Don’t be fooled by the final score which, as decreed by the football gods apparently, was again in the one-possession range for a fifth-straight week.
The Bobcats clocked in at The Factory and produced their best four quarters of the season in a 34-26 victory over Eastern Michigan on Tuesday night in Ypsilanti, Mich.
Ohio (3-7, 3-3 MAC), after last week’s home win over Miami, has won consecutive games for the first time this season. The ‘Cats entered as full touchdown underdogs and cooled off the Eagles (6-4, 3-3 MAC), which had scored more than 50 in each of their previous two games.
“I’m just so excited and happy for this football team. It was absolutely a great team win,” said Ohio head coach Tim Albin. “Unbelievable job when coming in, nobody gave us much of a chance.”
Ohio snapped a 20-20 tie in the third quarter with consecutive touchdowns for a 14-point lead. The Bobcats held that lead until the final three minutes when Eastern Michigan pulled to within 34-26 on Samson Evans’s 3-yard touchdown run.
However, the Eagles failed on the two-point try, and Ohio WR Cam Odom recovered the ensuing onside kick with 2:35 left. The ‘Cats got a first down on three straight De’Montre Tuggle and waltzed back to Athens with a winning streak in tow.
“I told our guys this in the locker room, that was our best four quarters of football,” Albin said. “I’m just ecstatic with their effort tonight.”
The Bobcats covered every aspect. The defense gave up 354 passing yards, but the Eagles needed 57 throws to get there. Tackling was on point as EMU resorted to mining short routes over and over.
The offense piled up 495 total yards and had balance. Six different players combined to rush for 265 yards, and QB Kurtis Rourke threw for 230 yards and three touchdowns on 10 -of-18 passing.
Ohio also had big plays in big spots. Each of the four defensive stops was authored by a standout effort or play. The ‘Cats had four touchdowns; Each score came on a play of 20 or more yards.
Tuggle led the balanced ground game with 78 yards, and added a 40-yard touchdown catch. Isaiah Cox had two scores, one on the ground and one in the air, for four touchdowns in the last two games combined.
Ohio played quarterbacks — Rourke and Armani Rogers — and sometimes had them on the field together. Cox lined up in different spots. The Bobcats didn’t resort to outright gimmickry, but had enough wrinkles to keep EMU off-balance. Ohio scored on each of its first five possessions, and six of its first seven.
“Scheme-wise, we’re protecting better,” Albin said. “We used our skillset efficiently as a staff.”
EMU QB Ben Bryant completed 41 of 57 passes for 354 yards, and flanker Tanner Knue (11-127) emerged as his favorite target. The Eagles knotted the game 20-20 early in the third quarter when Dylan Drummond snagged a 5-yard TD pass in the left corner.
Then Ohio took over. OU needed just eight plays to break back on top as Cox scored on a 20-yard end around, breezing by four clean blocks on the perimeter for a 27-20 lead with 7:54 left in the half.
Safety Tariq Drake then got the first of three second-half Ohio defensive stops by ranging to the sideline for his third interception of the year. The ‘Cats made consecutive stops on the next series when Will Evans collared Bryant for a sack on third down.
Ohio put the game out of reach on the first play for the fourth quarter. Rourke dropped in a 66-yard touchdown to Odom, racing down the sideline, for the score and Ohio led 34-20.
Bryce Houston, who had 11 tackles, split a sack with Jack McCrory to stuff another EMU threat. Ohio did enough on the ground to eat up chunks of clock and EMU’s timeouts to leave the Eagles without a chance to stage a late-game rally.
The teams traded scores in the first half, with the only stop coming when DT Kai Caesar knocked down a Bryant pass at the line of scrimmage on fourth down.
Rourke found Cox open for a 33-yard touchdown on the game’s opening series. EMU answered with Evans’ 1-yard TD plunge.
Rourke hit Tuggle with a 40-yard touchdown on the next series, and Stephen Johnson added a 21-yard field goal for a 17-7 lead after Caesar’s fourth-down deflection.
Johnson and EMU’s Chad Ryland traded field goals — of 27 and 25 yards — before Ryland tied a school record with a 55-yard field goal on the last play of the first half that pulled the Eagles to within 20-13.
Ohio will gun for a third straight win, and wrap up the home portion of the 2021 schedule, on Tuesday night in Peden Stadium against Toledo.
Ohio started the season 0-4, then dropped three straight one-possession games in conference play. But the Bobcats have taken out two contenders in the last two games, and on Tuesday never trailed while controlling the game from start to finish.
“I couldn’t be prouder of a bunch of guys. They come to work every day,” Albin said. “They keep investing in what we’re doing as a staff and investing in each other and our culture.”
“They’re about it.”