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Bobcats make just enough plays to hold off Gabbert, RedHawks 35-33

Miami QB's five 2nd-half TD passes not enough

ATHENS – An outstanding start and just enough clutch plays helped Ohio hold off Miami 35-33 in the Battle of the Bricks on Tuesday night at Peden Stadium.

The Bobcats built a 28-0 lead early in the third quarter, took advantage of a RedHawks missed extra point, recovered three Miami onside kick attempts and got their first home victory of the season.

Back in a starting role, Kurtis Rourke had his second straight big game, throwing for 288 yards and three touchdowns – two of them to Isiah Cox – and De’Montre Tuggle finished with three total touchdowns to give Ohio (2-7, 2-3 Mid-American Conference) its first win in four years in the rivalry series that had been dominated by the Bobcats for a decade before that. Wins by the RedHawks in 2018 and 2019 helped prevent the Bobcats from winning the MAC East, and Ohio’s win Tuesday night have returned the favor. Last season’s game was canceled.

“Defensively, we stopped them on fourth downs and got the lead,” Ohio coach Tim Albin said. “Chuck Martin teams, they're going to come back, and they did. We made it more interesting than it should have been.”

Brett Gabbert nearly led Miami (4-5, 3-2 MAC) to a huge comeback by throwing five second-half touchdowns passes and for 492 yards overall. All-MAC receiver Jack Sorenson torched Ohio for 14 catches, 283 yards and two touchdowns.

Rourke threw touchdown passes of 25 and 33 yards to Cox early in the third quarter to put Ohio up 28-0, but after a dominant defensive effort in the first half – holding the RedHawks to 119 yards – the Bobcats found it difficult to get stops.

Jalen Walker caught a 51-yard touchdown pass from Gabbert with 5:13 left in the third quarter to get Miami on the board, and only two minutes later, Sorenson was on the receiving end of a 15-yard touchdown pass. Graham Nicholson, though, missed what turned out to be a key extra point following the second score, leaving the score at 28-13.

The Bobcats stuffed Tyre Shelton for a loss of a yard on fourth-and-1 from the Ohio 10-yard line on the first play of the fourth quarter to keep their lead at two touchdowns. Miami went for it again on another fourth down on its next possession, this time from its own 26-yard line, but Roman Parodie knocked down a surprise deep pass intended for Sorenson.

“You make your own breaks,” Miami coach Chuck Martin said. “We were not crisp, and we were not sharp, so again when you're not crisp and sharp it seems like you're so close, but yet so far away. So, you know me, we are going to own it.”

With great field position, Ohio had a chance to add to its lead and appeared to do so with what would have been a third touchdown pass from Rourke to Cox, but Cam Odom was called for offensive pass interference on the play to nullify the score and then Stephen Johnson missed his second field goal attempt of the game, a 46-yard attempt with 7:42 remaining.

Miami kept its chances alive with some fortunate on its side. Gabbert’s fourth-and-3 pass was deflected and caught for Mac Hippenhammer for a 9-yard touchdown to make it 28-19. A double-reverse pass by Jalen Walker was broken up on the two-point conversion attempt.

Still trailing by two scores with 5:18 to play, the RedHawks attempt their first onside kick of the game. Tuggle was unable to come up with the ball cleanly, but Ryan Leuhrman was able to jump on it to allow the Bobcats to run more clock.

On third-and-6 from Miami’s 32-yard line, Armani Rogers entered at quarterback for the first time and faked an option to the left before throwing to a wide-open Ty Walton on the other side of the field. The pass came up short, however, and the RedHawks took over possession after a punt down at the 5-yard-line. They converted a fourth-and-1 with a Kenny Tracy 4-yard run and then Sorenson outjumped an Ohio defender for a catch and raced all the way to the end zone for an 82-yard score. The extra point made it 28-26 with still 3:17 to play.

With Miami having used all of its timeouts, the Bobcats needed just one first down in order to be able to run out the clock. Tuggle broke through the right side of the line on third-and-8 and took the ball the way into the end zone.

"Being in a in a position we were in back in Buffalo, you kind of get those deja vu moments where you don't want it to happen again,” Tuggle said. “The emphasis was on finishing. You saw Coach Albin bring us up at the beginning of the fourth quarter."

The extra point put Ohio back up by two scores but also gave Miami possession.

Aided by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Johnson after he was run into on the kick, the RedHawks moved quickly and scored quickly on a 5-yard pass to Hippenhammer with 55 seconds to go. It was not enough, though, as Ohio came up with a final onside kick recovery to run out the clock.

As bad as the Bobcats’ defense was in the second half, it was outstanding in the first half, and the offense did enough through the air while struggling to run the ball.

"They played lights out,” Albin said. “That's how we could get the lead against a very good defensive football team. I think getting Kylen McCracken back – he did not play against Kent – getting Justin Birchette back, that probably has to do with it just as much as scheme."

Waltons’ 39-yard catch set up a Tuggle 2-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, and after Kaieem Caesar blocked a Nicholson 33-yard field goal try early in the second quarter, Rourke avoided a blitz with a kick dump-off to Tuggle, who raced down the right sideline for a 48-yard touchdown catch to make it 14-0.

Two more chances to add to that lead failed, however. A Rourke 33-yard run and then an 18-yard pass to Cox moved Ohio inside Miami’s 30, but Cox fumbled on another catch, and Ivan Pace Jr. recovered for Miami. Johnson missed a 48-yard field goal try with 1:13 remaining.

Miami racked up 450 of its 569 yards of offense in the second half, and Gabbert bounced back from a first half in which he was just 7 of 15 for 83 yards and was picked off by Parodie. The RedHawks gave the ball back to the Bobcats on four plays or less on seven of their first eight possessions.

Although it found success through the air, Miami never established a running game. Gabbert finished as the team’s leading rusher with 23 yards on seven carries. It was the same struggle for Ohio, which had 125 yards on the ground with 79 of those coming on two plays.

"I will say we did a very good job of stopping the run,” Ohio defensive back Tariq Drake said. “That's one of the things we emphasized all week, stopping the run and making them one-dimensional. I would say in the first half, we did a pretty good job of doing that. Obviously throughout the rest of the game, we got to do a better job."

Cox had six catches for 106 yards, and Cameron Odom finished with four receptions for 50 yards. Hippenhimer caught seven passes for 73 yards.

"We just continued to push and believe,” Rourke said. “Every time we scored, we wanted to treat it like it was 0-0. We wanted to make sure that we didn't get complacent like we've gotten in the past. We've been unlucky with some situations where we've lost close games, and we didn't want that to happen tonight. Every time we came on the sidelines, we just continue to push and keep the foot on the pedal."

Pace Jr. had a huge defensive game for the RedHawks, making 18 tackles, including three for loss and two sacks.

Ohio takes on Eastern Michigan next Tuesday night at Rynearson Stadium in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

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