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MAC East champs: Defense carries Bobcats to 9-3 win over Zips

Zervos kicks 3 field goals

Lonnie McMillan Photo
ATHENS – Defense carried Ohio to a 9-3 victory against Akron and the Mid-American Conference East Division championship Tuesday night at Peden Stadium.

The Bobcats (8-4, 6-2 MAC) limited the Zips (5-7, 3-5 MAC) to only 231 yards of offense, and Brad Ellis broke up Tyrell Goodman’s pass intended for Austin Wolf in the end zone with 16 seconds left to seal victory against the Zips for the ninth straight time.

“Ugly is in the eyes of the beholder,” Ohio coach Frank Solich said. “That was a beautiful win. Sometimes you have to win those games that kind of way to move on and have the kind of season you hope to have. They don’t all come easy."

Defense gave Akron a chance, holding Ohio to Louis Zervos’ third field goal of the game – a 23-yarder – with 2:59 remaining to stay within one score. The Bobcats were looking to put away the game after a 23-yard Dorian Brown rush and a 32-yard pass completion to Papi White with a 15-yard facemask penalty added on to move the ball to the Akron 19-yard line.

A penalty gave Ohio a first down at the 12, but Quinton Maxwell threw incomplete on third down, settling for a field goal that at least forced Akron to need a touchdown.

Goodman, a wide receiver-turned-quarterback due to injuries, completed a 22-yard pass to Jerome Lane to get Akron near midfield, and a Mykel Traylor-Bennett 19-yard run on fourth-and-1 moved the Zips to the Ohio 24-yard line.

But Goodman was sacked and then threw two incompletions. The second reached the hands of a leaping JoJo Natson in the end zone, but he was upended and could not hold as Toran Davis made a hit. Then after a timeout with 22 seconds left, Goodman threw into multiple defender coverage, and Ellis made an easy play to bat the ball to the ground.

“We [the defense] always want to be the ones who are on the field with the game on our shoulders,” Ohio linebacker Quentin Poling said. “We want that pressure, we have the experience and playmakers. That’s what thrive for.

Zervos kicked a 37-yard field goal with 10:59 left in the second quarter for the game’s first points, and he drilled a 49-yarder with 2:54 left in the half to make it 6-0.

Tom O’Leary drew Akron within three with a 35-yard field goal early in the third quarter.

Ohio twice passed on field goal tries and came away with no points after failed fourth-down conversions. The first time was on the Bobcats’ first possession when it went 57 yards on 15 plays to the Akron 28-yard line, but Brendan Cope would not hold on to a Maxwell pass on fourth-and-2.

Lonnie McMillan Photo
Then early in the fourth quarter, the Bobcats tried to take advantage of a short field created by the defense, but Maxwell came up inches short inside the 5-yard line on an option keeper on fourth-and-2.

The game’s only turnover, a Brown fumble – his third in the last two games – nearly cost Ohio points in the first quarter, but O’Leary’s 43-yard field goal try missed off the right upright.

Ohio’s offense was just good enough, finishing with 299 yards. Maxwell was 14-of-25 passing for 165 yards, and Maleek Irons (54 yards on 11 carries) and Brown (47 yards on 14 carries) combined for 101 yards. Jordan Reid made five catches for 62 yards.

“Our offensive production has to go up,” Maxwell said. “We can’t ask our defense to do that, that many times. A great job to them. It’s not that we played bad, we just didn’t play as well as we needed to in the crunch time situations. That will get better. We’ll get better at that. We’ll take a look at film and figure out what we have to get fixed for next week.”

Goodman was just 12-of-27 passing for 136 yards and added 25 yards rushing on 17 carries. Manny Morgan gained 47 yards on eight runs, and Lane finished four catches for 60 yards.

Poling had nine tackles, including two for loss – one of those a sack. Tarell Basham also had a sack among his four tackles, and Trent Smart was credited for a sack. Ellis had three pass breakups.

“I am proud of what the players have accomplished and our coaches,” Solich said. “I thought our staff has done a great job this year. There were a lot of turns throughout the course of the season. You have to adjust to them, and I think our coaches did an excellent job of that throughout the season. I thought our players have been remarkable in terms of how they have prepared, not only practice, but also how they have prepared since last season and how they worked to put themselves in this position.”

Ohio entered the night needing either a win or a Miami loss to Ball State to clinch a spot in the MAC Championship Game. As it turned out, the victory was needed because the RedHawks rallied to top the Cardinals, 21-20.

The Bobcats’ opponent in the MAC title game will not be determined until Friday when undefeated Western Michigan hosts Toledo, with the winner taking the other spot in next Friday’s championship game at Ford Field in Detroit.

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