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Bobcats score TDs early in 37-21 win against Bulldogs

Hardy starts at safety, finishes as Ohio's only running back

Lonnie McMillan Photo
ATHENS – Ohio scored touchdowns on its first four possessions and rolled to a 37-21 victory against Gardner-Webb on Saturday at Peden Stadium, but it came with a cost as injuries continued to pile up at running back.

The Bobcats (2-2) jumped out to a 30-7 halftime lead and finished the game with 517 yards of total offense while alternating between starter Greg Windham and backup Quinton Maxwell, who threw a pair of touchdown passes in his first career game action.

With Ohio making it a point to get playing time for every available player, the Bulldogs (1-3) outscored the Bobcats 14-7 in the second half to make the game appear closer than it was.

“Those kinds of games are usually frustrating,” Ohio coach Frank Solich said. “No matter how well you play, you get ahead pretty good early, but we kind of stalled out early in the second half and then gave up some yards and gave up some points. You want it to be a little cleaner than what it was. We did end up playing hopefully everybody that was eligible to play.”

Bo Hardy, who made his first career start – on defense at safety – ended up the game’s leading rusher with 65 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown after injuries continued to mount at running back. The team’s only other two healthy backs, Papi White and Vinny Emanuele, both left the game with injuries.

Starter A.J. Ouellette is out for the season after having surgery, and Dorian Brown and Maleek Irons both sat out against the Bulldogs. That left Ohio with just Papi White and freshman walk-on Emanuele, aside from Hardy, a former running back who practiced on both offense and defense this week due to the injuries.

White got shaken up in the first half, and Emanuele left in the second half after getting hit hard near the goal line prior to Ohio’s final touchdown. Solich said Emanuele likely would be out next week, though Brown, Irons and White all could be available for next Saturday’s Mid-American Conference opener at Miami. Irons is most probable, having dressed after running at nearly full speed Friday in practice.

As it was, the Bobcats finished this game with just Hardy available at running back for the final 20-plus minutes after Emanuele exited. Hardy’s 1-yard run on the play following the injury gave Ohio a 37-14 lead.

“I prepare hard in the offseason for moments like these in case the team needs me so I’m ready to go,” said Hardy, who added he made it a special point to eat and sleep well and stay hydrated because of the potential for him to play on offense, defense and special teams.

“I’m going to come to work on Monday with a lunch pail and a hat. If coach wants me to (play running back), I’ll do that. If he wants me to play safety, I’ll do that.”

Windham led Ohio to touchdown drives on its first two possessions. After converting a fourth-and-2 with a 3-yard run, Windham threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Sebastian Smith, who had his second straight 100-yard game after coming back from an injury that caused him to miss much of the season opener and the entire game at Kansas.

Lonnie McMillan Photo
Then after Gardner-Webb scored on its first possession on a 3-yard run by quarterback Tyrell Maxwell, Ohio came back with another score, getting a 14-yard White touchdown run to make it 14-7 with 18 seconds left in the first quarter.

Quinton Maxwell then got his first chance, and after a somewhat shaky start, he showed well. He threw incomplete on two of his first three passes and had a run for no yards, but a defensive holding penalty helped extend the drive. Maxwell and the Bobcats made the most of it with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Smith, who for the second time outjumped a defender for the ball in the end zone.

“After I got the jitters out, it felt pretty good,” Maxwell said. “It’s a feeling and something I won’t ever forget. I just give Sebas a chance, and he just goes up and makes plays.”

Maxwell began the next possession by hitting Smith with a 48-yard deep pass to set up a 13-yard scoring pass to Kyle Belack on fourth-and-3. Ohio converted a fourth-and-short on each of its first four possessions after settling four 14 field goal tries in their first three games.

Red zone scoring was a point of emphasis this week, Solich said.

“We got up a little bit, and it’s easier to make those kind of decision to go for it in the red zone vs. the field goal when you’re up and work on expanding that lead,” Solich said. “The previous game we were always within reach with a field goal to keep it a one-score ball game, but that’s not really what you want to be about. … Not that we haven’t before, but we put extra time on the red zone this week, and that paid dividends. And we’ve got some special receivers who can go up and get the ball, and we utilized that.”

On third-and-13 from the 8-yard line for the Bulldogs on the following possession, Kent Barger put pressure on Gardner-Webb’s Maxwell, who fell down trying to roll out of trouble, resulting in a safety.

That gave the Bobcats one more chance on offense, but this time a drive led by Windham stalled at the Bulldogs’ 18-yard line, and Zervos missed for just the second time this year, leaving the score at 30-7.

Khalil Lewis scored on a 31-yard run on fourth-and-1 on the opening possession of the second half, and on Ohio’s second possession, Windham led a 73-yard scoring drive that culminated with Hardy’s touchdown run.

After Casey Sayles recovered a fumble forced by Tarell Basham, Ohio had a chance to add to its lead but Maxwell was intercepted in the end zone on the third play of the fourth quarter.

The Bulldogs scored a touchdown with 2:42 remainign on a 28-yard pass from Tyrell Maxwell to Willie Jackson IV.

Windham finished 14-of-24 passing for 143 yards and a touchdown, while Quinton Maxwell was 11-of-14 passing for 167 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Windham added 56 yards rushing on 10 carries.

Smith had six catches for 108 yards, with all but 10 of those yards coming before halftime. He had nine catches for 156 yards against Tennessee.

“I’m just motivated,” Smith said. “I prepare well. I had to sit out Kansas, and I made a statement at Tennessee that I want to be a playmaker.”

Gardner-Webb’s Maxwell was 13-of-20 passing for 156 yards and a touchdown and added 52 yards rushing on 11 carries. Lewis had 83 yards on 15 carries.

Redshirt freshman Javon Hagan led the defense with seven tackles, including one for loss, and a pass breakup. Two of Berger’s three tackles were for loss, and Ohio’s defense line continued to show well with four sacks despite its opponent’s limited passing attempts.

The ability of players like Hagan to step in where needed, moving from free to strong safety this week because of an injury that kept Kylan Nelson out of the game, made it possible to give time to Hardy at running back, Solich said.

“You can’t do that unless you have guys who can step up and play well because sometimes you plug a hole at one position and then the position he left, it’s not a good deal,” Solich said. “We have guys who are very, very capable players, they’re tough nosed, they’re physical players who believe in themselves. … Javon’s ability to play at the level he’s playing at so early is a tremendous help to our football team.”

Ohio plays Miami at 2 p.m. Saturday at Yeager Stadium in Oxford.

Additional Coverage:
Photos  (BobcatAttack.com)
Box score  (Ohio Bobcats.com)

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