In a season in which even small blessings have been hard to find, the Bobcats delivered one to their fans Saturday inside Peden Stadium.
Ohio didn’t wait until the waning moments to commit back-breaking mistakes. The Bobcats got those out of the way early, as three first-half turnovers opened the door for visiting Kent State to skate out of Athens with a 34-27 victory.
The loss clinches a losing season in 2021 for Ohio (1-7, 1-3 MAC), a losing home record, and all but officially etched the death certificate for the Bobcats’ hope of winning the MAC East. Kent State (4-4, 3-1 MAC) broke a six-game losing skid against OU, and maintained a share of the division lead with Miami (4-4, 3-1 MAC). Ohio’s last losing season came in 2008.
“Nobody hates to lose more than me, or this football team,” Ohio head coach Tim Albin said afterward. “I’m going to sit here and tell you that we’re going to keep battling.
“And we’re going to find a way, this staff’s going to find a way, to get a couple plays here and there…it’s going to show.”
It was the third straight one-possession loss for Ohio in league play, coming on the heels of a one-point loss at Buffalo and a three-point loss to Central Michigan. But unlike those recent setbacks, the game was decided in the final couple minutes, but with a spate of turnovers in the first half.
“It’s frustrating. We want to win every week and losing by such few points sucks, but it shows you we’re competitive every week,” said Ohio linebacker Cannon Blauser. “The coaches give us a good plan and we execute it but we’re just a couple plays too short here or there.”
The Bobcats turned the ball over on downs on its first possession when a fourth-and-short run was stuffed on the Kent State 42. Ohio’s next five possessions went like this: 3&out, a lost fumble on the first play of a drive, another 3&out, a lost fumble at the Kent 19-yard line, and an interception in the end zone.
“Those turnovers can’t happen. You know I’m looking at myself,” said quarterback Kurtis Rourke, who came on in the first quarter to replace starter Armani Rogers. “It’s hard to win games when you have three turnovers. The defense did a great job in the first half.”
Kent State, guided efficiently throughout by QB Dustin Crum, had no such disastrous stretches. The Flashes led 10-0 before the Bobcats seemingly got started, as Crum found Dante Cephas with a 33-yard touchdown on their first series, and Andrew Glass booted a 31-yard field goal later in the first quarter.
Rogers, starting his third straight game for Ohio, was ineffective — as was the entire offense. Rogers rushed for just 11 yards on three carries, and finished 3 of 5 passing for 14 yards. Ohio totaled just 38 net yards on the first four possessions with Rogers, covering 13 plays.
Ohio quickly turned to Rourke — who started games one through five but had not seen the field since the first half at Akron a month ago.
Rourke immediately got the Bobcats moving, but his first drive ended with an Isiah Cox fumble inside the KSU 20. His next drive ended with an interception after he and WR Tyler Walton had a communication breakdown on a route.
But then the offense took off. Barring a one-play sequence to end the first half, Ohio scored on each and every one of its final five possessions — including all four in the second half.
Rourke was at times brilliant and had his best day as a college quarterback. He completed 31 of 38 passes for 308 yards, and added 49 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground. All were career highs. Ohio’s streak of quarters without a touchdown pass reached 14, but the passing game reached a level unseen all season.
On another disappointing day, Rourke’s return was an obvious highlight. Cox had his best day of the season (7 catches for 73 yards) as OU had a season-high 322 passing yards and involved 11 targets.
“Personally I think it’s a confidence boost for myself but also the offense. We’ve been really successful running the ball because we got some great guys that can run the ball,” Rourke said. “But we got an offense that I’m very confident in running in both ways. So, it’s a big confidence boost.”
Ohio closed to within 10-7 with 2:04 left in the half when De’Montre Tuggle (59 rushing yards) scored on a two-yard option pitch to the left pylon. But while the Bobcats got on track offensively, the Flashes likewise caught fire.
KSU ended the first half with an eight-play, 71-yard TD drive, with Crum scoring on a 4-yard keeper to take a 17-7 lead into the break. The Flashes opened the second half with a 75-yard scoring drive, capped by Xavier Williams’ 15-yard run for a 24-7 lead.
Both Ohio and Kent State finished with 457 yards of total offense. Crum had just five incompletions (26 of 31) and threw for 257 yards by continuing mining quick throws to the outside, and added a team-high 93 yards rushing. The Flashes finished with 200 rushing yards as Williams (60) and Marquez Cooper (50) took turns at RB.
Ohio answered the third-quarter score with Rourke’s nine-yard touchdown run on a scramble. But the Flashes fired right back, this time with Cooper finishing another rapid-fire drive with a 15-yard scoring run.
The Bobcats added Stephen Johnson’s 23 yard field goal, but trailed 31-17 entering the fourth.
“That’s what their offense is designed for. There’s other stuff that we haven’t seen that only Kent does. We practice it all week and we did the best we could do,” Blauser said. “They’re a good offense and they’re going to score points. They’re explosive and one of the best offenses in the MAC.”
Ohio did manage the only defensive stop in the second half, and it gave the Bobcats a chance to get back into it. The Bobcats responded with an 80-yard drive, and Rourke scored on a 1-yard keeper with 7:44 left to pull OU to within 31-24.
But the Flashes responded with an 11-play drive that took 4:40 off the clock and ended with a 27-yard field goal from Glass that made it 34-24 with 3:04 remaining.
Ohio added Johnson’s 20-yard field goal with 49 seconds left, on fourth-and-goal from the 3, but the ensuing onside kick was not recovered and KSU knelt once to end it.
“I think that it was a game of two halves,” Albin said. “Obviously the defense did an unbelievable job keeping us in the game. In the first half, it could’ve gotten out of hand.”
Ohio will have 10 days to figure out the quarterback position, again, and to get healthy. With many of the goals of the season out of reach, Albin believes his team will keep battling. The Bobcats are a handful of plays of being a .500 team, and a division leader.
“I really like our culture, and the players we have will fight.”
Around the MAC
Northern Illinois now holds a commanding position in the West Division, with a two-game lead over the entire division at the halfway point. In the East, Kent State and Miami are tied for the division lead at 3-1 with only Buffalo (2-2) having.a realistic chance to catch either. Road teams won five of the six games on Saturday, with only Toledo defending its home turf.
Ten of the 12 league teams are off next Saturday (sorry BG at Buffalo) as the league transitions to the traditionally heavy midweek schedule for the rest of November. Ohio’s midweek set plays out this way: vs. Miami on Tuesday, Nov. 2, then at Eastern Michigan, against Toledo in the home finale, and then the season finale at Bowling Green on Black Friday.
- Eastern Michigan 55, Bowling Green 24
- Northern Illinois 39, Central Michigan 38
- Kent State 34, Ohio 27
- Miami 24, Ball State 17
- Toledo 34, Western Michigan 15
- Buffalo 45, Akron 10
Oct. 30 games
- Bowling Green at Buffalo, 12 p.m.
MAC Standings (thru 10/23) East Division MAC PF PA Overall Miami 3-1 98 68 4-4 Kent State 3-1 140 149 4-4 Buffalo 2-2 127 108 4-4 Ohio 1-3 114 108 1-7 Akron 1-3 83 133 2-6 Bowling Green 0-4 64 117 2-6 West Division MAC PF PA Overall Northern Illinois 4-0 122 104 6-2 Eastern Michigan 2-2 119 101 5-3 Western Michigan 2-2 123 127 5-3 Toledo 2-2 99 75 4-4 Ball State 2-2 112 97 4-4 Central Michigan 2-2 111 117 4-4