ATHENS, Ohio — There just wasn’t much that went Ohio’s way.
The Bobcats were minus-3 in the turnover category and had some very untimely penalties on Saturday in their annual homecoming game at Peden Stadium, as the Green and White dropped a 26-23 decision to Mid-American Conference guest Central Michigan.
Ohio (4-2, 1-1 MAC) — which had won its last three decisions — started the day smoothly, going 75 yards in 10 plays on the game’s opening possession. OU sophomore quarterback Nathan Rourke completed three passes on the drive and capped it off with a one-yard sneak for a touchdown. Louie Zervos added the extra-point, his first of three, and gave the hosts a 7-0 edge 5:01 into play.
Central Michigan (3-3, 1-1) answered on its first drive, covering 72 yards in 10 plays, with Tyler Conklin catching a 16-yard pass from Shane Morris for the score. Michael Armstrong added the point-after and tied the game at 7-all with 5:46 left in the first period.
After a Bobcat punt, OU senior Chad Moore intercepted a CMU pass and gave the Ohio offense just 48 yards in front of it. The hosts converted on a pair of third-and-longs, but fumbled the ball away, giving Central Michigan possession at its own 14.
The Bobcats came up with a three-and-out, however, and the Ohio offense took over at its own 32. The Bobcats used nine consecutive running plays, five by Rourke and four by Dorian Brown, to cover the 68 yards, with Rourke scoring from 14 yards at the 5:59 mark of the second quarter.
Leading 14-7, Ohio forced CMU to punt again, but the Bobcat offense had just 2:24 left on the clock and 84 yards to go. The Bobcats made it to the Central Michigan 28 with 17 seconds left on the clock, when Rourke connected with Andrew Meyer in the back of the endzone, but an illegal formation penalty wiped the touchdown off of the board.
After an incomplete pass, Ohio settled for a 50-yard field goal attempt, which the Chippewas blocked. CMU sophomore Sean Bunting scooped the blocked ball and returned it 60 yards for the touchdown as time expired. The Central Michigan point-after attempt failed, however, leaving the Chippewas behind 14-13 at halftime.
“The end of the first half was outrageous in terms of what transpired,” said Ohio head coach Frank Solich. “We lined up incorrectly on formation, we had a touchdown called back, a field goal blocked, they scored. Instead of being up 21-7 the score was 14-13 and that is huge.
“It’s a big momentum shift,” Solich added. “Instead of being down two touchdowns, they are right there, jumping up and down in the locker room. We got them back in the game.”
The Maroon and Gold carried the momentum into the opening drive of second half, going 65 yards in 10 plays with Jonathan Ward scoring on a one-yard rush to give CMU a 19-14 lead. The Chippewas attempted to stretch their lead to seven points, but the two-point pass was intercepted.
Ohio’s first play from scrimmage in the second half was intercepted by Central Michigan’s Josh Cox, and the visiting offense took over at the OU 24. The Chippewas ran eight plays before coming up short on fourth-and-goal from the OU 3, giving the ball to the Green and White with 97 yards to go.
Ohio made it over half of the way down the field in 12 plays, but fumbled the ball away again. A three-and-out by each team took the game into the final period with Ohio still behind 19-14.
CMU punted on its first drive of the fourth quarter, but forced and recovered an OU fumble at the Bobcat 35. From there, a 25-yard pass from Morris to Conklin followed by a 10-yard scoring pass play by the same duo gave the guests a 26-14 lead with 10:16 remaining.
The Bobcat offense couldn’t answer the score but Ohio punter Michael Farkas pinned the guests back inside their own 20. The guests were backed up as far as the six, but made it back to the 13 before having to punt. Ohio junior Tyler Gullett blocked the punt attempt and the ball went out of the endzone for a safety, trimming the Chippewa lead to 26-16 with 7:48 to play.
On the ensuing Ohio drive, the Bobcats covered 65 yards in seven plays with Rourke scoring from four yards out on a third-and-goal. Zervos’ point-after made the Bobcat deficit just three points, at 26-23 with 5:01 to play.
The Ohio offense never regained possession, however, as the Chippewas converted on a trio of third downs and sealed the 26-23 victory.
“This was a difficult, strange game,” said Solich. “Turnovers played a huge part in it. Four turnovers to one, that is not winning football. We really didn’t play well enough on offense, defense, or special teams. We did not have one area that played winning football. When that happens you usually don’t win football games. We hung in there and kept the score close to where if we’d stopped them on their last drive, who knows what would have happened. Everything leading up to that is not good football.”
For the game, Ohio held a 350-to-317 advantage in total offense, including 190-to-68 on the ground. OU held a 21-18 edge in first downs, while converting on 10 third downs, twice as many as CMU. Ohio was penalized five times for a total of 28 yards, while Central Michigan was sent back eight times for 78 yards.
Rourke — who was 17-of-31 passing for 160 yards — led the Bobcats on the ground with 105 yards and three scores on 13 carries.
A.J. Ouellette had 76 total yards on 15 carries and two receptions, while Brown added 18 yards on nine carries. Brendan Cope led all Ohio receivers with six receptions and 58 yards, Meyer added 39 yards on two receptions, while Troy Mangen hauled in three passes for 26 yards.
Cameron Odom caught two passes for 10 yards in the setback, while Mason Morgan and David Burroughs each had a one catch, gaining 12 and four yards respectively.
Moore led the Bobcat defense with nine tackles, two for a loss, and an interception. Evan Croutch also came up with nine tackles, while Bradd Ellis had eight tackles, including a team-best five solo tackles. Wyatt Shallman had a sack for the OU defense, while Tony Porter and Cleon Aloese combined for another sack.
Morris was 25-of-35 passing for 249 yards and two touchdowns for CMU. Conklin led all receivers with 136 yards and two scores on 10 grabs. Tony Joljan led the Chippewas on the ground with 24 yards on five tries.
Central Michigan is now 25-5 all-time against Ohio.
Ohio returns to action at Bowling Green on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.