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Ohio holds off Nevada 30-21 for 3rd straight bowl win

Rourke named MVP in final game with Bobcats

BOISE, Idaho – Ohio rushed for 285 yards, built a big lead and then came up with some big defensive plays late to win its third straight bowl game with a 30-21 victory against Nevada in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Friday at Albertsons Stadium.

In his final game, Nathan Rourke ran 10 times for 87 yards and a touchdown and completed 9 of 17 passes for 144 yards, earning game MVP honors.

“We made it a little bit tougher on ourselves as we turned the ball over a couple times,” Ohio coach Frank Solich said. “Could have been in position to score, put some more points on the board, made it a little bit easier. But they've got a lot of fight. I like what they're all about, the way they came back."

Ohio (7-6) was up 30-9 in the fourth quarter and was looking to add to that lead when its first turnover started a Nevada comeback that fell short. Rourke’s late pitch attempt on an option play was off the mark, and Nevada’s Sam Hammond recovered at the Wolf Packs’ 22-yard line.

Carson Strong’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Elijah Cooks with 10:48 remaining got Nevada to within 30-15, but Dylan Conner blocked the extra point, which turned out to be key.

Rourke took a blindside hit from Dom Peterson and lost the ball only three plays later, and Hammond recovered again. Devonte Lee scored a 1-yard touchdown with 8:42 to go but trying to make up for the failed extra point, the Wolf Pack (7-6) were incomplete on a two-point conversion try.

Ohio punted on its next possession, and Nevada moved downfield again still with plenty time remaining. Cooks, who had 14 catches for 197 yards, picked up 26 yards on a pass from Strong to the Ohio 6-yard line.

There, though, a trick play went awry. Austin Conrad got his hand on a pitch attempt by Lee in the backfield, and Marcus Coleman recovered.

The Bobcats punted again, and Cooks picked up 42 yards to the Ohio 9-yard line with around two minutes to go, but Strong was incomplete on four straight passes – electing not to kick a field goal although they needed two scores. From there, Ohio ran out the clock.

"Our defense is bend, don't break,” said Ohio safety Jarren Hampton, who had a team-leading nine tackles. “That's the mentality we have. When they had a timeout before that, we just kept telling them, it's a two-possession game; we got to get out of here with a stop. Turnover is No. one. If we have to force them to kick a field goal, that's two. Like I said, we have fighters on our team. We're not going to lay down for nobody. That's what we did. We showed that today. It got rough, but we persevered."

Strong finished 31 of 49 passing for 402 yards and a touchdown, but the Wolf Pack ran the ball just 19 times for 29 yards.

Brandon Talton gave Nevada a 3-0 lead on the game’s opening drive with a 51-yard field goal, but Louis Zervos answered with a 29-yard field goal for Ohio.

The Bobcats converted two fourth downs on their next drive, including a fourth-and-1 option pitch to Julian Ross that went for a 12-yard touchdown and a 10-3 Ohio lead with 12:28 left in the first quarter.

Nevada settled for another Talton field goal, this one from 36 yards, to go cut its deficit to 10-6, but Rourke answered back quickly for Ohio with a 38-yard completion to Isiah Cox and then a 35-yard touchdown run to put the Bobcats on top 17-6.

Zervos kicked a 33-yard field goal, only to have Talton answer on the last play of the first half from 33 yards, making it 20-9.

The Bobcats settled for a Zervos 26-yard field goal to begin the second half and then came up with a big turnover to help extend their lead. Conrad tackled Strong after a short gain on a scramble, and as he was going down, Strong lost the ball from his right hand as it hit the ground first. Officials ruled Strong down, but review overturned the call, giving the ball to Ohio at midfield on Keye Thompson’s recovery.

Tuggle, who played a big role after O’Shaan Allison left the game early with an injury, broke off a 27-yard run and later scored on a 2-yard run to make it 30-9 at the 5:26 mark in the third quarter. Tuggle finished with 10 carries for 97 yards.

Cox led Ohio’s receivers with three receptions for 73 yards.

Rourke finished first in program history in passing efficiency, career touchdowns scored (51) and touchdowns accounted for (111). He accounted for more than 10,000 yards of total offense in his career.

"I hope more than anything I was a good teammate," Rourke said. "I love the guys in the locker room. I take a lot of pride in being a good teammate, being a good leader, being coachable by the coaches. I've been so fortunate to be able to come here and to just be one of the guys, learn from these coaches, have a lot of fun, a lot of success doing it. I couldn't ask for more from this program."

The Bobcats won the first bowl game in program history with a 24-23 victory against Utah State in the 2011 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

By keeping Nevada out of the end zone in the first half, Ohio went 10 straight bowl game quarters without giving up a touchdown. The Bobcats shut out San Diego State 27-0 in the Frisco Bowl last season and defeated UAB 41-6 in the Bahamas Bowl in 2017.

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