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Ohio's comeback against Kent State falls short

Early turnovers put Bobcats in hole in 34-27 loss

ATHENS – Ohio’s rally from a 17-point deficit came up short in a 34-27 loss to Kent State on Saturday at Peden Stadium.

The Bobcats got to within a touchdown on Stephen Johnson’s 20-yard field goal with 49 seconds remaining, but the Golden Flashes were able to recover the onside kick that followed to hold on after they led 31-14 late in the third quarter.

After Armani Rogers played the majority of the last two games at quarterback, Ohio (1-7, 1-3 Mid-American Conference) went back to original starter Kurtis Rourke early against the Golden Flashes, and he threw for 308 yards on 31-of-38 passing, but it was not enough.

“I'm disappointed with the loss; nobody hates to lose more than me or this football team, and I'm going to sit here and tell you that we're going to keep battling,” Ohio coach Tim Alban said. “We're going to find a way, this staff's going to find a way to get a couple plays here and there and offensively, we're not going to turn it over and it's going to show."

Kent State (4-4, 3-1 MAC) threatened to run away with it after taking a 24-7 lead on Xavier Williams’ 15-yard touchdown run to start the second half. Ohio, however, made it close in the fourth quarter. Rourke’s 1-yard touchdown run with 7:44 remaining cut the Bobcats’ deficit to 31-24 with 7:44 remaining.

"We knew we had to go, and we knew we had to score,” Rourke said. “We're going to have to make some plays in order to get back into this game. They're a good offensive and they're going to score so we have to keep matching them."

Ohio’s defense, missing its top three cornerbacks, struggled to slow down Kent State, which put together a long drive that ended with an Andrew Glass 27-yard field goal that gave the Golden Flashes a two-score cushion again at 34-24.

The Bobcats appeared to have a chance with a quick drive up the field, with Rourke going 7 of 8 to get them 1 yard away from the end zone on a dump off to O’Shaan Allison. After an incompletion, Allison was stuffed at the line of scrimmage, forcing Ohio’s second timeout with 58 seconds left, Allison then was hit in the backfield for a loss of 2 yards on third down, leading Ohio to use its final timeout.

After Ohio lined up to go for it on fourth down, Kent State called a timeout, and then the Bobcats elected for the field goal to make the margin one score again. Tristian Vandenberg’s onside kick attempt took a high bounce off a Kent State player’s hands but went out of bounds, allowing the Golden Flashes to run out the clock.

Rourke sparked Ohio’s offense to life in the second half. He answered the Williams touchdown with a 9-yard scramble into the end zone to make it 24-14. After Cooper Marquez ran in a score from 15 yards out, the Bobcats settled for a Johnson 23-yard field goal rather than going for it on fourth-and-3, bringing the score to 31-17 with 1:12 left in the third quarter.

On the ensuing drive, Kent State opted to punt on fourth-and-2 from Ohio’s 37-yard line, and Ohio came back with Rourke’s 1-yard touchdown to trail just by one touchdown.

With Rogers at quarter, Ohio’s opening drive ended at Kent State’s 42 when De’Montre Tuggle was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-1. Dustin Crum followed with a 33-yard touchdown pass to Dante Cephas to give the Golden Flashes an early lead.

Later in the quarter, an Allison fumble recovered by Elvis Hines helped set up a 31-yard field goal by Glass to make it 10-0. After Rourke was inserted into the lineup, another fumble, this one by Isiah Cox after Ohio drove to the Kent State 15-yard-line, gave the ball back to Kent State. Rourke was picked off in the end zone by Keith Sherald Jr. on the next end zone, keeping the Bobcats scoreless.

"It's big time,” Kent State coach Sean Lewis said. “Whenever our guys can step up in that way it shows the character and resiliency of our young men when they have their backs up against the wall there in the red zone, and they don't flinch, they just clear what happened and they refocus on what they need to do to execute their jobs to the best of their ability.”

Finally, with 2:04 remaining in the half, Ohio got on the board on a Tuggle 2-yard touchdown run, but Kent State answered with Crum running it in on third-and-goal from the 4-yard line 15 seconds before halftime.

Tuggle finished as Ohio’s leading rusher with 59 yards on 13 carries. Rourke ran the ball seven times for 49 yards, while Allison was held to 16 yards on his 11 attempts. Cox (73 yards) and Allison (52 yards) both had seven catches.

Crum was a dynamic option for Kent State, going 26-of-31 passing for 257 yards while adding 93 yards on 17 carries. Cephas had nine catches for 103 yards, and Nykeim Johnson finished with eight receptions for 86 yards.

Linebacker Cannon Blauser continued his strong defensive season with 14 tackles, including 1.5 for loss. Bryce Houston had 11 tackles.

Both teams finished with 457 yards with the difference being Ohio’s three turnovers to none for Kent State.

"I am optimistic with this coaching staff and this football team,” Albin said. “We have not used those things to get them to play their best, it's been more about the process and let's get better every day and gradually build up to play our best game on Saturday. There are going to be challenges, but I really feel like our culture and the players we have will fight."

Ohio has 10 days to prepare for its next game when it hosts Miami on Tuesday evening at Peden Stadium.

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