Ohio’s Kurtis Rourke and DeMontre Tuggle in the backfield before a play in Ohio’s game against Akron on Nov. 10, 2020.

Ohio Football: Good Defense, Key Takeaways lead Bobcats to Victory Over Akron

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — The Ohio Bobcats had their home opener for the 2020 season. Even though they were able to secure a 24-10 victory over the Akron Zips, it wasn’t the type of way the Bobcats were hoping to win that game. Akron, who has now lost 19 straight games dating back to 2018, hung around with the Bobcats throughout much of the 2nd half, before the Bobcat defense forced some key turnovers in the 4th quarter allowed the offense to get one last score with 2 minutes left to put the game away. Even though the Bobcats are happy to have gotten a win, they know that there is much to improve on going forward.

“We celebrate every win,” Ohio head coach Frank Solich said.  “We also understand that we’re making it hard on ourselves and we got to get some things changed if we realistically want to battle for a conference championship. We got to get some things brushed up on and move forward with a better football team in terms of execution. The good thing about that this team is that they love work.”

The Bobcats started off hot on their first drive as Kurtis Rourke threw it deep down field and Shane Hooks stepped in front of his defender and hauled it in for a 40-yard reception. Two plays later, DeMontre Tuggle found an open lane and sprinted into end zone to put the Bobcats up 7-0.

Later in the quarter, the defense forced its first turnover of the year as Jarren Hampton fell on the loose ball and gave it right back to the offense. After starting 5-5 with 63 yards, Armani Rogers stepped in and completed an impressive 29-yard pass to Isiah Cox who did a toe tap to remain inbounds.  On the next play, Rogers would run to the edge and a great block by Julian Ross allowed him to reach the corner for his first touchdown as a Bobcat and put Ohio up 14-0 early in the second quarter.

After getting the ball on their own 49-yard line their next possession, the Bobcats were faced with a third down and short. They decided on a pass play with Rogers, who danced his way out of the pocket but Akron linebacker Bubba Arslanian had a nice shoestring tackle to force a loss of six yards.

This would give Akron the momentum they needed as the Zips would get the ball on their own 3-yard line after a good punt by Jack Wilson. After an offside call, quarterback Zach Gibson hooked up with George Qualls for a 35-yard connection. The Zips would cap off a 9-play 97-yard drive that took four minutes and 22 seconds with a 14-yard touchdown pass by Gibson to Nate Stewart.

Akron would get the ball back with 2 minutes left and go down the field to set them up with a 50-yard field goal attempt. However, the kick was no good and so both teams went to the locker-room with the Bobcats up 14-7.

In the second half, for a team that had gotten the luxury of quality field goal kicking from Louie Zervos in the past, they haven’t gotten that same luxury this year. After hitting a 44-yard field goal to give Ohio a 17-10 lead, kicker Tristan Vandenburg missed two field goals from inside 30 yards in the fourth quarter. The Redshirt Freshman kicker is just 1-4 on field goals this year and kicking continues to be an area of concern for the Bobcats early on in the season.

Rourke came in for Rogers for the start of the second half and after starting 5-5 with 63 yards, Rourke would go 3-9 for just 29 yards in the second half. The Bobcats finished with just 122 yards passing with only ten completions.

While special teams and offense were struggling in the second half, the Bobcats’ defense stepped up in the fourth quarter and came up with two key interceptions late. First Jett Elad broke onto the ball and picked off Gibson’s pass. The next possession, Austin Conrad and a couple of Bobcats forced Gibson to throw of his back foot and Keye Thompson caught it for the INT. The Bobcats, who did not have a sack in week one, had three in the second half and kept the Bobcats in the lead. The Bobcats also were able to win the Turnover battle 3-0 in the game after not forcing any last week against Central Michigan.

“It felt really good (to force turnovers),” Ohio Linebacker Keye Thompson said.  “Last week we didn’t get any, so this week going into practice, we just prepared to get takeaways. We did circuits and ball drills; strip drills and tips and overthrows just get the ball back to offense. If we get the ball back to our offense, it puts us in a spot to win the game.”

Ohio Football DeMontre Tuggle
DeMontre Tuggle (24) flexes his muscles after finding the end-zone in Ohio’s win over Akron on Nov. 10, 2020.

The Bobcats got the ball back on their 30-yard line with about 6:25 left in the fourth. The Bobcats proceeded to go 70 yards in nine plays, all of them were runs by DeMontre Tuggle, who finished with a career high 139 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. Tuggle talked about what went into that last drive that put the final nail in the coffin.

“I spoke to the offense before that drive and was just telling everybody to focus in and everyone do your job and everything else will take care of itself,”  Tuggle said.  “As coach was saying earlier, we kind of shot ourselves in the football earlier in the game so we were just trying to focus on finishing the game and finishing with a win.”