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Defense stands tough in 24-17 win over NIU

Bobcats stay undefeated at Frank Solich Field

Lonnie McMillan Photo
ATHENS – Ohio’s defense stood tough a second straight week, making a late stand in a 24-17 victory that kept the Bobcats undefeated at home on the day Frank Solich Field at Peden Stadium was dedicated to the former coach.

Kurtis Rourke threw the go-ahead touchdown pass to Sam Wiglusz with seven minutes remaining, and Northern Illinois was unable to answer. Rourke finished 14-of-26 passing for 200 yards with a pair of passing touchdowns and another on the ground.

“We have a scrappy bunch, and we find a way to win, every week, every 60 minutes,” Ohio coach Tim Albin said. “It's a different identity every 60 minutes and our guys find a way. We knew it is going to be a challenge today with what we are facing, but we got it done. We're going to continue to be a one game at a time outfit and looking forward to a couple days off for the guys."

The Huskies (2-6, 1-3 Mid-American Conference) moved to the Bobcats 35-yard line following Ohio’s final touchdown. Keye Thompson made a tackle for loss on third-and-4, and on fourth down, Justin Lynch’s pass was tipped by Kai Caesar and fell incomplete.

But with all three timeouts remaining, Northern Illinois got the ball back 81 yards from the end zone with 1:04 remaining. Lynch was incomplete on four straight passes.

Although the Bobcats (5-3, 3-1 MAC) were not sharp on offense, they started strong with a 38-yard completion from Rourke to James Bostic on the first play from scrimmage. Wiglusz made a 20-yard reception on a third down and caught his first of two touchdown passes on third-and-goal from the 8-yard line.

Northern Illinois’ run-heavy offense finally produced points early in the second quarter with a John Richardson 38-yard field goal, and after Nathanial Vakos missed from 41 yards out for Ohio, Richarson was good from 27 yards to make it 7-6.

A 61-yard scramble by Rourke on third-and-11 led to a Vakos 31-yard field goal 19 seconds before halftime for a 10-6 score at the break.

After a 45-yard Richardson field goal to open the second half, Rourke scored on third-and-goal from the 1 to give the Bobcats their biggest lead of the game, 17-9, after Vakos’ extra point.

Lonnie McMillan Photo
Antario Brown broke off a 45-yard run, and on the next play, Kacper Rutkiewicz scored on an 11-yard run. A lateral-and-pass to Shemar Thornton for a two-point conversion tied the score at 17 with 1:31 left in the third quarter.

After punts by both teams, the Bobcats put together the game-winning drive, with Rourke making most of it happen. He had three first down passes and a first down run before his second touchdown pass to Wiglusz, who finished with six catches for 69 yards.

"It's good protecting Frank Solich Field and that's been the number one goal, to win games," Rourke said. "But to be able to defend this field that has been named after such a legendary coach, that makes it even more special."

Bangura picked up 62 yards rushing on 10 carries and also caught three passes for 32 yards.

Brown ran 16 times for 160 yards to lead Northern Illinois, while Harrison Waylee had 18 carries for 97 yards. Lynch was just 9-of-18 passing for 110 yards.

Defensively, Thompson finished with 14 tackles, including 2.5 for loss.

Ohio faces MAC-leading Buffalo as midweek play begins at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 1 at Frank Solich Field at Peden Stadium on ESPN2.

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