For the first time this year, college football kicked off on a Tuesday night. And no other player seized the night like Ohio's quarterback Nathan Rourke.
Rourke accounted for all six of the Bobcats' touchdowns in a 45-28 victory over Miami (OH) in Athens. The sophomore quarterback, who ranks second in college football with 16 rushing touchdowns, earned three scores on the ground and another three though the air in the three-possession victory.
Rourke, 294 passing yards and 54 rushing yards — ignited the offense at the very beginning of the night, driving Ohio all the way across Peden Stadium to score the first touchdown — a three-yard speed option — in a relatively high-scoring contest.
On Halloween night, Chuck Martin decided to pull into his bag of tricks. On the first play from scrimmage for the RedHawks', Martin dialed up a flea-flicker and Billy Bahl connected with Sam Martin for 22 yards. But several plays later, Ohio's strong safety Javon Hagan intercepted Bahl, making a diving grab to force the turnover.
Ohio responded with a flea-flicker of its own to enter RedHawks' territory. Then, Rourke connected hit his receiver Brendan Cope on a 40-yard bomb down the right sideline for a touchdown to gain a 14-0 advantage on Miami.
A common theme in this game, Miami would score the next 14 points. Bahl finished 5-of-5 for 73 yards on the RedHawks' ensuing drive, connecting with a myriad of targets along the way. No target had a bigger night than wide receiver James Gardner.
Gardner achieved career-highs in catches and yards, earning 10 receptions and 166 yards, complemented with three touchdowns. His first touchdown occurred in the first quarter, when Bahl threw a 14-yard strike to the junior.
On Miami's next offensive drive, running back Alonzo Smith proved too tough to take down for Ohio defenders. He burst for a 22-yard run in the middle of the possession and finished with a Marshawn Lynch-like 16-yard rushing touchdown, where he carried several Bobcats into the end zone by keeping his legs driving and utilizing his full strength.
Tied 14-14, Miami would receive a possession with the opportunity to claim the lead for the first time. Instead, Bahl threw his second pick of the night, and cornerback Jalen Fox returned the turnover inside the four-yard line to provide the Bobcats with favorable field position. Two plays later, Rourke would power his way into the end zone to lead 21-14.
The next drive, Rourke would display his much-improved passing game. Rourke connected several times with his receiver Papi White in a sequence that ended in a 14-yard grab by White in the front corner of the end zone. White finished with 80 yards on five catches.
In a great receiver battle between White and Gardner, Gardner would have his turn. To respond to White's touchdown, Gardner caught four passes for 54 yards on a possession which would end in a three-yard receiving touchdown by the star wideout. Miami inched within seven points going into a halftime as a result of the jump ball catch and Louie Zervos' missed 51-yard field goal at the end of the second quarter.
In the second half, the RedHawks would knot the game up after four total punts to begin the final stretch. An impressive 10-play, 95-yard drive led by Bahl and Gardner pushed the RedHawks all the way down the field in Athens. The quarterback, who threw a 25-yard pass to Gardner to tie it at 28 apiece, threw for a season-high 350 yards along with three touchdowns. This would be his final score of the night.
Ohio would waste no time regaining the lead, with Rourke throwing four straight completions for a total of 71 yards to conclude the following possession. Rourke's 11-yard touchdown would be his season-high third passing touchdown of the night and Ohio would lead 35-28.
After a Miami three-and-out, Ohio's offense would come to life once more, thanks to a 45-yard penalty. Yes, Miami committed a pass interference and two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls on the same play and the Bobcats would harvest the benefits. The Bobcats called team captain A.J. Ouellette's number several times in the red zone, but it would be Rourke who would finish with the points. Ohio led 42-28 after the score and Rourke earned his fourth rushing touchdown hat trick of the season.
At this point, the Bobcats were a flawless 5-for-5 when entering Miami's red zone.
In hopes of starting another 14-0 run, Miami dipped its feet in Ohio territory before Bahl threw four-straight incompletions to turn the ball over on downs. Bahl started the night with pinpoint accuracy, completing 8-of-10 passes in the early going (although two interceptions), but Miami's offense took a huge hit once the passes ended up on the ground.
On Miami's next possession, the RedHawks turned the ball over on downs again, with Bahl failing to connect with Gardner on a curl route on fourth-and-short. Ohio took over and Zervos drilled a 36-yard field goal and the sophomore kicker is now a respectable 11-of-13 this season. The scoring would end at this point, with 6:48 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Ohio claimed its seventh victory of the season, one win away from reaching last season's eight win mark. The Bobcats sit comfortably on top of the MAC East, alongside the Akron Zips. The two will battle to likely decide the division on November 14 at Akron. But the Bobcats must play a 7-1 Toledo squad next week.
For Miami, the RedHawks have lived below expectations this season after winning six of seven to finish 2016. Miami is now 3-6 and on the verge of missing bowl season after the 17-point road loss. The RedHawks return to Oxford for a matchup with Akron next week.