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Recap: Rourke surges Ohio past Kent State in 45-38 offensive thriller

Nathan Rourke throws for 342, rushes for 79, and records 4 touchdowns in much-needed win for Ohio.

NCAA Football: Ohio at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Relative to expectations, Ohio’s start to 2019 was nowhere near up to standard. On the opposite hand, Kent State was exceeding expectations by already topping its 2018 win total. But in a meeting between the two MAC East programs trending in contrasting directions, both left Peden Stadium with 3-4 records and a 2-1 standing in conference play.

Offenses were on full display in Ohio’s 45-38 win over Kent State, and there’s no better frontman to lead an offensive shootout than Bobcats’ senior quarterback Nathan Rourke. Rourke threw for 342 yards, rushed for 79, and scored a pair of touchdowns both ways to lead his team to its sixth-straight win over the Golden Flashes.

The signal caller on the other sideline, Kent State quarterback Dustin Crum, enjoyed a stellar day as well. The junior recorded 262 yards through the air — the second best mark of his career — and threw four touchdowns without an interception. Crum’s first score was a perfect 23-yard lob to Mike Carrigan in the back of the end zone. Carrigan’s quick foot tab in the green area created a 7-0 Kent State lead, but points would be a frequent occurrence on both ends Saturday.

Ohio scored 10-consecutive points, and the touchdown was via wide receiver Isiah Cox. Cox broke free down the center of the field to haul in a 49-yard pass from Rourke. Kent State’s Kavious Price responded to the lead change by creating another one on a 12-yard reception from Crum to end the first quarter, 14-10.

But defensive lapses were a frequent issue, especially in the secondaries. Kent State allowed Ohio wide receiver Jerome Buckner to burn coverage for a 51-yard touchdown on an air mail from Rourke roughly one minute into the second quarter. After a Kent State field goal, the teams traded two quick scores in the final three minutes of the first half.

At halftime, the teams were experiencing nearly identical success. Both teams registered 16 first downs. Ohio managed to move the sticks 3-of-5 times on third downs, while Kent State succeeded on 3-of-6 attempts. Ohio’s 334 yards narrowly edged Kent State’s 158. The difference in penalty yards was one and the time of possession metric was 19 seconds from a perfectly balanced 15:00 per each team.

In the third quarter, the defenses ruled. An increased number of pass breakups were noticed in the secondary, with Kent State cornerbacks Jamal Parker and Elvis Hines contributing on several. But the Flashes’ defense allowed the only score of the frame, a 1-yard plunge by Ohio running back De’Montre Tuggle.

After two consecutive defensive stands at midfield, Kent State’s offense finally witnessed a rebirth in the early fourth quarter. Crum captained the unit on a 10-play, 94-yard drive, with several Ohio penalties contributing to moving the ball. Crum capped the drive with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Raymond James to tie the game at 31-31.

Ohio’s ensuing possession involved a very similar sequence of events. Kent State penalties in the secondary, including a defensive holding and pass interference, moved the sticks past midfield. But Rourke did the rest of the work, faking a handoff and sprinting around the right tackles for a 7-yard go-ahead touchdown to complete a 75-yard drive.

Unlike in previous crunch time situations this season, the Bobcats defense came up clutch and forced a three-and-out and 0 yards on Kent State’s attempt at a game-tying possession. A true sign of growth for the team, Ohio re-collected the ball and pushed it back into the end zone on Tuggle’s second surge to the end zone of the afternoon. Tuggle led the team with 80 rushing yards and sealed the win with his final run.

Kent State cornerback Jamal Parker nearly made things interesting by returning the kickoff for a touchdown, but offsetting penalties negated the play. The Golden Flashes ate up clock and scored with about 30 seconds remaining, but the onside kick fell directly into the Bobcats’ hands, effectively ending the offensive shootout.

The two aforementioned kickoffs weren’t even the most exciting of the game. Right before halftime, Ohio punter Michael Farkas unintentionally launched the ball off a Kent State player’s helmet, and the Bobcats recovered around midfield. However, there was not enough time left in the half for the play to impact the score.

Ohio now owns the tiebreaker over Kent State for the top of the MAC East with the head-to-head victory. The Bobcats take the road in a week to battle another surprising MAC contender in Ball State, while the Golden Flashes return to Kent to face Miami (OH).