Bottoming Out?

Ohio quarterback Kurtis Rourke (7) pitches to running back O’Shaan Allison during the Bobcats’ loss to visiting Duquesne on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. Photo by Jason Arkley

It was supposed to be a day to get back on track, to get well, and generate some healthy, positive momentum.

Instead, the Dukes may have administered last rites for Ohio’s 2021 football season.

Visiting Duquesne dominated the play count, time of possession, and much of the middle three quarters of the game to stun the Bobcats 28-26 at Peden Stadium. Ohio (0-2) saw a string of 16 straight wins over FCS opponents fall by the wayside; It was the ‘Cats first loss against the lower division since a 31-0 home shutout loss to Northeastern in 2002. Ohio is 0-2 for the first time since 2008.

This one didn’t feel any better. It was the first loss for Ohio head Tim Albin against the FCS since he came to Athens with Frank Solich in 2005 (14-1).

“Everything we did well last week — zero penalties, ran the ball against an ACC team — we did not do this week. That’s my responsibility,” said Albin, still seeking that first win as OU’s head coach. “We had some things happen that haven’t happened here, and we have got to get it corrected in a hurry.”

Duquesne (1-1) wasn’t expected to be much of a hurdle. The Dukes were playing a FBS team for just the fifth time in program history. They were stomped in a loss at TCU last week that was so bad head coach Jerry Schmitt agreed to have the second half shortened. Starting quarterback Joe Mischler, a former Bobcat, was out with a knee injury.

Instead, Mischler’s replacement — Darius Perrantes — completed 23 of 34 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown, and rushed for another to power the Dukes to their first FBS win in program history. It was also the first ever victory for a team from the Northeast Conference over an FBS opponent. It was the seventh FCS-over-FBS upset this season, then Jacksonville State made it eight on Saturday night at Florida State

“We had this opportunity to come in today and the kids played their butts off and did a great job to win this game,” Schmitt said. “It is an outstanding feeling, but I never imagined that’s where we would be.

The Dukes rushed for 168 yards, led by 82 methodical yards (on 23 carries) from Garrett Owens. Billy Lucas added 77 yards on the ground, and Joey Isabella led a balanced receiver group with eight catches for 45 yards. 

Duquesne never trailed after Perrantes snuck in a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down with 9:41 left in the third quarter. The Dukes extended the lead out to 25-13 when Isabella hauled in a 3-yard dart on a slant on the first play of the fourth quarter. Both scores came at the end of long drives, and the ‘Cats had just five offensive plays in the third quarter. 

The Bobcats never found a rhythm, and couldn’t get their offense on the field. Ohio ran just six plays in the first quarter, only 19 in the opening half, and had just 24 offensive snaps through three quarters. 

Duquesne owned an unheard of plus-22 minute edge in time of possession, and finished with 79 plays to Ohio’s 46. The Bobcats had just one third-quarter possession, and only three in the second half. 

“It’s tough right now, but we need to be better, individually and as a team,” said Ohio DT Kai Caesar. “That’s just that, we just need to be better.”

Still, Ohio tried to steal the game late. QB Kurtis Rourke, who finished 14 of 22 for 168 yards, guided the Bobcats on two fourth-quarter touchdown drives. The first was engineered on the ground, and ended with his first career rushing touchdown — a 2-yard speed option keeper through the left side — that pulled OU to within within 25-20 with 10:45 to go.

The Dukes then nearly clinched it with a clock-killing monster of a drive. The possession ate up 7:59 off the clock and included 15 plays before ending with Brian Bruzdewicz’ fourth field goal of the day, a 27-yarder with 2:46 left.

Ohio extended the drive three different times on third down with defensive penalties. It was part of an incredible seven first downs gained via flag for Duquesne, including a whopping six in the second half alone. Each of the Dukes’ final four scoring drives were aided by one or more 15-yard penalties against the Ohio defense. All told, Ohio finished with 12 penalties for 112 yards.

“We just need to be more disciplined, you know, as a defense. We had penalties in the back, we had penalties in the front,” Caesar said. “Those are things that we do work on in practice, and we just need to stay true to our technique in our game.”

Rourke gave Ohio a chance. He hit Ty Walton with a 3-yard touchdown pass, and pulled OU to within 28-26 with just nine seconds left. On the needed two-point conversion, Rourke’s pass to TE Ryan Luerhman on a fade couldn’t be hauled in. Duquesne recovered the ensuing onside kickoff.

“We got to learn from tonight and forget about it tonight, because a new week starts tomorrow,” said WR Cam Odom.

Tuggle had 44 yards on just seven carries, while backup O’Shaan Allison had 76 on 12 tries. Walton had a team high six catches for 44 yards, and Odom finished with three for 74.

The game started brilliantly for Ohio. De’Montre Tuggle took the opening kickoff — a miss-hit squibber — back nearly untouched for a 83-yard touchdown. After Duquesne got on the board with a field goal, Ohio drove it 75 yards on two plays for another touchdown. Rourke hit Odom with a 60-yard deep ball, and Tuggle scored on a 15-yard option pitch on the next snap. 

Less than five minutes in, Ohio led 13-3…and then didn’t score again until the fourth. Ohio started one first-quarter drive from its own 1-yard line, and Allison was stuffed in the end zone for a safety. 

The Dukes managed two short field goals after long clock-eating drives in the first half. Ohio kicker Stephen Johnson, meanwhile, missed a 30-yard field goal after an attempted fake was initiated before the play clock ran out. Ohio led 13-11 at the half.

The Dukes’ last four offensive possessions resulted in 20 points, and all consisted of at least 10 plays and took more than five minutes each off the clock. Ohio hasn’t created a turnover in two games this season.

“We’ve got to find a way to get some 3-and-outs and find a way to get some turnovers,” Albin said. “We’re missing a couple guys in there, but we have to find a way.”

It’s not going to get any easier for OU. The Bobcats have a short week and play at Sun Belt heavyweight Louisiana on Thursday night. After that, Ohio travels to Northwestern out of the Big Ten. Albin’s team  won’t be favored to win a game until October at the earliest.

“One thing I always say is we have to learn how to turn the page when stuff goes good, and when stuff goes wrong,” Odom said. “Whether that’s on the field or off the field, whether we have a good play, you got to turn the page and go back and make sure you’re ready for the next play. The same goes with a win or loss. 

“So, now we’re gonna turn the page and get ready for the next day.”

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