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Bobcats dominate Falcons to clinch MAC East title

Harris steps up in Ohio's 38-14 victory

ATHENS – Once CJ Harris and Ohio got going, they could not be stopped on their way to Detroit.

With starting quarterback Kurtis Rourke sidelined for the season by a knee injury, Harris did his part in leading the Bobcats to a 38-14 blowout of Bowling Green on Tuesday night at Frank Solich Field at Peden Stadium to clinch a spot in the Mid-American Conference championship game.

Bowling Green scored the only points of the first quarter, but it was all Ohio after that. Harris was 10-of-21 passing for 196 yards and a touchdown and added 12 rushes for 65 yards and three scores in his first career start, helping the Bobcats to their fifth MAC championship game since 2006 and their first since 2016.

Ohio’s defense also played a big part in the success, holding Bowling Green to just 279 yards of offense, including only 50 yards rushing. The Falcons were at negative yards rushing through three quarters.

"All three phases of the game continue to complement each other and you can feel the energy," OHio coach Tim Albin said. "Our team on the field, they're not looking at the sideline, they're looking at each other. That's a testament to this coaching staff and believing in one another. Over-believing is a word I've used about this team a lot this season. As I said in the locker room after the game, it's very, very humbling to be a part of this, so many outstanding performances."

Despite his overall success, Harris and the Bobcats (9-3, 7-1 MAC) got off to a slow start. Ohio’s defense gave the offense short fields twice in the first quarter but did not take advantage of it. Each of the first two possessions began at Bowling Green’s 42-yard line but resulted in punts.

The Falcons (6-6, 5-3 MAC) then put together their most successful drive of the night, going 89 yards for a touchdown with three third-down conversions, with Matt McDonald throwing a 44-yard touchdown pass to Tyrone Broden late in the first quarter.

On Ohio’s ensuing drive, Harris completed a 28-yard pass to Jacoby Jones on the way to the game-tying touchdown. Harris took it in himself on a 5-yard run with 11:40 left in the second quarter.

McDonald completed a 42-yard pass to Harold Fannin Jr. on the first play of the next possession, but on fourth-and-6 from the Ohio 29-yard line, McDonald was picked off by Zack Sanders. A 48-yard completion from Harris to Jones led to a 20-yard touchdown pass from Harris to Sam Wiglusz to put the Bobcats in front.

After a quick stop by Ohio’s defense resulted in another short field, the offense continued its second-quarter roll. Tyler Foster had a 23-yard catch, and the Bobcats added to their lead on a Sieh Bangura 3-yard touchdown run at the 3:42 mark.

Once again, McDonald started a drive with a big play completion, picking up 37 yards on a pass to Tyrone Broden, but an interception left the Falcons empty again. McDonald was picked off by Tariq Drake with 2:40 left in the half.

The Bobcats ended up punting, but Drake picked off McDonald a second time and returned to the Bowling Green 14-yard line. Harris scored on an 8-yard touchdown run to make it a 28-7 game before halftime.

With a big lead, Ohio’s second drive of the second half was just what it needed. The Bobcats used up more than seven minutes of the clock before getting a 32-yard Nathanial Vakos field goal for a 31-7 advantage.

One more Bowling Green turnover helped Ohio add to its lead. McDonald had the ball knocked out of his hand by Bryce Dugan, and Keye Thompson recovered just before the end of the third quarter. A few plays into the fourth quarter, Harris scored on a 12-yard run, and Ohio led 38-7 with 11:37 to go.

The Falcons scored a late touchdown on a Camden Orth 10-yard run to close out scoring.

Bangura ran 27 times for 96 yards and a touchdown. Jones caught four passes for 96 yards.

For Bowling Green, McDonald was 16-of-29 passing for 217 yards and a touchdown with three interceptions. Broden’s two catches went for 81 yards.

On defense, Thompson had 11 tackles, including a sack.

Ohio needed a win to clinch the MAC East title, while Bowling Green could have won the East with a win and a Buffalo loss to Kent State.

"This football team is going to go up there and concentrate on playing our best four quarters, one snap at a time," said Albin. "And enjoying it.”

The Bobcats finished the season 6-0 at Frank Solich Field and won their seventh game in a row after a 2-3 start to the season.

Ohio seeks its first MAC championship since 1968 when it takes on Toledo at noon Dec. 3 at Ford Field.

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