AKRON, Ohio — The Bobcats lost more than just the game Tuesday.
The Ohio football team is no longer has a clear path to the Mid-American Conference East Division title, as host Akron moved in front of the Bobcats with a 37-34 victory at InfoCision Stadium-Summa Field.
The game couldn’t have started much better for Ohio (8-3, 4-2 MAC), forcing the Zips (6-5, 4-2) a three-and-out and then scoring on its second offensive play, as sophomore quarterback Nathan Rourke raced 68 yards for the touchdown. Louie Zervos made his first for four successful extra-point kicks, giving the guests a 7-0 lead just 2:06 into play.
Akron covered 75 yards in 15 plays on the ensuing drive, but was stopped two yards shy of paydirt and settled for a 19-yard Nick Gasser field goal with 5:45 left in the opening quarter.
After a 25-yard pass from Rourke to Papi White on the first play of the Bobcats’ next possession, Akron’s Shawn Featherstone intercepted a pass on the second play and returned it 45 yards to the Ohio 26.
Just four plays later the Zips moved into a 10-7 lead, as Kato Nelson tossed a 16-yard scoring pass to A.J. Coney, and Gasser made his first of four point-after kicks.
Akron’s lead was short-lived, however, as the Bobcats needed six plays to answer the touchdown. On a first-and-goal from the three, Rourke and senior wide receiver Brendan Cope swapped roles, as Cope tossed a touchdown pass to the OU signal caller.
The Bobcats forced Akron into a three-and-out and, on the next-to-last play of the first quarter, OU sophomore Dylan Wears blocked the punt, giving Ohio the ball on UA 5.
On the opening play of the second quarter, Bobcats senior Dorian Brown extended the Ohio lead to 21-10 with a five-yard touchdown run.
Following a three-and-out punt by each team, Akron trimmed its deficit to 21-17, as Nelson found Kwadarrius Smith for a 71 yard touchdown pass on the first play of the Zips’ drive.
The ensuing kickoff was fumbled by the Green and White, with Featherstone recovering for the hosts on the OU 23. Akron regained the lead on the very next play, as Nelson found Austin Wolf for a touchdown pass with 10:56 left in the first half.
Ohio tied the game at 24 with 6:14 remaining in the half, as Zervos capped off an 11-play, 74-yard drive with a 19-yard field goal.
Akron reestablished its lead just over a minute later, with Nelson and Smith connected for a 54-yard scoring pass. The two-point conversion failed, however, leaving the hosts with a 30-24 advantage at the break.
On its second drive of the second half, Ohio cut its deficit in half, as Zervos made a 46-yard field goal with 3:17 left in the third quarter.
The Akron offense never made it beyond the OU 39 in the third quarter, but Jordan George intercepted a Bobcat pass to give the Zips just 24 yards to the endzone on their first drive of the fourth quarter.
On the fifth play of the UA possession, Manny Morgan scored on a second down run from eight yards out, increasing the Zip lead to 37-27 with 11:30 left in the game.
In 10 plays, the Ohio offense moved the ball 58 yards to the UA 13, converting on one third down and one fourth down in the drive. On the 11th play of the possession, Rourke rushed in from 13 yards out, moving the Bobcats to within three points, at 37-34, with 5:58 left in regulation.
Akron only managed to take 1:09 off the clock, punting after just three plays. However, Ohio failed on a fourth down try and gave the ball back to the Zips, who ran the remaining 2:41 off of the clock to seal the 37-34 win.
“We kept giving them the ball, they kept making plays,” Ohio head coach Frank Solich said. “Their energy level increased, and they believed they could win the ball game tonight. Obviously when you face a team with good players and you’re not on top of your game, those kind of things happen.
“We had a lot of miscues, lots of turnovers, lots of little things that added up,” said Solich. “We didn’t sustain the blocks well enough and our passing game wasn’t sharp enough. Our defense missed some plays, and we just didn’t get coached up well enough.”
The Zips outgained the Bobcats 443-to-395 in total offense, including 322-to-113 in the passing game. Ohio held a 23-to-18 advantage in first downs, but was just 2-of-12 on third down conversions, while Akron converted 6-of-17 third down tries. OU was 1-for-2 on fourth down, and UA was successful on its lone fourth down attempt.
Akron punted eight times, twice as many time as Ohio, but the hosts won the turnover battle by a 3-0 count. The Zips were penalized 16 times for 167 yards, while the Bobcats were sent back twice for a total of 19 yards.
Rourke led all rushers with 165 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, to go with 9-of-22 passing for 110 yards, and one reception for a three-yard touchdown.
A.J. Ouellette rushed 24 times for a total of 74 yards, while Brown had two carries for a five yards and one score.
White, who had two carries for 38 yards, led Ohio’s receiving unit with six receptions for 68 yards. In addition to a completing his only pass attempt for a three-yard touchdown, Cope hauled in two passes for 23 yards. Andrew Meyer caught one 19 yards pass in the setback.
OU sophomore Javon Hagan led the Green and White on defense with 14 tackles, including eight solo. Kevin Robbins had a team-best three tackles for a loss, while Evan Croutch added one.
For Akron, Nelson was 22-of-38 passing for 332 yards and four touchdowns, while carrying the ball 14 times for 45 yards.
Morgan had 55 yards and one score on 14 carries, while Smith had 125 yards on two touchdown receptions. Tra’Von Chapman had a game-best eight receptions, totalling 65 yards for the hosts.
The Bobcats wrap up their regular season on Nov. 24 at Buffalo, while the Zips conclude their slate on Nov. 21 at home against Kent State. Ohio needs to top the Bulls and have the Flashes upset Akron in order to go to the MAC title game on Dec. 2 at Ford Field.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.