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Bearcats rally, get goal line pick to hold off Bobcats, 34-30

Ohio unable to hold 24-7 halftime lead

CINCINNATI – Ohio solved its problem with starting slowly but still could not manage to play a whole game, allowing Cincinnati to rally from 21 points down for a 34-30 victory Saturday at Nippert Stadium.

The Bobcats ran out to a 21-0 advantage in the second quarter and led 24-7 at halftime before getting outscored 27-6 in the second half. Still, Ohio held the lead until Michael Warren’s 3-yard touchdown run with 3:24 remaining and still had a shot to win until Nathan Rourke’s goal line interception in the final minute.

“They played well for parts of the game, we played well for parts of the game,” Ohio coach Frank Solich said. “We showed a lot of character having a chance at the end. I feel good about our football team in that regard. Obviously, they’re tremendously disappointed. They’re down, but we’ve got to show some resolve and bounce back.”

Cincinnati netted just 5 yards on its first three possessions in a first half dominated by the Bobcats, but the Bearcats turned the tables in the second half.

The Bearcats (4-0) drove 92 yards for the go-ahead score but left the Bobcats plenty of time to work with. Rourke’s 37-yard run on the first play quickly put them in business. A pair of penalties moved the ball to the Cincinnati 13-yard line, and two A.J. Ouellette runs set up a first-and-goal situation from the 2.

Officials ruled Ouellette was stopped just shy of the goal line on first down, and on second down, Ohio (1-2) instead handed off to Ouellette deep in the backfield. He was met immediately for a 3-yard loss, bringing up third-and-goal from the 4.

“The play before was the exact same play and we thought we scored on it actually,” Solich said. “There was a great push, so it was worth another try.”

On the next play, Rourke rolled right and tried to force a ball into Papi White in the front corner of the end zone. White fell down as James Wiggins picked it off, first bobbling it but then gaining possession before stepping out of bounds at the 2.

“It was a situation where the throw didn’t get to where it needed to get,” Solich said.

With all three timeouts left, the Bobcats still had a shot but gave up a first down on third-and-4, allowing Cincinnati to take a knee.

Rourke’s 38-yard completion to Camreon Odom, who had five catches for 114 yards, helped set up Ouellette’s 9-yard touchdown run to make it 7-0 early. Rourke had a 33-yard completion to Andrew Meyer and a 19-yard run before throwing a 12-yard touchdown pass to Maleek Irons with 23 seconds left in the first quarter.

Then the Bobcats took advantage of a short field after forcing a quick three-and-out to set up a 3-yard rushing touchdown by Rourke, who 96 yards on nine carries.

Jamal Hudson picked off Desmond Ridder’s deep pass attempt on the next play from scrimmage, giving Ohio a chance to add to its lead, taking over near midfield, but it had to punt.

Finally, Cincinnati got its offense in gear with an 80-yard drive that include a pair of third-and-long conversions and culminated with a Michael Warren 24-yard touchdown run with 5:44 left in the first half.

Ouellette converted a fourth-and-1 from the Cincinnati 5 on Ohio’s ensuing possession, but the Bobcats ended up settling for the first of three Louis Zervos field goals after a Durrell Wood personal foul pushed them back away from the goal line. Cincinnati’s Cole Smith’s 49-yard field goal try at the end of the half was blocked by Will Evans, leaving the score at 24-7.

The Bearcats quickly got back in the game in the second half with a 77-yard touchdown pass from Ridder to Rashad Medaris. After the teams traded punts, Ohio got a 41-yard completion to Odom and then a defensive holding penalty to get a first-and-goal situation from the 8 but it was stopped there and Zervos kicked a 33-yard field goal to extend the advantage to 27-14.

After forcing a punt, the Bobcats gave the ball back to the Bearcats on a White fumble recovered at the Ohio 28-yard line. Ridder’s 7-yard touchdown run got Cincinnati to within one score, 27-21, with 3:31 left in the third quarter.

One more time, the Bobcats had a successful drive stall late. Julian Ross was stuffed 2 yards short on a third-and-3 play, and Zervos kicked a 47-yard field goal to begin the fourth quarter.

Ridder’s 26-yard touchdown pass to Jayshon Jackson with 12:37 remaining made it 30-28, and the Bearcats went ahead on their next possession.

Ouellette gained 71 yards on 21 carries, and Irons had 12 rushes for 64 yards, as Ohio had its most successful rushing game this season. Although Rourke hit some deep passes, he remained sporadic, going just 12 of 27 for 178 yards.

“I came here five years ago, six years ago, for camps,” Ouellete said. “They told me I was too small to be a running back so I wanted to shove it in their face. They still got the last laugh.”

It also was Ohio’s best defensive effort in its first three games, though it still struggled against the pass, allowing Ridder to go 19 of 29 for 274 yards. Warren had 124 yards rushing on 23 carries.

Safety Javon Hagan led the Bobcats defense with 11 tackles. Ohio had no sacks and just three tackles for loss.

Cincinnati’s Cortez Broughton had six tackles, including two for loss and one sack.

The Bearcats victimized themselves with 14 penalties for 150 yards, but the Bobcats were not good in that area either, committing eight for 85 yards.

“It’s been a hard first part of the season for us in a lot of different ways,” Solich said. “But they are hanging in there, and I think we will be ready to go next week.”

Ohio hosts UMass at 2 p.m. Saturday at Peden Stadium.

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