC East race.

Kickoff for the 2019 Homecoming game is set for 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 12.