[Ayden Crowley | WOUB]

Rourke’s absence, Finn’s elusiveness key in Ohio’s MAC Championship loss to Toledo

Posted on:

< < Back to

DETROIT, Mich. (WOUB) — Curses have a way of showing their ugly face at the worst possible time. For Ohio Football, they’ve been plagued with a curse since 1968. The last time they won a MAC Championship: 54 years. Unfortunately, the curse showed up on a snowy Tuesday night in Muncie, Indiana when a simple play ended MAC Offensive Player of the Year Kurtis Rourke’s season.

His presence was missed in the MAC Championship game as the Ohio offense couldn’t find any rhythm and fell to the Toledo Rockets 17-7.

“My heart hurts for the football team,” head coach Tim Albin said. “This has always been about the journey, not the destination. I said at MAC Media Day that our goal was to make the MAC Championship.”

Ohio Offense struggles without Rourke

Without Rourke at the helm, Ohio’s offense was not going to be as effective throwing the ball. Going against the top passing defense in the MAC, it was going to be even harder.

In short it was.

Ohio was going to game plan around what their backup quarterback CJ Harris does well, running the football and the play action pass. Unfortunately for the Bobcats, the Rockets based their game plan around stopping the run and forcing Harris to pass.

Sieh Bangura runs against the Rockets defense
Sieh Bangura runs against the Rockets defense [Alex Eicher | WOUB]
The front seven of Toledo caused a lot of problems for Harris and the passing game. They gave pressure and forced a lot of throws by Harris off of his back foot. Despite the loss, Ohio head coach Tim Albin praised his young quarterback for attempting to perform under these circumstances.

“I thought he handled it very well,” Albin said. “That’s a tough front seven. Mr.(Dyontae) Johnson and company got after us on the pass rush. We took a couple of shots in the first half, but it was tough sledding in the second half.”

Harris was 17 of 31 for 163 yards as he completed just 55 percent of his passes. He threw one interception in the second quarter, that Harris himself knew he shouldn’t have thrown. Considering it was when the game was tied at seven, Toledo went on what would be the game winning drive to kick a field goal to end the first half.

As for the run game, Toledo executed its main objective of stopping the run. They held the Bobcats to just 99 rushing yards on 29 attempts. 3.4 yards per carry, with 20 of those coming on a jet sweep by Sam Wiglusz in the third quarter.

For MAC Freshman of the Year Sieh Bangura, it was not his day. Bangura was held to just 56 yards on 20 carries, just 2.8 yards per carry.

Defensive struggles against the run

With the offense struggling, it was going to be up to the defense to keep Ohio in the game. While they did, there were two areas that the Ohio defense struggled in: against the run and on third down.

With the Rockets having such a mobile quarterback in Dequan Finn, a lot of their attention was focused on containing him. For the most part, it was the right decision, but sometimes focusing on one person too much can be costly. The Bobcats brought pressure a lot to Finn in order to prevent any big plays with his legs, but when this happened, Finn always got rid of the ball.

DeMeer Blankumsee goes to catch a pass in the end zone for the Rockets [Alex Eicher | WOUB]
DeMeer Blankumsee goes to catch a pass in the end zone for the Rockets [Alex Eicher | WOUB]
The Rockets were 8-16 on third down, and six were on pass completions by Finn. Four of those third down conversions came on Toledo’s 16 play, 90-yard scoring drive to put themselves up 17-7 in the fourth quarter.

One of the most frustrating things as a defense is holding steady for the first two downs, but not being able to get off the field on third down. The costliest was a third and ten from the Ohio 16. If Ohio holds, then Toledo most likely kicks a field goal, and it remains a one score game. However, Finn rifles a touchdown pass to DeMeer Blankumsee and the Rockets go up by two scores.

Plays like that in the second half are what ended the Bobcats championship hopes.

“I wish I could find a way to make a few more plays for them in the second half, we just couldn’t get it done,” Albin said.

Ohio can not “hit DeQuan” 

When healthy, Toledo quarterback Dequan Finn is one of the most elusive players in all of college football. He was healthy in the MAC Championship and was very hard to bring down for the Bobcats. Multiple times did the Bobcats blow up a play design by the Rockets, and multiple times did Finn somehow escape and find yardage.

Finn was most effective on the ground, rushing for 86 yards on a team high 18 carries. He had a net gain of 96 yards, meaning he only lost 10 yards in the game, and that came on the lone Ohio sack in the third quarter. Finn made passes when he needed to, going 16-25 for 154 yards and one touchdown. He played mistake free football as well, not turning over the football and scoring on the very first drive of the game.

The drought lives on

As mentioned earlier, the drought lives on. At the end of the month, the years without a MAC Championship in football will reach 55. Toledo, despite losing their final two games of the regular season, executed its game plan to fluster Ohio’s backup quarterback.

“I tip my hat to coach (Jason) Candle and his staff,” Albin said. “He’s a friend of mine. They’re a great football team.”

While this may be a disappointing ending, Ohio still has a bowl game to play and Albin does not see this as a failure in any way. The Bobcats still turned around from a 3-9 season in 2021 and got to where they wanted to be. However, many will say that once you’ve made it, you’ve got to finish it.