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Ohio intercepts Salopek 5 times in 33-14 win over Western Michigan

Bobcats pick up first road victory of season

KALAMAZOO, Mich. – Ohio’s struggling defense came up forcing six turnovers, including five interceptions, in a dominant 33-14 victory against Western Michigan on Saturday at Waldo Stadium.

The Bobcats (4-3, 2-1 Mid-American Conference) sacked Broncos quarterback Jack Salopek five times and picked him off five times while also recovering a fumble in their first road victory of the season.

Zack Sanders and Torrie Cox Jr. each had two interceptions, with Bryce Dugan picking up the other on a deflected pass.

“An unbelievable performance by our defense,” Ohio coach Tim Albin. “The turnovers were the difference in the game. We challenged the team all week, and they responded.”

Offensively, Sieh Bangura scored a couple of touchdowns with 77 yards rushing on 25 carries, and Kurtis Rourke went 22-of-34 passing for 264 yards with a touchdown on the ground. Nathanial Vakos made four field goals, including a 55-yarder seconds before halftime that put Ohio ahead 20-14.

Western Michgian’s offense was stymied by turnovers in the second half, though the Broncos (2-5, 1-2 MAC) had their first possession end with a fourth-down stop. Vonnie Watkins got into the backfield to tackle Sean Tyler for a 2-yard loss on fourth-and-1 at the Ohio 14. Watkins finished with three tackles for loss.

Zahir Abdus-Salaam muffed the Bobcats punt that followed, and Shane Bonner recovered, though it did not lead to any points for Ohio. A successful Western Michigan drive was halted with Cox’s first interception, but it remained a one-score game when Vakos missed for the first time in his career, failing on a 33-yard field goal attempt.

Dugan picked off Salopek on the second play of the fourth quarter, and that finally helped the Bobcats add to their lead. Vakos connected from 33 yards out to make it 23-14.

Sanders came up with an interception, but Ohio returned the turnover favor with a fumble of its own recovered by Zaire Barnes. However, Dugan sacked Salopek on fourth-and-7, giving Ohio possession just 8 yards from the end zone with 8:12 remaining, and the Bobcats cashed in with a Rourke 1-yard touchdown run.

Cox intercepted Salopek on the next possession, leading to Vakos’ final field goal of 35 yards. Sanders added one more interception with 2:56 to go.

Ohio got off to a good start by scoring on its opening drive on a Bangura 1-yard touchdown run, but Western Michigan answered with Salopek running in a score from 8 yards out. Bangura then capped off another long Bobcats drive with a 6-yard touchdown run to make it 14-7 with 12:59 left in the firs thalf.

The Broncos turned it over on downs at the Ohio 43-yard line, but it did not hurt them because Rourke was intercepted by Delano Ware.

Vakos added to the Bobcats’ lead with a 26-yard field goal with 1:50 left in the half, and Ohio’s defense had its biggest mistake of the game, allowing a 74-yard touchdown pass from Salopek to Corey Crooms to make it a 17-14 game. Vakos then connected on the third-longest field goal in program history with six seconds left in the half to extend the advantage to six.

Sam Wiglusz led Ohio’s receivers with eight catches for 76 yards, while Miles Cross caught four passes for 76 yards.

When not intercepted or sacked, Salopek did some good things, finishing 17-of-31 passing for 249 yards. Tyler ran 19 times for 84 yards.

Six different players were in on the Bobcats’ five sacks.

Ohio comes home to host Northern Illinois at 2 p.m. Saturday at Frank Solich Field at Peden Stadium on ESPN+.

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