Rockets Knock Out Bobcats, 35-23, with Big Plays

Ohio’s Christophe Atkinson (66) and Ryan Luehrman (88) lead the way for Armani Rogers during the Bobcats’ 35-23 home loss to Toledo on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. Photo by Jason Arkley

The Bobcats wanted one more big moment, one more special night on their final evening playing on their home field.

Instead, it was Toledo’s Bryant Koback who etched one big play after another as the Toledo Rockets did more with less and dispatched Ohio 35-23 on Tuesday night at Peden Stadium. The Bobcats (3-8, 3-4 MAC) had a modest two-game winning streak snapped, and will end 2021 with their worst home record (1-5) since 2001 (0-5).

Toledo (4-3, 6-5 MAC) was powered throughout by Koback, who found edges, broke tackles, and pulled away from defenders regularly with his top-end speed. Koback piled up 203 rushing yards and a career-high four touchdowns on 21 carries.; he accounted for more than half of Toledo’s 401 total yards.

“(Toledo) has got a complete football team and going into the game I told the team that we would have to basically play our best four quarters of football to have a shot,” Ohio head coach Tim Albin said. “We didn’t and we were in it.

“We just couldn’t make the plays that we made the last couple of weeks.”

Most of the plays that weren’t made came in the red zone. Ohio outgained Toledo (445-401) and ran 84 plays to the Rockets’ 45. Toledo had just one third down conversion on the night, and that came with just seconds remaining. The Bobcats owned an obscene edge in time of possession (41:27 to 18:33). 

The Bobcats had five possessions through the first five quarters that crested inside the Toledo 30-yard line. The first ended with a failed fourth-and-short run. The next three ended with field goals from Stephen Johnson — from 34, 41 and 32 yards. 

The last made kick pulled Ohio to within 14-9 with 6:33 left in the third quarter; it was as close as Ohio would get to taking the lead in the second half and came after a 15-play drive that took more than eight minutes off the clock.

“We could not finish drives and that’s been something that’s been talked about throughout the season,” said Ohio tight end Ryan Luehrman. “With this sport you must take advantage of every opportunity and we did not do that today.”

Toledo then rocketed away on just a handful of plays. On their next possession, the Rockets gave the ball to Koback going right on fourth-and-1. Koback cut it back to the middle and raced 55 yards untouched for a touchdown and a 21-9 lead.

After an Ohio 3-and-out, Toledo needed just one play to add to the lead. Dequan Finn completed just 10 passes on the night, but he opened the next possession with an 85-yard bomb to Matt Landers for a touchdown on a deep post route to make it 28-9 with 3:28 left in the third. 

Ohio responded with another long drive, but elected to kick on fourth-and-goal from the 8. This time Johnson’s 25-yard field goal attempt clanged no good off the left upright.

“Against Miami and Eastern Michigan we made some plays down the field but tonight we just didn’t make those plays,” Albin said. “We had to nickel-and-dime it down the field and just couldn’t get the ball in the endzone.”

Ohio got another defensive stop, but J.J. Conner fumbled away the punt on the Bobcats’ 16. Three plays later Koback rolled through the left side for a 13-yard touchdown and a 35-9 lead with 10:43 remaining.

After controlling the ground game the last two weeks, Ohio’s defense gave up 251 rushing yards to Toledo.

“It’s just getting to the key positions and making sure you’re following the keys,” Ohio defensive end Will Evans said. “ I felt like we cut out a little short in that area.”

Ohio quarterback Kurtis Rourke completed 22 of 36 passes for 233 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. But he was under duress throughout, and was sacked five times. De’Montre Tuggle led Ohio with 64 rushing yards, while Isiah Cox and Armani Rogers added 37 and 34 yards, respectively. OU averaged 4.2 yards per carry, and totaled 192 on the ground.

But Ohio struggled to land big plays, and to generate needed offense in the second half. Both were impacted by injuries on the offensive line as both starting LT T.J. Jackson and starting LG Nick Sink were unable to go in the second half. 

For Jackson, they were first reps he had missed all season.

“He’s been tough as nails this whole week. He’s been fighting through injuries,”: Luehrman said. “And we all are. You could tell he could not play to the potential that he wanted to and it just sucks because that’s just part of the game. It’s a physical sport.”

Ohio scored twice inside the final five minutes. Sieh Bangura plowed in for a 4-yard touchdown with 4:29 remaining. Ben Johnson recovered the following onside kick for the Bobcats, and OU added another score with Chase Cokley’s 14-yard touchdown catch from Rourke with 2:07 left. 

Ohio broke a scoreless tie in the second quarter with Johnson’s 34-yard field goal with 10:42 left in the half, but the Rockets retaliated with two quick scoring drives — both keyed by Koback. He finished possessions with touchdown runs, of 8 and 4 yards, for a 14-3 lead with 4:15 left in the quarter.

The Bobcats grabbed another field goal to end the half. Rourke scrambled 18 yards for a first down, and slid down with just four seconds left on the clock. Out of time outs, Ohio was able to get organized and spike the ball to stop the clock. Johnson then hit a 41-yard field goal as time expired.

Ohio will wrap up the season on Nov. 26 — Black Friday — with a 12 p.m start at Bowling Green (3-8, 1-6 MAC). It will be the last game for OU’s 15 seniors, who were honored prior to kickoff on Tuesday. 

“It’s bittersweet. I love all you. I love the fans. I love it here,” Evans said. “I feel like I’ve been here for so long.”

Around the MAC

Northern Illinois wrapped up the West Division championship on Wednesday with an overtime win at windy Buffalo. If Ball State wins its final game, all six teams in the division will be bowl eligible

In the East, only Miami to this point has won enough games to secure bowl eligibility. Regardless of the result of Saturday’s rivalry game between Kent State and Akron, the East title will be decided on Nov. 27 when Miami and Kent State square off head to head. 

Tuesday scoreboard

  • Toledo 35, Ohio 23
  • Eastern Michigan 22, Western Michigan 21
  • Miami 34, Bowling Green 7

Wednesday scoreboard

  • Central Michigan 37, Ball State 17
  • Northern Illinois 33, Buffalo 27 (OT)

Saturday Schedule

Kent State (4-2) at Akron (1-5), 12 p.m.

MAC Standings (thru 11/17)
East Division		MAC	PF	PA	Overall
Miami			5-2	210	128	6-5
Kent State		4-2	222	250	5-5
Ohio			3-4	206	202	3-8
Buffalo			2-5	222	236	4-7
Akron			1-5	148	209	2-8
Bowling Green		1-6	170	278	3-8
West Division		MAC	PF	PA	Overall
Northern Illinois	6-1	232	212	8-3
Central Michigan	5-2	244	194	7-4
Eastern Michigan	4-3	219	105	7-4
Toledo			4-3	222	207	6-5
Western Michigan	3-4	219	231	6-5
Ball State		3-4	189	189	5-6

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