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Nathan Rourke looks over to his teammates during the Bobcats’ 24-21 loss to Miami on November 6, 2019. PHOTO: Ben Weilgopolski/WOUB

Ohio Football: Bobcats’ Season Dealt Huge Blow in Crushing Loss to Miami

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ATHENS, OH — A giant flag emblazoned with a big, red block-M waved in the north end zone of Peden Stadium as the clock hit 0:00. For the second straight season, a loss to Miami not only signified a Bobcat loss, it marked a likely end to their MAC Championship hopes.

On a night that Ohio (4-5, 3-2 MAC) outplayed the RedHawks (5-4, 4-1 MAC) in nearly every category, they fumbled their way to a soul-crushing 24-21 defeat in the 96th meeting of the ‘Battle of the Bricks’.

“To be honest, this is pretty tough,” Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke said. 

Early on, however, it didn’t appear as though the Bobcats would struggle much on the offensive side of the ball. After receiving the opening kick, Ohio drove down inside the Miami 20 in just eight plays. Running back O’Shaan Allison did most of the damage, rushing for 43 yards on seven carries on the drive. 

Allison even almost found the end zone but fumbled at the three-yard line. The ball was recovered by the RedHawks in the end zone for a touchback and Allison didn’t see the field the rest of the night.

“We had emphasized that so much. That may have been his third fumble,” Ohio head coach Frank Solich said. “We ended up going with our other backs.”

Unfortunately for Ohio, that fumble could be considered a sign of things to come.

On their first two drives of the night, the Bobcats racked up 137 yards of offense on 22 plays but had no points to show for it. Their second drive of the night ended with a Louis Zervos field goal attempt from 50 yards out that drifted wide left.

The next Ohio possession ended with Rourke being sacked and fumbling on third down. Miami’s Jaylon Bester would find the end zone on the ground from 45 yards out on the ensuing play to give the RedHawks a 7-0 lead midway through the second quarter.

While the Bobcats would respond immediately with a touchdown drive to tie the game, the damage was done. In the end, it was the missed scoring opportunities in the first 30 minutes that cost Ohio the game.

“We just didn’t finish drives. We didn’t do anything but stop ourselves,” Rourke said. “We felt we were in control.”

In the first half, the Bobcats outgained the RedHawks 238-104 and had the ball for over 20 minutes.

“That opening drive was frustrating – to not get points on the board. The whole thing was frustrating,” Solich said. “Statistics show that we played a pretty good game, but it really didn’t play out that way.”

In the second half, the Bobcat offense played catchup the entire time, coming back to tie the game after twice falling into a seven-point deficit. They were given a chance to tie or win the game with just under four minutes to play but were unable to cross midfield.

The pressure that the RedHawks leveed on Nathan Rourke all night finally paid dividends in the closing minutes as a sack and a tipped ball killed the Bobcats’ final meaningful drive of the game.

“They’re talented up front. We just didn’t execute the way we could have,” Rourke said. “And that’s not just on the line, that’s on me as well.”

On the night, Rourke was sacked three times, hurried twice and hit several more times on the way to tossing for just 133 yards on 15-of-27 passing on the night.

“There was too much pressure at times,” Solich said.

Rourke did, however, account for all three of the ‘Cats touchdowns on the night. He ran for two of those scores, finishing with a game-high 89 rushing yards, and threw one to Ty Walton in the first half. It was the redshirt freshman receiver’s first career touchdown at Ohio.

The Bobcats did manage to still have a good night on the ground, rushing for 241 yards in the game. De’Montre Tuggle and Julian Ross filled in for Allison and ran for 74 yards and 34 yards in the game respectively.

Nathan Rourke (12) runs past a Miami defender for a touchdown during the Bobcats' 24-21 loss to Miami on November 6, 2019. PHOTO: Ben Weilgopolski/WOUB

 

Ohio’s defense, for the second consecutive game, turned in a pretty strong performance overall. They held Miami to just 278 total yards in the game and the RedHawks converted just 3-of-10 third down attempts.

“We played lights out in the first half,” Ohio linebacker Eric Popp said. “We had opportunities to step up in the fourth quarter and they made plays and we didn’t.”

But, for the second straight week, it was the big play that bit the ‘Cats

A 45-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, a 21-yard touchdown pass on third down, a 63-yard bomb to set Miami up inside the Ohio 15, leading to a touchdown two plays later, early in the fourth quarter.

The RedHawks had touchdown drives on the night of nine and 47 seconds. 

“It’s just execution,” Popp said. “We have to get ourselves in the right spot to make those plays.”

The Bobcats outgained Miami 374-278 in the game, had the ball for 13 more minutes, ran 26 more offensive plays and converted 65 percent of their third downs, but despite what the stat sheet may say, the Bobcats did not make enough plays to beat Miami.

Given the past couple of seasons, Ohio knows all too well about the scenario they find themselves in now.

With three games to play in the regular season, they need to not only win out to get to Detroit, but they also need help. 

To win the MAC East, they will need Miami to lose two of three against Bowling Green (3-6, 2-3 MAC), Akron (0-9, 0-5 MAC) or Ball State (4-5, 3-2 MAC) while also winning their three remaining games.

But it’s still one game at a time.

“The right approach right now is finishing the next three games,” Rourke said.

“We got 24 hours to think about this one and then we have to move forward and do what we got to do,” Popp added.

The Bobcats’ next game kicks off roughly 128 hours after Wednesday night’s crushing defeat when they plat the MAC West-leading Western Michigan Broncos (6-4, 4-2 MAC) at Peden Stadium on Senior Night.

That game is set to kickoff at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 12.