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Ohio sharp on offense in season-opening win

Bobcats score on first 7 possessions, beat Rhode Island 41-20

Lonnie McMillan Photo
ATHENS – After struggling to get a win against an FCS opponent in the opener last year, Ohio took care of business this season.

The Bobcats scored on their first seven possessions and pulled away for a 41-20 victory against Rhode Island on Saturday afternoon at Peden Stadium.

Ohio’s performance was not perfect but it was solid, especially in comparison’s to last season’s 38-32 season-opening win against Howard.

“You just never know the first game as to how it’s going to go,” Ohio coach Frank Solich said. “It’s always a little bit of a guessing game in preparing your team to get ready. You want to make sure they’re ready for the physicalness of the game, but you don’t want to go in banged up, so a lot of times the first game doesn’t show what you’re all about. It takes two to three games before you find out what you’re all about, and I think that’s what you’re going to find with this team.”

It was somewhat redeeming for Ohio and especially quarterback Nathan Rourke, who was benched in last season’s opener after struggling for several series. Rourke recovered to have an All-Mid-American Conference season, and that carried into the opener this year. He finished 16-of-22 passing for 188 yards and two touchdowns and added 10 carries for 75 yards and a score.

Rourke said he did not make a big deal of how he opened last season but it was in the back of his mind.

“The coaches all have been so supportive of me in more than one way in terms of just allowing me to grow with this offense, with this team,” Rourke said. “When you know you have the support and you’re working as a well-oiled machine. It takes the pressure off you.”

Rourke scored on a 5-yard touchdown run with 5:50 to go in the first quarter to get Ohio on the board. Louis Zervos answered a 35-yard field goal by C.J. Carrick for the Rams with one of 37 yards for the Bobcats to make it 10-7. Then with three minutes to go in the first half, Rourke threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Tupa to extend the Ohio advantage to 17-3.

“We know what we’re capable of, and the bar that we’ve set for ourselves is high, so we came out and did what we expected to do,” Rourke said.

Rourke threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Luehrman on the opening possession of the third quarter, making it 24-6, and the Bobcats got a 42-yard Zervos field goal at the 4:20 mark that made the score 27-13.

De’Montre Tuggle scored on a 6-yard touchdown run before the end of the third quarter, and the junior college transfer added a 55-yard touchdown run early in the fourth that made it 41-13.

With the graduation of A.J. Ouellette and Maleek Irons, running back was a question mark for Ohio, but all three backs who saw action showed promise, but none more than Tuggle. He had 65 yards on just three carries. That excludes a 78-yard run for a touchdown that was called back for holding before he broke free for the 55-yard score.

“He’s got a great deal of potential in terms of his ability to see things, make quick cuts and then accelerate,” Solich said. “I think that’s what can separate from him being just another back. He gives us kind of a home run threat. He seems to find his way through things very well and then explodes on the final burst.”

Redshirt freshman O’Shaan Allison and sophomore Julian Ross got the bulk of the early carries. Allison had 38 yards on six attempts before a minor injury ended his day early. Ross finished with 68 yards on 14 carries.

Tupa was another standout on the day, finishing with three catches for 49 yards. All three of his receptions were key. He made a pair of first-down catches on Ohio’s opening drive before scoring on his final grab.

After three injury-plagued seasons, it was especially gratifying for the redshirt junior to be on the field and have success.

“It’s been a long time I’ve been waiting,” Tupa said. “… It felt amazing to be back out there, just performing, competing. My teammates believed in me these last couple years. … It felt like it was the first time I played football again. It was that same feeling of excitement, being out there with all my brothers was awesome.”

Jerome Buckner (48 yards) and Isiah Cox (26 yards) each had three catches for Ohio, and Shane Hooks made an impressive one-handed catch, going high over a defender along the sideline for a 30-yard gain.
Still, there was plenty to work on. Solich was not pleased that the Bobcats had just three first-half possessions because Ohio’s defense was unable to quickly get Rhode Island’s offense off the field.

“It was a little disconcerting at first when they were able to get the running game going and get things done that they did,” he said. “We had something like three possessions only in the first half. I think if we get the ball, we’re pretty good at putting points on the board. Three possessions in a half down the road isn’t going to get it done.”

Rhode Island’s Aaron Parker finished with nine catches for 144 yards and a touchdown, though Solich said he expects Ohio will be just one of several teams he puts up those kinds of numbers against.
Quarterback Vito Priore was 22-of-42 passing for 291 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Zoe Bryant Jr. ran 17 times for 89 yards.

But even though the Bobcats’ defense gave up yards in the first half, they limited the Rams’ points to just two field goals. Ohio held Rhode Island to a 19-yard field goal at the end of the first half after a Parker 38-yard reception moved the ball to the 3-yard line.

Priore’s 34-yard pass to Parker at the 8:09 mark in the third quarter was the only touchdown Rhode Island scored against Ohio’s first-team defense. Priore threw a 38-yard scoring pass to Isaiah Coulter in the fourth quarter.

“We have a lot of young guys on the defensive side, too, so that experience gained will be very valuable,” Solich said. “Only problem is we play Pitt next week, so we’ve got to get rolling pretty quick.”

The Bobcats take on Pittsburgh for the first time since a 16-10 overtime victory Sept. 9, 2005, at Peden Stadium. The teams meet at 11 a.m. Saturday at Heinz Field in a game to be shown on the ACC Network.

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

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