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Miami makes key plays to knock off Ohio 24-21

Sloman's 53-yard field goal with 5:10 remaining puts RedHawks in control of MAC East

Lonnie McMillan Photo
ATHENS – Ohio had statistical advantages in nearly every category, including big mistakes, which proved to be the difference Wednesday night against rival Miami in the 150th anniversary of college football celebration at Peden Stadium.

A pair of Bobcats fumbles in the first half, coupled with a two big offensive plays and a clutch 53-yard field goal by Sam Sloman with 5:10 remaining were enough to lift the RedHawks to a 24-21 victory that puts them in control of the Mid-American Conference East Division.

Ohio (4-5, 3-2 MAC) had more yards 374-278, more first downs 25-14, more offensive plays 73-47, and more time of possession by over 12 minutes, yet it finished the highest-attended midweek MACtion football home game with a loss that likely will extend its 51-year league championship drought.

"The whole thing was a little frustrating,” Ohio coach Frank Solich said. “They had 47 plays in the game. That's a limited number of offensive snaps for a team; we had 73. Statistics show that we played a pretty good game, but it didn't really play out that way.”

Nathan Rourke’s 9-yard touchdown run and then Louis Zervos’ extra point with 8:58 to play tied the game at 21, but Miami (5-4, 4-1 MAC) was able to answer with the game-winning drive. It converted a third-and-6 with a 7-yard run by Tyre Shelton to the Ohio 38-yard line.

Brian Arp hit Jaylon Bester in the backfield for a 4-yard loss on the first down, but a screen pass from Brett Gabbert to Jack Sorenson gained 7 yards to the 35. Gabbert was incomplete in third down, and Sloman connected just over the crossbar and inside the left goalpost – his third field goal of 50-plus yards this year.

“He's the strength of our team, so, if you have a strength on your team, you've got to always put the game in his hands,” Miami coach Chuck Martin said. “… To me, there was no decision. Let Sloman do what Sloman does. One of our best football players might be our team MVP, but if we're going to lose, let's lose with our best players. And obviously he has been incredible for us all year."

With 3:48 on the block, Ohio had plenty of time to answer, and it received solid field position after Sloman’s kickoff went out of bounds. A 5-yard pass from Nathan Rourke to De’Montre Tuggle converted a third-and-3 to near midfield, but after an incompletion on first down, Ryan Mcwood and Kameron Butler combined on a sack for a loss of 8 yards, forcing the Bobcats to use their first timeout.

A false start penalty gave Ohio a third-and-23, and after an incompletion, Ohio used its second timeout before a fourth-down incompletion intended for Shane Hooks. The Bobcats nearly forced a turnover when Gabbert was hit hard and fumbled, but he got it back, and the RedHawks punted with 15 seconds left. A pressured Rourke could not complete a short pass as time expired.

Ohio missed multiple huge opportunities in the first half, including on the opening possession when O’Shaan Allison fumbled the ball at the Miami 3-yard line and it was recovered for a touchdown back by Kameron Butler.

Then after getting the ball back, another long drive ended in no points. Julian Ross was stuffed for a 2-yard loss on a third-and-1 play, and Zervos missed wide left and short on a 50-yard field goal try early in the second quarter.

"It came down to not finishing drives,” Rourke said. “We had every opportunity, and the only thing that was stopping us was ourselves, so this one is a tough one to swallow."

Miami’s Kyle Kramer shanked a punt soon after, giving Ohio the ball near midfield, but on third-and-10, Lonnie Phelps’ hit on Rourke forced a fumble recovered by Doug Costin. On the next play, Jaylon Bester went 45 yards for a touchdown to give the RedHawks a 7-0 lead.

Finally, the Bobcats got on the board to answer. Tuggle spun out of a tackle for a 50-yard run, and Rourke completed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Ty Walton on third-and-3 to make it 7-7 with 6:29 left in the half.

Lonnie McMillan Photo
Ohio’s dominant first-half defensive effort – aside from one play – continued with two more three-and-outs, and the Bobcats were able to cross midfield on their final possession before having to punt with 23 seconds remaining.

"We played lights-out in the first half, and that's how we need to play the entire game,” Ohio linebacker Eric Popp said. “We had opportunities to step up in the fourth quarter and we gave the offense the ball when we needed to. But they made plays and we didn't, and they executed well.”

Miami was held to just four first downs and 104 yards in the first half – of which nearly half were on the touchdown run. Ohio had 238 yards and 14 first downs. It was a major missed opportunity for the Bobcats, and the second half played out more even.

The RedHawks regained the lead on their first possession when Jack Sorenson made a highlight catch on a third-and-7 play for a 21-yard touchdown. Ilyaas Motley got a hand on the pass attempt, knocking it into the air. Sorensen was able to tap the ball back up with his left hand and then grab it with both just before he crossed the end line. Originally ruled an incompletion, the call was overturned upon review.

Ohio tied the game again early in the fourth quarter, taking advantage of good field position again after another strong defensive stand. The end result was Rourke sneaking into the end zone from a yard away to make it 14-14.

Once again, though, Miami answered quickly. Motley was beat deep by James Maye, with no safety help, for a 63-yard gain, leading to a Bester 7-yard touchdown run. The Bobcats tied it once more, breaking a 32-yard Isiah Cox reception and then getting a 22-yard run by Rourke before his second rushing touchdown of the game.

“He's been doing it through his career here coming up with special plays when you think he's down or he's surrounded,” Solich said. “When someone has made contact on him, he's still able to get yards after the contact. He's done that through his career here. He's done it so much that it almost doesn't seem special to me – it's what he does. I know those are special plays, but he's had a ton of them in his career here and tonight that showed."

Rourke ran for 89 yards on 16 carries but settled for short passes, going 15 of 27 for 133 yards. He was sacked three times. Tuggle had 74 yards on 12 carries, and Allison had seven carries for 43 yards on the opening drive but did not return after his fumble.

Gabbert was 10 of 18 passing for 149 yards, while Bester had 15 carries for 84 yards.

Javon Hagan tallied nine tackles for Ohio, while McWood had 13 tackles, and Kameron Butler and Myles Reid had 10 each for Miami.

It was the second straight year Ohio has lost to Miami. Last year’s 30-28 defeat cost the Bobcats a chance at the MAC East title even after they blew out Buffalo 52-17 the next week.

Ohio would have to gain two games over Miami in the final three weeks to win the MAC East, and the RedHawks face the league’s two worst teams, Bowling Green and Akron the next two weeks before closing with Ball State.

The loss also denied Solich from becoming the MAC’s all-time leader in coaching wins in front of the home crowd of 20,589.

The Bobcats play Western Michigan in their final home game at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Peden Stadium on ESPN2.

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Photos  (BobcatAttack.com)

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