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Ohio uses defense, ground game to take rainy 34-21 win over Ball State

Bobcats give Cardinals first MAC loss

MUNCIE, Ind. – Ohio’s defense had its best showing of the year, and on a rainy day, the offense used a dominant running game to hand Ball State its first Mid-American Conference loss of the year 34-21 on Saturday at Scheumann Stadium.

The Bobcats (4-4, 3-1 MAC) racked up 316 yards rushing while holding the Cardinals to 351 yards of total offense, including no passing yards in the first half when Ohio built a 13-7 lead.

Nathan Rourke ran for a pair of scores and 127 yards on 18 carries, De’Montre Tuggle scored two touchdowns and had 50 yards on the ground, and O’Shaan Allison had a career-high 104 yards rushing.

With constant rain making it difficult to throw the ball, the Bobcats took control with their running game, nearly doubling up the Cardinals (4-4, 3-1 MAC) in possession time 39:52 to 20:08.

"We've all along prided ourselves on no excuses, no limits. Regardless of what the weather is, we're going to play football," Ohio coach Frank Solich. "Our guys know that. They take pride in that. They came out, and I thought, executed at a high level for as wet as the ball was."

Rourke’s 12-yard touchdown run with 4:12 remaining essentially put it away, giving Ohio a 34-14 lead.

The Bobcats scored on the opening drive of the second half. Rourke completed a 24-yard flea-flicker pass to Cam Odom to start the drive, and Isiah Cox made tacklers miss on a 17-yard reception to convert a third down. Other than that, Ohio stuck to the ground, and Tuggle scored on an 11-yard run to make it 20-7.

Making one of its few mistakes in the game, the Ohio defense let Walter Fletcher go 73 yards for a touchdown on the very next play from scrimmage, but the Bobcats came right back to regain a 13-point advantage.

Rourke converted a third-and-1 with a 21-yard run and a third-and-4 with a 14-yard run just shy of the goal line. Tuggle punched it in from there, making it 27-13 with 4:33 left in the third quarter.

Ball State came up empty on an otherwise successful drive that followed. It converted a pair of third downs but stalled out inside the 10-yard line. Kai Caesar then blocked Ryan Rimmler’s 24-yard field goal try early in the fourth quarter.

Allison’s 29-yard run moved Ohio to near midfield with a chance to put Ball State away, but the Cardinals defense held this time. Ohio’s defense responded by also forcing a punt, and then the Bobcats went to work on a drive to finally ice it. They faced only one third down on the way to Rourke’s second touchdown run, making it 34-14.

Drew Plitt threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Riley Miller with 2:45 to go, but Ohio’s Tariq Drake recovered an onside kick attempt, and although the Cardinals were able to force a punt, they could not muster any more points. Drake came up with a third-down sack, and Plitt’s fourth-down scramble with 25 seconds left was well short of a first down.

"Our line dominated," Solich said. "They played really well. We were able to move the ball on the ground consistently to get first downs and go on long drives, which was a huge help to us."

Solich matched former Central Michigan coach Herb Deromedi for most career wins by a MAC coach with 110.

Ohio took a quick lead, taking advantage of a turnover on Ball State’s first play. Keye Thompson forced a Caleb Huntley fumble, and Marlin Brooks recovered, giving the Bobcats possession at the Cardinals 36-yard line.

Allison converted a fourth-and-2 from the 28 with a 3-yard run, and Rourke got 12 yards on a fourth-and-1 to set up a Rourke 1-yard touchdown run.

Rourke was picked off by Antonio Phillips on the next Ohio possession, leading to a Plitt 1-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7.

The Bobcats opted to punt from the Ball State 39-yard line, and it paid off. The defense forced a quick punt, and it was shanked for only 9 yards to give Ohio the ball back at the Ball State 22.

Ohio settled for a 20-yard field goal to take a 10-7 lead at the 10:20 mark in the second quarter, and one more time, it had to take a short Zervos field goal – 23 yards – to go up 13-7 with five minutes remaining in the half.

"Our O-line today really asserted themselves as the dominant O-line of this league," Rourke said. "We had so many long drives. We were able to run the ball on them. In these kind of conditions, that's necessary. They did a fantastic job. We rode them all the way throughout this game, and I can't say enough about that group."

Rourke finished just 8 of 16 passing for 131 yards, with Cox the primary target. He made five catches for 92 yards.

After going 0 for 4 in the first half, Plitt finished 11 of 20 for 109 yards and was sacked four times. Yo’Heinz Tyler had three catches for 44 yards. Fletcher finished with 156 yards rushing on 14 carries.

Javon Hagan finished with eight tackles for Ohio, while Thompson had a second straight impact game with seven tackles, including 1.5 for loss.

Jaylin Thomas and Chris Crumb made 13 and 11 tackles, respectively, for Ball State, but the Cardinals managed just two tackles for loss.

The MAC East lead will be on the line when Ohio hosts rival Miami at 8 p.m. Nov. 6 at Peden Stadium in a game that celebrates the 150th anniversary of college football.

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