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Western Michigan tops Ohio 37-34 in overtime

Bobcats rally with late TD but come up short

ATHENS – Nathan Rourke’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Tupa with nine seconds left forced overtime, but Western Michigan came away a 37-34 winner on LaVante Bellamy’s 4-yard touchdown on Tuesday night at Peden Stadium.

Ohio settled for a Louis Zervos 37-yard field goal to begin overtime, and Western Michigan needed only three plays to win it, starting with a 20-yard run by Bellamy to the 5. Two plays later, the Mid-American Conference’s leading rusher scored to keep the Broncos in contention in the MAC West and essentially eliminate the Bobcats from any shot of winning the East.

"It has been frustrating for the coaches and also the players," Ohio coach Frank Solich said. "They are very frustrated and obviously we expected more out of this season. We've got two games to go and we plan on winning those two games. We can't take back any of the other games. I wish I could for those guys because they're as great a group I've had in a ton of years in terms of how they've responded to things, how hard they've practiced, and how hard they prepared in the off-season. I just felt like I wish I could've done more. They deserved more than what they've got accomplished this season so far.

Western Michigan (7-4, 5-2 MAC) dominated the first half but only had a 10-0 lead to show for it. Then with the game tied in the fourth quarter, freshman Skyy Moore had a 41-yard completion on a 3-and-6 play to set up his own go-ahead touchdown on a direct snap 2-yard run, making it 31-24 with 4:51 remaining.

The Bobcats (4-6, 3-3 MAC) moved into position to tie the game again, with O’Shaan Allison converting a third-and-3 with a 5-yard run to the Western Michigan 9. However, Ohio turned it over on downs with 1:17 to go. But with all three timeouts remaining, the Bobcats were able to force a three-and-out and get the ball back one more time.

Starting near midfield with 47 seconds left, Jerome Buckner was able to get his foot down along the sideline for a 27-yard gain to the 26. Allison ran for 9 yards, and then a 5-yard pass to Ryan Luehrman gave the Bobcats another first down. On the next play, Rourke connected with Tupa for the tying touchdown with 9 seconds to go.

In overtime, though, Ohio’s offense was not so efficient with an incompletion, a 5-yard pass to Allison and then a run for no gain, giving the Broncos the chance to win with a touchdown after Zervos’ field goal.

Western Michigan had a chance in the first half to build a huge lead but failed to make the most of its opportunities. Its opening drive stalled inside the 5-yard line, leading to a Thiago Kapps 22-yard field goal.

In the second quarter, the Broncos had a first-and-goal from the 2 but netted only 1 yard on three plays. They lined up to go for it but false started and then Kapps was wide right on another 22-yard field goal try from the left hash mark.

"To stop them as much as we did in the first half was huge," Western Michigan coach Tim Lester said. "We should have been able to get a bigger lead, but offensively we did not do a very good job by the goal line."

Ohio did not gain a first down until less than 10 minutes were left in the half, and it seemed to have a good chance to at least tie the game on a long run by Julian Ross, but most of the yards were negated by a holding penalty, leading to another punt.

"We weren't able to get a few first downs early and not being able get them meant we weren't able to go on any continued drives, so the first half looked pretty shallow," Ohio coach Frank Solich said. "I agree with you it's not been great football, but that's been part of our problem as we've gone through the year. We've played well at times. We've shown flashes, but the consistency is not there. We played two quarters of really good football and two quarters of so-so football and that usually doesn't get it done."

The Bobcats could have gotten it back near midfield, but DL Knock muffed the punt, and Drake Spears recovered, leading to the only touchdown of the first half, and that one just barely. Western Michigan got a fourth-and-2 conversion to set up Jon Wassink’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Giovanni Ricci eight seconds before halftime.

Ohio’s offense came to life in the second half, beginning with Luehrman’s 8-yard touchdown catch from Rourke to make it 10-7. On the next possession, De’Montre Tuggle scored on a 10-yard run to put the Bobcats ahead 14-10.

Western Michigan punted on its next possession, but Ohio returned the favor, and there were no stops by either team after that.

Ricci caught a 16-yard touchdown pass, set up by a 34-yard completion to Moore, putting the Broncos back on top 17-14, and the Bobcats came back with a Zervos 33-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter to tie the game.

Wassink threw a 61-yard touchdown pass to Moore for a 24-17 Western Michigan lead, only for Tuggle to answer for Ohio with a 4-yard touchdown run with 10:07 remaining.

The Broncos converted three third downs on their way to a touchdown to go ahead 31-24. On one of those plays near midfield, Javon Hagan ripped the ball away from Bellamy and Ohio recovered but replay reversed the fumble call, ruling that Bellamy was down before the ball came out.

With Bellamy being held to 72 yards on 28 carries, Wassink and Moore were a dynamic duo for Western Michigan. Wassink was 23 of 34 passing for 322 yards and three touchdowns, with Moore making four catches for 162 yards. Keith Mixon Jr. made 10 receptions for 84 yards.

After a slow start, Rourke threw for 224 yards and two touchdowns on 20-of-29 passing and also ran 13 times for 93 yards. Allison added 59 yards rushing on nine carries, most of them coming on a 42-yard run. Leuhrman made four catches for 52 yards.

"Our mentality in the first half was, 'It's cold out here; we want to beat these guys and get out,' and that's not the right mentality to have, especially when we play someone with the caliber of Western Michigan," Rourke said. "In the second half, we went out and said, 'We're playing in the same weather; let's take that off the table, and start going back to what we're capable of.' That's the mentality we should've had in the first half. I think that falls on our shoulders offensively. I think our defense played their tails off. That goal line stand was awesome, but offensively. We couldn't do the job."

Hagan and Jared Dorsa had 16 tackles each for Ohio, including two for loss by Dorsa. Keye Thompson had 13 tackles, with 2.5 for loss. But the Bobcats had no sacks and forced no turnovers.

"We have to put together four quarters," Ohio defensive tackle Cole Baker said. "The first half, even though we had 10 scored against us at half, we had a goal line stop, they missed a field goal, and I think the defense really stepped up in the first half. In the second half, it just seemed like we didn't finish plays, and I think that's been a recurring theme. We need to finish plays in games and throughout the rest of the season."

Ohio has to win its final two games to become bowl eligible and plays Bowling Green at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Doyt Perry Stadium.

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