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Ohio unable to erase huge 1st-half deficit

Bobcats get to within 10 after falling behind by 28

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It was too little, too late.

Ohio got into a huge early hole and came up short, 45-31, against Virginia on Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium.

The Bobcats got as close as 10 points with a chance to make it even tighter down the stretch, but they could not overcome a first-half 35-7 deficit.

"Slow start, just didn't play well on either side of the ball at the beginning," Ohio coach Frank Solich said. "I thought we progressed as an offensive unit, showed flashes at times defensively of playing good defense but not nearly enough. The early part of the game was ridiculous in terms of explosive plays that we gave up."

Down by 28 on Bryce Perkins’ 10-yard touchdown pass to Hasise Dubois with 2:52 left in the first half, Ohio (1-1) got to within 38-28 on Maleek Irons’ 1-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter and was not out of it until Perkins completed a 77-yard scoring strike to Olamide Zaccheaus, making it 45-28 with 6:01 remaining.

Ohio got back into the game in the closing minutes of the first half. Looking to add to his team's four-touchdown lead, Perkins fumbled on a hit by Chukwudi Chukwu and Eric Popp recovered. Nathan Rourke threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Papi White on the next play.

Michael Farkas followed with an onside kick that he drilled off the facemask of a Virginia player, with Popp making another recovery. Only two plays later, redshirt freshman freshman Isaiah Cox caught a 36-yard touchdown pass from Rourke to make it 35-21 with 50 seconds left in the half.

Virginia (2-1) tacked on an A.J. Mejia field goal in the final seconds of the first half, but Ohio responded by forcing a punt to start the third quarter and then getting 36- and 28-yard pass plays to White and true freshman Jerome Buckner to set up Irons’ short touchdown run that made it a 10-point game.

Ohio’s next drive ended at the Virginia 40-yard line on a fourth-and-3 incompletion on the final play of the third quarter. After Mejia missed a 30-yard field goal off the left upright, the Bobcats had another chance to make it a one-score game. Ohio had to punt, and a third-and-4 completion from Perkins to Zaccheaus instead put the Cavaliers up by three scores.

After a muffed punt, the Bobcats tacked on a 45-yard Louis Zervos field goal with 2:59 left. An anticipated onside kick attempt this time was not successful, and the Cavaliers were able to run out the clock.

"I loved how we came back and made it interesting there for a minute," Rourke said. "I love that about our team. We just need to come out stronger, and we're all very aware of that. There are a lot of expectations for this team, but there's no higher expectations than the ones that we have for ourselves, and we're not meeting them right now. ... The bottom line is we have to start better."

A disastrous start had Ohio playing from behind throughout. Rourke was sacked and fumbled on the second play from scrimmage, and Eli Hanback recovered. Jordan Ellis scored on an 18-yard run on the next play. Then after a three-and-out, Zaccheaus scored the first of his two long touchdowns on an 86-yard reception to make it 14-0 just over two minutes into the game.

Rourke had a 70-yard run to set up an Irons 1-yard scoring run to get Ohio on the board. Only one play later, though, Ellis broke off a 75-yard touchdown run to make it 21-7.

Ellis scored on a 6-yard run at the 11:35 mark in the first quarter, and Virginia had a chance to tack on more points when A.J. Ouellette fumbled and defensive lineman Richard Burney recovered and returned the ball inside the 5-yard line before fumbling himself. Ouellette recovered at the 1.

Nonetheless, Virginia was able to expand its lead to 35-7 on the Dubois touchdown catch late in the quarter.

"We just got to play smarter at times," Solich said. "We just got to find a way to stop teams from making explosive plays."

After also struggling in the season opener, Ohio’s defense got torched for the majority of the first half before settling in to hold Virginia to just seven second-half points. After the Cavaliers scored 38 points and gained 344 yards in the first half, they were held to 208 yards – 77 of them on the long touchdown pass - in the second half.

For the second game in a row, an opposing quarterback lit up Ohio. Perkins was 25-of-30-passing for 379 yards and three touchdowns. Zaccheaus finished with nine catches for 247 yards. Dubois had six for 69, and Ellis ran the ball 19 times for 171 yards.

After being benched in the opener, Rourke looked closer to the All-Mid-American Conference player that he was last year. He was 16-of-31 passing for 246 yards. White made six receptions for 131 yards.

But Ohio still was unable to get its running backs going. Irons had 43 yards on 11 carries, while Ouellette finished with 34 yards on 14 attempts.

The Bobcats were coming off a bye week after having to rally and then hold off Howard, 38-32, in a game in which they surrendered 645 yards of offense, including 484 passing.

After missing the opener because of an injury, corner back Jamal Hudson led Ohio in tackles with 10 and added two pass breakups. Safety Javon Hagan, who also sat out against the Bison, had nine tackles. Defensive end Will Evans had five tackles, including two for loss, with one sack.

"We just have to come out and execute better," Ohio safety Kylan Nelson said. "We can't start slow. We just can't do that because we can hang with any team. We are capable of doing great things, but we just can't start off so poorly."

The game was moved from Charlottesville, Virginia, to Nashville earlier this week because of the threat of Hurricane Florence.

Ohio is on the road again for its next game, traveling to face Cincinnati at noon Saturday at Nippert Stadium.

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