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Ohio has big 2nd half, holds off FAU's late rally

Rourke has career day with 345 yards passing, 5 total TDs

Lonnie McMillan Photo
ATHENS – Roman Parodie broke up a fourth-down pass with 32 seconds left as Ohio held on for a season-opening 41-38 victory against Florida Atlantic on Saturday evening at Frank Solich Field at Peden Stadium.

The Owls nearly rallied from a 17-point deficit in the final seven minutes, getting the ball back at its own 19-yard line down by three with one timeout and 1:36 remaining. FAU quarterback N’Kosi Perry completed first-down throws of 12 and 10 yards before firing incomplete on four straight passes to turn the ball over on downs.

Kurtis Rourke had a career day by completing 27 of 34 passes for 345 yards and four touchdowns to outduel Perry, who was 24 of 42 for 364 yards and five touchdowns.

"Great start at Peden stadium, the electricity, the crowd,” Ohio coach Tim Albin said. “Very, very loud and energetic. It was very difficult to hear on the sideline with the guys. For the love of the university and the amount of people in the stands on a holiday weekend was just phenomenal.”

After trailing 17-13 at halftime, Rourke and the Bobcats (1-0) stole the momentum for most of the second half and seemingly had the game put away on a Rourke 15-yard touchdown pass to James Bostic that made it 41-24 with 7:10 remaining.

FAU (1-1) struck quickly, though, scoring just 1:02 later. Je’Quan Burton reeled in a 57-yard catch to set up a 7-yard touchdown pass from Perry to Jahmal Edrine at the 6:09 mark.

With Ohio trying to defend against a potential onside attempt, Sam Wiglusz had to chase down a deep kick as it bounced downfield. He tried to let it go into the end zone, but with FAU players approaching, he opted to pick it up and was tackled at the 1-yard line.

Rourke nearly was tackled for a safety on third down, but the Bobcats really did not avoid disaster because the punt that followed was returned 41 yards by LaJohntay Wester to Ohio’s 7-yard line. One play later, Wester got into the end zone on a pass from Perry to make it a three-point game with 4:09 remaining.

The Bobcats had a chance to put the game away with a first down on third-and-2 on the ensuing possession, but Sieh Bangura’s run came up a yard short, leaving Ohio to punt. Fortunately for the Bobcats, the defense came through in the final two minutes.

“We didn't execute there in the third quarter at all,” FAU coach Willie Taggert said. “You know, we were just, I don't know, we just didn't execute. You know what? I was proud of our guys fighting there at the end and finding a way to get back in the ballgame."

After a slow start offensively, the Bobcats came out on fire in the second half. Wiglusz caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Rourke on the opening drive to move Ohio in front for the first time. Rourke then connected with Miles Cross for a 1-yard touchdown pass on the next drive, making it 27-17 in favor of the Bobcats.

A turnover helped extend Ohio’s lead. Perry was hit by Rodney Mathews as he was about to throw and lost the ball, with Bryce Houston recovering to give the Bobcats a short field. They took advantage, with Rourke running in for a touchdown from 2 yards out to make it 34-17 early in the fourth quarter.

Perry connected with Tony Johnson for a 9-yard touchdown pass to cut the Owls’ deficit to 10, but the Bobcats answered. Bostic picked up 54 yards on a long pass play before his touchdown catch for Ohio’s final score.

“(Rourke) made some special plays today,” Albin said. “In my football mind I can take you down all of them. I really like where he's at. I got a little frustrated with him on a couple of things. But he had great answers and last year that was not the case. So, he took a big step. He saw some things I didn't see that he saw. The conversations, good or bad, that he is going to take off. So, we're very excited with his play along with many others."

FAU had control of the game early, scoring on the game’s opening drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Perry to Burton.

Ohio had to punt on its opening possession, and Wester muffed the ball, with Justin Halloway recovering at the FAU 12-yard line. That led to a Nathanial Vakos 29-yard field goal to get the Bobcats on the board.

“We have talked about playing on the road vs. playing at home and you can't turn the ball over, you know, we turned it over on our side of the field twice,” Taggert said. “And then they got points out of us for having eight penalties for 90 yards. You know a lot of those people came in at costly times when we needed it, especially towards the end."

Morgan Suarez answered with a 24-yard field goal for the Owls to make it 10-3 before the end of the first quarter. Ohio tied the game with Rourke throwing a 6-yard touchdown pass to Wiglusz early in the second quarter.

Edrine caught a 16-yard touchdown pass to move the Owls back on top 17-10. The Bobcats managed a 36-yard Vakos field goal shortly before halftime.

Rourke was not the only Ohio player to have the best day of his career. Bostic, who had just five receptions all of last year, finished with six catches for 136 years. Wiglusz, an Ohio State transfer, did not have any catches with the Buckeyes and had a two-touchdown night. Redshirt freshman Sieh Bangura racked up 114 yards rushing on 23 carries.

For FAU, Burton had 115 yards on five catches, and Edrine made nine receptions for 105 yards.

Ben Johnson was all over the field on defense for the Bobcats, finishing with 15 tackles.

Ohio faces Penn State at noon next Saturday at Beaver Stadium on ABC.

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