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PHOTO: Taylor Jedrzejek/WOUB

Ohio Football: Bobcats Open 2020 Season at Central Michigan

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After much uncertainty this off-season due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, and the subsequent postponement and reinstatement of the Mid-American Conference football season, the Ohio Bobcats are set to begin MAC play against the Central Michigan Chippewas on November, 4. The Bobcats will play the first of their six game conference schedule, with a guaranteed bowl game at the end of their season.

After finishing last season 7-6, the Bobcats will look to improve with less games on the schedule, but they will have to do it with a new quarterback. After the graduation of star quarterback, Nathan Rourke, the big question coming into the season was who would win the quarterback battle.  Head coach Frank Solich hasn’t announced a starter yet.

“It’s still tight, ” Solich said.  “I think both Kurtis (Rourke) and Armani (Rogers) have both shown very well. CJ (Harris) has shown flashes at times, but it looks like it’s coming down now to Kurtis and Armani. Both of them have really strong pluses on their side, so both can be used, not only throughout the course of the season, but really throughout the course of games if you so structure your offense that way.”

From what Solich has been telling members of the media, the quarterback battle is between Redshirt Freshman Kurtis Rourke and Transfer Armani Rogers.  Rourke, the younger brother of Nathan (Rourke), has had an impressive camp throwing the ball and is renowned for his arm strength. Rourke graduated from Holy Trinity High School in Oakville, Ontario before committing to Ohio. Armani Rogers is a red-shirt senior, who transferred to Ohio this past June after playing the majority of his career at UNLV.

“It’s definitely been a rough year, especially being a grad transfer and transferring so late into the year,” Rogers said.  “Making the decision to come to Ohio, only for the season to be taken away from you (was rough), so you still got to learn the playbook and everything cause you’re never gonna know if they’re gonna bring you back. You see other teams playing football still so you still have the possibility in your head like ‘ok so we can still possibly play,’ so I stayed on my playbook throughout the whole time and stayed ready so I wouldn’t have to get ready.”

While the quarterback position was a question coming into the season, one area where there are no concerns is at the skill positions. The Bobcats return 97% of their skill position production on offense this season, including all three of their top running backs this season, those being DeMontre Tuggle, O’Shaan Allison and Julian Ross.

“The guys have all practiced well,” Solich said. “Coach (Tim) Albin has done a great job with those guys in terms of making them run plays out, being assignment oriented, being able to pass-pro block and running good routes. A lot goes into being a good running back and so I’ve got to give them and coach Albin a great deal of credit for how he’s been training them. We feel comfortable going down the list of guys.  To have a guy on the field that can win football games for us is great.”

At the receiver position, the Bobcats return 5 of their 6 leading receivers from last year, including the leader in receiving yards, Isiah Cox, breakout star Shane Hooks and red-shirt senior captain Cam Odom. Along with Jerome Bucker, Tyler Walton and red-shirt senior tight end Ryan Luehrman, the Bobcats don’t have any worries about their skill positions in the passing game.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Bobcats have many returning starters on the defensive line. The two defensive ends are both returning seniors, those being captain Austin Conrad and Will Evans. Captain Kai Caesar is at defensive tackle. The Linebacker core is anchored by Red-shirt senior and defensive captain Jared Dorsa and sophomore Keye Thompson, who made significant strides his freshman year to the point where he became a full time starter late in the season. Thompson is very excited about the season being back and thinks it’s gonna be a big year for him.

“I’m very excited,” Thompson said.  “It kind of sucked when we found out we weren’t gonna be playing and then a couple players pushed and reached out to the MAC President and then we got the season back on so I’m very excited. I want to make a big statement this year and make the All-MAC conference (team), but for the most part I’m ready to go and can’t wait for the fourth.”

At defensive back, the group is anchored by fifth year senior Jarren Hampton at strong safety as well as returning cornerbacks Jamal Hudson and Illyas and Xavior Motley. After the graduation of longtime defensive captain Javon Hagan last season, redshirt junior Alvin Floyd will take over as starter at free safety.

As for their opponent on November 4, The Central Michigan Chippewas are the defending MAC-West champions after finishing the season 8-6. They have a quarterback battle of their own going on with Senior David Moore in a competition with redshirt Freshman Daniel Richardson and Ty Brock, a transfer from Sam Houston State. With a quarterback not publicly chosen yet, the team will rely on their star running back Kobe Lewis, who finished with 1,074 yards and 12 touchdowns in his 2019 campaign. The Chippewas leading receiver from last year, Kali Piimpelton, is returning this year as well so expect him to be a target in the CMU passing game.

The Bobcats and Chippewas will meet on November 4 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mount Pleasant, Michigan at 7 p.m. on ESPN.