With the game on the line, and hanging in the balance, the Bobcats were victimized by a cruel twist of fate.
Or, you know, business as usual when Ohio squares off against Central Michigan.
The visiting Chippewas spoiled Homecoming, for the third time in the last decade, by holding off Ohio 30-27 inside Peden Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The loss was the sixth in a row for OU against CMU. The Bobcats haven’t beaten CMU since 2011, and haven’t won in Athens against the Chips since 2000.
Central Michigan took the lead for good when Kalil Pimpleton hauled in a perfectly thrown ball from Daniel Richardson for a 28-yard touchdown with 3:55 remaining.
Ohio (1-5, 1-1 MAC) had a chance to steal the game late, but was facing a potential fourth-and-2 from its own 33-yard line with just under three minutes to go. The Bobcats, 3-for-3 on fourth down during the game, were going to go for it.
Or, at least they would have if not for a penalty that will go down in program lore as one of the most unusual ever sprung. After the third down play was over — an incomplete pass that had the entire Ohio sideline up in arms about a perceived missed pass interference call — Ohio’s sideline was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. 4th-and-2 became 4th-and-17, and the Bobcats punted.
CMU (3-3, 1-1 MAC) got a first down and ran out the rest of the clock.
The decisive penalty was called for an unnamed player on the Ohio sideline. The official gestured toward RB Julian Ross when making the call. Ross, injured most of the season, was not in uniform.
A player not even in uniform was called for a game-clinching penalty while not even on the field. If indeed the penalty was called on Ross — for something he said — that only adds to unusual nature. Ross is a team captain, and regarded as one of the most consistent, solid, and dependable players on the roster.
Ohio head coach Tim Albin declined to name the player after the game. He said it was explained to him the infraction was strictly verbal in nature. Albin did not relay what was allegedly said.
“It is unfortunate and I am disappointed and so was that person. That is not who he is, and it is a teachable moment for our football team,” Albin said. “I know that young man is hurting, but we must get it corrected and make sure it does not happen again.
“It falls on my shoulders.”
The bizarre ending took away from what was a close, hard-fought conference bout, but one that nonetheless contained the usual issues for Ohio this season.
CMU piled up 204 rushing yards, including 185 on 30 carries in a workhorse effort from RB Lew Nichols. Also present again for Ohio were errant kicks; Stephen Johnson (the designated kicker this week) missed a 47-yard field goal in the first quarter and a PAT in the third quarter. And the ‘Cats offense? It once again had some success but couldn’t finish; Ohio had just three points on its first three drives inside the CMU 35 in the first half and totaled just 11 yards on its final two possessions.
“I thought our team again played their tails off,” Albin said. “We just have to find a way to make a few more plays down the stretch.”
QB Armani Rogers got the start for Ohio, and played every snap at the position — a first in two seasons for the Bobcats. Rogers had his best day passing at OU — 13 of 18 for 190 yards — but was held in check on the ground with 37 yards on 15 carries.
Ohio notched three rushing touchdowns and 179 rushing yards, but averaged just 3.9 yards per carry. RB De’Montre Tuggle, coming off a career-high 201 yards at Akron, had 83 on 19 carries and lost a fumble on his third carry of the day.
Cameron Odom had four catches for 88 yards, and Ryan Luehrman added 44 yards on four catches. Miles Cross had two catches for 47 yards as Ohio averaged 14.6 yards per carry.
Ohio had its best cohesion of the season on the offensive side of the ball.
“We just go out there and do the best we can and capitalize on the plays we did,” Rogers said.
Richardson completed 16 of 30 passes for 257 yards and the game-winning touchdown. He was also picked off twice as Ohio safety Tariq Drake grabbed both in a career-best day. Pimpleton had five catches for 78 yards, and added a touchdown on the ground on a reverse. Dallas Dixon added 91 yards on four catches.
The Chips explosive plays came most often on dazzling sideline catches against close coverage.
“Those dudes are on scholarship too,” said Ohio LB Bryce Houston. “We just got to look at ourselves and see what we can do to not have those plays go their way. But kudos to them, they did a great job of capitalizing on what they had to do.”
CMU struck first, after Johnson’s missed field goal. Nichols ripped off a 47-yard run on third-and-short, then scored from 3 yards out two plays later for a 7-0 lead.
Johnson hit a 29-yard field goal with 26 seconds in the first quarter to make it 7-3. Ohio had the ball for 10:33 of the first quarter, but trailed on the scoreboard.
Marshall Meeder hit a 34-yard field goal for CMU and a 10-3 lead midway through the second. Ohio knotted it 10-10 with 2:44 left when Rogers scored on a 4-yard keeper to the left side.
But, CMU added Meeder’s 35-yard field goal for a 13-10 lead at the break.
“We had some opportunities in the first half that we squandered,” Albin said.
Ohio flipped the game in the third. Drake’s second INT set up the Bobcats on the CMU 45, and Tuggle scored on a 2-yard run four plays later. Johnson missed the PAT, and Ohio led 16-13.
The ‘Cats’ next possession ended with Johnson’s 44-yard field goal and Ohio led 19-10.
CMU went back in front on Pimpleton’s 7-yard TD run — on a reverse out of the Wildcat — and the Chips led 20-19 entering the fourth.
Ohio took its last lead with a surprising contribution. With Tuggle and backup O’Shaan Allison both on the sidelines in various states of injury, Ohio turned to true freshman RB Sieh Bangura on 4th-and-1 from the CMU 40. Bangura burst into the line, spun off the pileup in the whole, and then accelerated quickly into the open field for a 40-yard touchdown. The two-point try, a gadget play with Isiah Cox throwing to Adam Luehrman, pushed Ohio to a 27-20 lead with 11:57 left.
Bangura’s TD came on his third collegiate snap, and his first-ever carry as a college RB.
“I am not surprised at all; he’s the guy,” Albin said. “There are some really talented younger players that are getting a lot of playing time at this point of the season.”
But CMU got a 40-yard FG from Meeder to pull within 27-23 less than two minutes later. Ohio punted from its 43 on its next possession, then had the penalty-aided three-and-out (it’s only one of the day) on its last possession.
Richardson’s TD to Pimpleton came in between Ohio’s two least effective series of the day.
Albin said his team took another step forward, despite the outcome.
“I’m not sure that wasn’t our best four quarters of the season,” he said.
Ohio currently sits in a three-way tie for second in the MAC East, behind division-leading Kent State (3-3, 2-0 MAC). The Bobcats travel to Buffalo (2-4, 0-2 MAC) next Saturday.
MAC Standings East Division MAC PF PA Overall Kent State 2-0 75 58 3-3 Miami 1-1 40 30 2-4 Ohio 1-1 61 47 1-5 Akron 1-1 52 54 2-4 Buffalo 0-2 55 72 2-4 Bowling Green 0-2 40 62 2-4 West Division MAC PF PA Overall Northern Illinois 2-0 49 40 4-2 Eastern Michigan 1-1 33 39 4-2 Central Michigan 1-1 47 55 3-3 Toledo 1-1 42 34 3-3 Ball State 1-1 57 42 3-3 Western Michigan 1-1 44 62 4-2