The Bobcats’ first foray into #MACtion this season played out a lot like a college freshman’s first experience with one of Athens’ many infamous fests.
The good times came fast and furious early on before eventually settling into a pleasant vibe that promised an enjoyable experience. But the night included careening from trash can collisions and stumbles over curbs until finally, mercifully, making it home.
Ohio dominated the first 2.5 quarters, then hung on (barely) during an incandescent comeback from the hated RedHawks for a 35-33 win in front of an enthusiastic 15,940 at Peden Stadium. The game took nearly four hours but that mattered little to the Bobcats (2-7, 2-3 MAC), who snapped a three-game losing skid, won at home for the first time this season, and beat Miami (4-5, 3-2 MAC) for the first time since 2017.
Once it was finally secure, the Bobcats acknowledged the win with a celebration worthy of a championship. Ohio’s sideline clearly relished the chance to get a close win under their belts, and beat that fellow mason-friendly school in the “Battle of the Bricks.” Even Ohio assistant coach Tyler Tettleton, a former Bobcat quarterback, took part, waving the RedHawks off the field at the end.
It was finally time to order more mugs, the commemorative that Ohio distributes to players every time they beat their biggest in-conference rival.
“It’s been a tough season, especially MAC play. It just felt good to win a close one and to do it against this team,” said Ohio RB De’Montre Tuggle, who spearheaded the offense with three total touchdowns. “It’s a lot of us first time getting a mug. That was a great experience for us and doing it in the fashion we did was a nice touch.”
Tuggle rushed for 69 yards and two scores, and caught two passes for 50 yards and another score. WR Isiah Cox had his best game of the season with season highs of six catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns.
QB Kurtis Rourke made his second straight start, and shined for a second straight game; He finished 23 of 32 passing for 288 yards, and helped Ohio break a string 15 straight quarters without a touchdown pass by throwing three of them.
Ohio’s defense and special teams got in on the act as well. Miami was blanked in the first half, and never mounted any credible running game. On special teams, the Bobcats blocked a field goal attempt, downed four punts inside the 20-yard line, and pinned one kick-off return inside the 10.
Sure, kicker Stephen Johnson missed two more field goals — from 48 and 46 yards — but that was a quibble on the night when head coach Tim Albin finally got his team to win a home game.
“I really believe in this football team; they’ve come to work and they’ve been professional about it,” Albin said. “They take our coaching and they keep battling.”
Yet, it all nearly unraveled. Ohio led 14-0 at the half, and 28-0 midway through the third quarter. Then, Miami’s Jack Sorenson and Brett Gabbert went nuclear and nearly delivered another dreadful setback to the Green & White.
Gabbert threw for a career-high 492 yards (on 32 of 55 passing) and five touchdowns, with 419 yards and all five scores coming in the second half. Sorenson was targeted an incredible 22 times, and finished with career-highs of 14 catches for 283 yards and two touchdowns.
With nothing else working, Gabbert basically threw it at Sorenson every third play — and it was nearly enough.
“As the game went on, I think we did a pretty nice job but obviously very disappointing in the beginning,” said Miami head coach Chuck Martin. “We did not play good football in the first half and Ohio did.”
The Bobcats doubled their halftime lead with just six offensive snaps in the third quarter. Rourke found Cox down the left sideline for a 25-yard TD, then went back to Cox for a 33-yard score on the next possession for a 28-0 lead with 10:30 left in the quarter.
Then Gabbert and the RedHawks really started chucking the ball around. Miami got on the board with a 51-yard bomb to Jalen Walker, then scored again when Gabbert fed Sorenson with a 15-yard touchdown. But, the PAT was wide left and the lead stood at 28-13.
It ended up being a critical miss.
Ohio thought it had taken the worst of the comeback. The defense stopped two fourth-and-short chances from its own 10 and 26 yards lines thanks to Tariq Drake’s tackle at the line of scrimmage and Roman Parodie’s pass break up. The ‘Cats still led 28-13 with less than six minutes to go.
But there were still four more touchdowns, and three onside kick recoveries to come. Gabbert’s third TD pass was actually tipped twice — on fourth down again — behind ending up with Mac Hippenhammer for a 9-yard TD with 5:18 left. Miami went for the 2-point conversion trailing 28-19, but the pass attempt was long.
The RedHawks were aggressive all night, including six fourth-down conversion attempts.
“I’m playing to win; I’m not playing to punt the ball,” Martin said.
Miami kept coming. Gabbert lofted another long ball, and Sorenson won the jump-ball for it, landed and raced the rest of the way for an 82-yard touchdown with 3:17 left. The lead was down to 28-26.
After another onside kick recovery, Ohio had a chance to seal it. Tuggle broke free for a 46-yard touchdown with 1:35 remaining to make it 35-26, but acknowledged NOT scoring was the better play there.
“(Rourke) was the first one to tell me about it,” Tuggle said. “Just getting caught up in the moment. I was trying to put points on the board and win a close game. We’ve had a lot of tough breaks, so I was just trying to make sure that we finished.”
Miami capitalized on the chance for more points. Gabbert’s fifth touchdown was a 5-yard strike to Hippenhammer with 35 seconds left and trimmed it to 35-33. But, Ohio held on after Tuggle made a clean grab on the third consecutive onside kick from the RedHawks.
“We just continued to push and believe,” Rourke said. “We’ve been unlucky with some situations where we’ve lost close games, and we didn’t want that to happen tonight.”
Luck had nothing to do with Ohio’s first half as the Bobcats owned the first two quarters. Tuggle scored on a 2-yard option pitch for a 7-0 lead with 5:06 left in the first. The ‘Cats made it 14-0 when Tuggle took Rourke’s short pass in the flat, turned the corner and raced 48 yards untouched for a 14-0 lead early in the second.
DT Kai Caesar blocked a field goal to snuff out Miami’s only scoring threat in the half. Miami had just 26 plays and 119 total yards in the first half, and five of its six possessions ended in four plays or less.
“We did a very good job of stopping the run. That’s one of the things we emphasized all week, stopping the run and making them one dimensional,” Drake said.
Miami averaged just 3.1 yards per carry and totaled 77 on 25 carries. Ohio became the first MAC team to break 100 yards rushing against the RedHawks with 125 yards on 33 carries.
The ‘Cats are 12-3 against the RedHawks since 2006, and few of those wins were needed more than the one on Tuesday night. Ohio won’t win the MAC this season, but Albin said winning a big rivalry game is a great reminder why college football remains a terrific endeavor.
“This rivalry is great for our conference and great for college football…it’s what college football is all about,” Albin said. “We just want to win the game.”