Jack McCrory (40) celebrates a defensive stop
Jack McCrory (40) celebrates a defensive stop against Kent State [Alex Eicher | WOUB]

Ohio’s defense forces six turnovers in first road win of the season over Western Michigan

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) – The Ohio Bobcats (4-3) tally six turnovers in a 33-14 road victory over the Western Michigan Broncos (2-5). 

The last time these two teams squared off was in 2019. The Bobcats came up short in an overtime thriller, 37-34. 

This time, Ohio looked to flip the script early. 

For the second straight week, the Bobcats came out firing on the offensive end. Quarterback Kurtis Rourke, who came into the contest sixth in the country in passing with 1944 yards, led a 12 play 75 yard drive. Running back Sieh Bangura capped off by a one yard touchdown run. Rourke was four for four with 46 yards on the first possession for the Bobcats, jumping out to an early 7-0 lead. 

But Western Michigan had a response.

On the next drive, the Broncos got it done through the air. Quarterback Jack Salopek and Western Michigan took advantage of a banged up Bobcat secondary with completions totaling 52 yards. At the end of the drive, it was Salopek doing it this time, with his legs. He scurried eight yards into the end zone for WMU’s first score of the game. The Broncos marched over 60 yards in just over four minutes to tie the game back up at 7. 

Ohio has consistently proven to be one of the top offenses in the MAC and they continued that trend on the next drive. 

This time however, it wasn’t the big play. The Bobcats chipped away at the Broncos for an 11 play touchdown drive. Bangura continued his hot play with a six yard touchdown run for his second score of the game as the Bobcats took a 14-7 lead in the opening moments of the second quarter. That second score made six touchdowns for the redshirt freshman in the past two games. 

After a Western Michigan punt, it seemed like Ohio was about to extend the lead to two scores. But the Bobcats offense finally showed a crack in its armor. 

On the third play from scrimmage, Rourke threw his first mistake of the game. Bronco safety Delano Ware picked off Rourke for just the quarterback’s third interception of the season. 

Ohio’s defense stood tall on the next position to pick up the offense. Vonnie Walker got to Salopek for his second sack of the season and the Broncos were forced to punt on back-to-back drives. 

Rourke bounced back on the mistake in the next drive with a 31 yard connection with Jacoby Jones to get the Bobcats in the red zone. The Broncos held Ohio out of the end zone and the Bobcats were forced into a field goal. Freshman Nathanial Vakos continued his perfect season on three point attempts with a 26 yard chip shot to put OU ahead 17-7 with just under two minutes left in the half. 

The Bobcats’ achilles heel continued to get exposed one the next drive. Salopek heaved one down the field to Corey Crooms for a 75 yard bomb, 17-14 Ohio. 

The score only took 45 seconds leaving Ohio with one minute to respond. 

Sam Wiglusz gave the Bobcats great field position after the kickoff and they took advantage. They got down to the WMU 38 yard line giving Vakos another chance, this time from 55 yards. Vakos wasn’t fazed as he boosted his career long through the uprights to extend the lead to six. 

Ohio went into the locker room ahead 20-14.  

Both offenses stalled in the third quarter however. Nathaniel Vakos missed his first field goal of the season from 33 yards. On the other end, Bryce Dugan picked off Salopek for his second turnover in the quarter as neither team could generate any points in the first 15 minutes out of the break. 

The interception at the end of the third quarter gave the Bobcats excellent field position. But for the third time today, Rourke and Ohio couldn’t find a way to punch it in and they were forced to settle for three points. Vakos corrected his mistake and knocked one in from 33 yards to make it a 23-14 ballgame with 13 minutes in the final quarter. 

On the next Bronco drive, the Bobcats defense continued to put their stamp on the game. Zack Sanders picked off Salopek for the third time of the game and the fourth total turnover for WMU. 

After an OU turnover of their own, it seemed to be do or die for the Broncos. Ohio let Western Michigan hang in the game but the defense continued to shine. After three short gains, the Broncos were forced to go for it on fourth down deep in their own territory. Dugan sacked Salopek to give the Bobcats the ball in the red zone already. 

This time, Rourke took advantage of the short field with a one yard touchdown run to take control of the game, 30-14 Bobcats. 

Another Salopek interception and another Vakos field goal, and Ohio earns its first road win of the season, 33-14.

The last four drives of the game for the Broncos ended in either an interception or turnover on downs. 

Meanwhile for the Bobcats, Rourke finished his day going 22/34 for 264 yards and a rushing touchdown. Bangura racked up 77 rushing yards and two scores on the day. 

Ohio looks to continue its momentum on Saturday Oct 22 against the defending MAC champions, the Northern Illinois Huskies (2-5) in Peden Stadium.