ATHENS, Ohio — The bye week couldn’t come soon enough.
The Ohio football team is headed for a much needed week off after dropping their third straight decision in non-conference play, as the Bobcats fell guest Louisiana by a 45-25 count on Saturday at Peden Stadium in Athens County.
A defensive showcase early on, the Ragin’ Cajuns (3-1) caught a break when Ohio (1-3) fumbled a punt return and T.J. Wisham recovered two yards from the end zone. Louisiana took a 7-0 lead one play later, with Elija Mitchell on a rushing touchdown and Stevie Artigue with his first of six point-after kicks with 2:19 left in the first quarter.
Following a three-and-out from each side, the Bobcats made their first scoring drive, going 36 yards in 10 plays and settling for a 48-yard Louie Zervos field goal with 10:12 until halftime.
Following a UL punt, Ohio cut its deficit to one point, as Zervos made a 49-yard field goal with 1:58 left in the half, concluding a 10-play, 48-yard drive.
The Ragin’ Cajuns, however, got those three points back as time expired in the half, with Artigue hitting a 27-yard field goal at the end of a 10-play, 67-yard drive.
Each side went three-and-out on the other side of halftime, and Louisiana went up 17-6 4:41 into the third quarter, as Mitchell scored on another two-yard run at the end of a five-play, 74-yard drive.
On the seventh play of the ensuing Bobcat possession, Kamar Greenhouse intercepted a pass and returned it 45 yards to the Ohio 35, only to be backed up to midfield after an penalty.
The guests led 24-6 2:11 later, as Nick Ralston caught a two-yard touchdown pass from Levi Lewis with 4:13 to go in the third.
The Green and White were in the end zone for the first time on their ensuing drive, as Ja’Vahri Portis scored on a one-yard run with 18 seconds remaining in the third quarter. The Ohio two-point conversion try was stopped, leaving the guests with a 24-12 lead.
Louisiana answered the Bobcat touchdown with a five-play, 65-yard drive, capped off by a 15-yard scoring run by Trey Ragas.
Trailing 31-12, Ohio went three-and-out, but wound up catching a break, as Jarren Hampton recovered a UL fumble 28 yards from paydirt. Three plays later, Portis carried the ball for a three-yard touchdown with 11:04 left in the regulation. Ohio’s two-point try was picked off in the end zone, leaving Louisiana’s lead at 31-18.
The guests missed a 37-yard field goal on their next drive, and OU took advantage. Nathan Rourke found Shane Hooks for a 49-yard pass play down the sideline and then connected with Hooks for a 21-yard touchdown on the following play. Zervos made the point-after kick, cutting the Ragin’ Cajun lead to 31-25 with 7:54 left on the clock.
Louisiana gained some breathing room with a six-play, 75-yard drive, capped off by a two-yard touchdown run from Mitchell with 4:30 to go.
Ohio’s next offensive play sealed its fate, with a sack by Joe Dillon causing a fumble, which was recovered by Ja’Quan Nelson at the OU 12.
The Ragin’ Cajuns capped off their 45-25 victory with a three-yard touchdown pass from Lewis to Ja’Mar Bradley with 3:12 left.
Following their first home setback since Oct. 7, 2017, Bobcats head coach Frank Solich acknowledged improvements must be made in all phases of the game.
“We’ve got work to do, that’s clear,” Solich said. “The good part is that they’re willing to put in the work. They will stick together and be a team that has shown flashes on both sides of the ball, and we’re going to have to get it done in all areas. I think our special teams can help us, but we can’t have a turnover in special teams and expect things to turn out in our favor.
“We have to come up with a way to stop the run. We have to find a way to force more turnovers and put more pressure on their offense. We can’t give up five yards in the linebacking area and expect to have a good tackling day. We have to get things stopped better up front. We will go to work. I like their attitude, I like the talent level we have, and we’ll find a way to put it together.”
Ohio had won a program record 10 consecutive home games headed into play.
The guests claimed a 25-to-23 edge in first downs and a 489-to-380 advantage in total offense, including 285-to-103 on the ground. OU lost the turnover battle yet again, this time by a 5-to-1 clip.
Rourke — who was 18-of-38 passing for 277 yards and a touchdown — also led the Bobcat ground attack with 37 yards on nine attempts. Portis ended with 35 yards and two touchdowns on nine totes, while De’Montre Tuggle had 31 yards on 10 carries and one five-yard reception.
Ryan Luehrman paced the Bobcat receiving unit with four catches for 69 yards. On three receptions apiece, Hooks ended with 96 yards and a touchdown, Tyler Tupa added 31 yards, and Cameron Odom came up with 26 yards. Isiah Cox had two catches for 36 yards in the setback, Alec Burton had a 10-yard reception, while Jerome Buckner caught a four-yard pass.
Javon Hagan led the Bobcat defense with a dozen tackles, seven of which were solo and one came for a loss. Austin Conrad and Cole Baker claimed a sack-apiece in the game, with Eric Popp also earning a tackle for a loss.
For the victors, Lewis was 19-of-29 passing for 188 yards and two touchdowns. Mitchell had 143 yards and three scores on 17 carries, Ragas added 137 yards and a score on 15 carries and a a reception, while Bradley had a team-best 75 yards and a score on five catches.
Jacques Boudreaux led the UL defense with eight tackles. Dillon and Bennie Higgins each had a sack, while Greenhouse, Kam Pedescleaux and Asjlin Washington claimed an interception apiece.
Ohio returns to the gridiron and opens Mid-American Conference play on Oct. 5 at Buffalo.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.