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Rourke's 2 overtime TD passes lift Ohio to win

Defense leads the way in regulation

YPSILANTI, Mich. – Nathan Rourke’s second touchdown pass of overtime put Ohio ahead, and the defense held Eastern Michigan on the final possession to allow the Bobcats to escape Rynearson Stadium with a 27-20 double overtime victory over the Eagles to open Mid-American Conference play Saturday.

The go-ahead touchdown pass was on a third-and-6 from Eastern Michigan’s 7. Rourke hooked up with Cameron Odom in the back of the end zone. Rourke also had a third-down completion to Andrew Meyer, who was able to get a foot down along the sideline to extend the drive.

With a chance to answer, Eastern Michigan (2-1, 0-1 MAC) followed a Shaq Vann rush for no gain with an incompletion in the end zone. Antoine Porter bobbled a tipped pass and eventually gained control, but he could not come down inbounds.

Breck Turner gained 6 yards on a short pass on third down, setting up fourth-and-4, and Brogan Roback’s pass sailed way out of anyone’s reach, giving Ohio (3-1, 1-0 MAC) the win.

"It's a resilient group, and toughness certainly played a key role in it," Ohio coach Frank Solich added. "We found ourselves in a heck of a game and I'm just proud of the way the kids hung in there and found a way to make it work and to get it done. This is a tough bunch of kids and they have proven to me time and time again, they don't have to prove it anymore, I just expect it out of them. It's good to see them rise to this occasion and get this win."

Rourke’s first touchdown pass matched Eastern Michigan’s score to begin overtime. Roback connected with Sergio Bailey for a 25-yard touchdown pass on the first play. The Bobcats converted a third down on a pass interference penalty, and Rourke hit Brendan Cope on a slant for an 8-yard touchdown on second-and-goal.

Defense carried the Bobcats throughout regulation. Bradd Ellis stepped in front of a Roback pass and ran it back 46 yards down the right sideline and into the end zone to give Ohio a 10-6 advantage with just 10 seconds left in the first half.

"I think that was huge," Solich said. "We were struggling and we weren't moving the ball the way we wanted to move the ball and certainly at getting points on the board at that point. I think that lifted, not only Bradd, but I think it lifted all of our secondary. Kind of saying, 'Hey, we got hurt by this guy last year and it doesn't have to be that way again.'"

Louie Zervos’ second field goal of the day, a 44-yarder with 6:22 left in the third quarter, extended the Bobcats’ lead to 13-6, but those were the only second-half points for Ohio.

A trick play helped score the game’s first offensive touchdown and allowed Eastern Michigan to tie the game early in fourth quarter. After a lateral from Roback, Isaac Holder threw a 34-yard completion to Johnnie Niupalu to the 1-yard-line, and Ian Ericksen ran it in from there.

On the next play from scrimmage, Rourke completed a 29-yard pass to Odom across midfield, but he fumbled, and Kevin McGill recovered. Cope also fumbled after a reception in the first half.

Late in regulation, the Bobcats moved into position to win the game. Rourke’s third-down completion to Odom gained just enough for a first down across midfield, and A.J. Ouellette followed with a 10-yard run. But Ouellette was stuffed for a 2-yard loss on third-and-1, and Zervos missed a 47-yard field goal wide left with 1:50 remaining.

Both teams followed with three-and-outs to send the game into overtime.

Zervos gave Ohio a lead on the game’s opening possession with a 41-yard field goal. Paulie Fricano answered with a 41-yarder of his own late in the first quarter to tie the game at 3.

Ouellette had a 42-yard reception on a third-and-3 in the second quarter, but that drive ended on Cope’s fumble inside the Eastern Michigan 30-yard line. Eastern Michigan went ahead for the first time on a 31-yard Fricano field goal with 1:25 left in the half, a few plays after a Bailey touchdown catch was wiped out by an offensive pass interference call.

On the Eagles’ next possession, which began with 32 seconds left in the half, Roback was beyond the line of scrimmage when he threw for a 29-yard gain, causing the ball to come back to the Eastern Michigan 34-yard line, and Roback floated a pass to the sideline on the next play that Ellis was able to run in front of and return for a go-ahead touchdown.

Unable to establish much of a rushing game – the Eagles ran for only 45 yards on 27 carries – Eastern Michigan turned to Roback to carry the load offensively. He completed 28-of-47 passes for 271 yards and a touchdown. Bailey made seven catches for 82 yards, and Niupalau made four catches for 69 yards.

Ohio was much more balanced due to Ouellette’s 145 yards on 26 carries. For this first time this year, Rourke did not share time with Quinton Maxwell. Rourke was 19-of-32 passing for 197 yards. Odom (five catches for 56 yards) and Meyer (six catches for 44 yards) were his top targets.

The Bobcats’ secondary was challenged all day, and cornerback Jalen Fox led the team with nine tackles. Linebackers Quentin Poling and Chad Moore had eight tackles each, and defensive end Kevin Robbins had a strong game with seven tackles, including one for loss.

"They stepped up and rose to the occasion," Solich said. "I was proud of the way they battled and played. Our guys hung in there and did a great job."

Brody Hoying had 10 tackles, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery he returned for 40 yards to lead Eastern Michigan’s defense.

The Eagles beat the Bobcats last year by the same 27-20 margin Ohio won by this year. Roback was 29 of 39 for 347 yards and three touchdowns in the Eastern Michigan win in 2016.

This game was the Bobcats’ first overtime victory since they defeated North Texas, 31-30, early in the 2009 season.

Ohio plays UMass at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst, Massachusetts.

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