A handful of fans were remaining at Peden Stadium in 22-degree weather when overtime commenced.
Western Michigan and Ohio traded blows throughout the night in a heated matchup between two of the most explosive offenses in the MAC. The Bobcats (4-6, 3-3 MAC) improbably tied the game with 15 seconds remaining, but LeVante Bellamy’s 4-yard overtime touchdown run handed the Broncos (7-4, 5-2 MAC) a crucial victory to remain one of the kingpins in a competitive MAC West race.
Defenses reigned supreme in the first half as Western Michigan entered the break with a 10-0 lead over the hosting Bobcats. But in the second half, we were treated to a duel between two of the MAC’s top quarterbacks — Jon Wassink and Nathan Rourke.
After starring as a running threat last Tuesday, Wassink delivered one of his best passing games of the season for Western Michigan. He completed 23/34 attempts and threw three touchdown passes on 322 yards. Ohio’s Nathan Rourke was a force in a multitude of ways, rushing for a game-high 93 yards on the ground while faring 20/29 with 225 yards and a pair of touchdowns through the air. After three storied seasons as Ohio’s starting quarterback with two All-MAC appearances and a potential third on the horizon, Rourke played his final game at Peden Stadium.
Western Michigan won the battle between the offenses in the first half, consistently punching a ticket into Ohio territory but failing to execute at the tail end of its possessions. The Broncos wound up inside the Bobcats’ 5-yard line three times in the first half but managed 10 points from those opportunities. Their lone touchdown was a 2-yard pass from Wassink to tight end Giovanni Ricci (tied for FBS lead in touchdown receptions for tight ends with eight).
Ohio answered from its scoring slump by taking a lead after its first two possessions of the second half. First, Rourke connected with tight end Ryan Luehrman on a toe-tap touchdown — a call which was overturned from an incompletion into a score after a long review. Then, running back De’Montre Tuggle burst into the end zone for his first of two touchdowns on the night.
A back-and-forth game was finally established, and Western Michigan took the next punch on Ricci’s second touchdown reception toward the end of the third quarter. A game which saw 31 combined points heading into the fourth quarter would soon see 31 more in a span of 15 minutes. Wide receiver Skyy Moore enjoyed a career-game with 162 receiving yards off of four receptions, and his 61-yard catch-and-run touchdown kicked off a wild start to an eventful finish. Ohio responded with Rourke leading the Bobcats down the field and letting Tuggle finish the drive with a 4-yard tying touchdown run.
Moore’s dominance continued. In a similar manner to his first touchdown, the receiver broke out for a 41-yard catch-and-run on a quick slant, getting tripped up inside the 5-yard line to perfectly position the Broncos for a score. That score would go to Moore, who ran to the right side of the end zone in a wildcat formation to claim a 31-24 lead.
Ohio nearly tied the game in regulation, but the Bobcats struggled when facing 1st and goal at the Western Michigan 9 with around 90 seconds remaining. Rourke was stopped at the line of scrimmage on a designed QB keeper on second down and the Bobcats attempted to catch the opposing defense off-guard with a halfback draw on third down, but Broncos’ defensive end Ali Fayad read it perfectly. On fourth down, Rourke’s pass to Tyler Tupa in the back of the end zone was broken up by outside linebacker Drake Spears, forcing a turnover on downs. But the Bobcats’ strong run defense (allowed 3.2 yards per carry Tuesday night), coupled with their three timeouts remaining, gave one more chance to Rourke to tie the game.
In a controversial play, Rourke connected with wide receiver Jerome Buckner for a 27-yard gain near the sideline. Although it was unclear if Buckner’s toe remained in bounds on the reception, the play stood after review. Ohio quickly advanced the ball on a series of quick passes, and Rourke fed a wide open Tupa in the end zone with nine seconds on the clock. Frank Solich elected to kick the extra point instead of taking a shot at two points for the win, prolonging the game into an extra period.
In overtime, the Bobcats were forced to kick a field goal after Western Michigan’s defense allowed just five yards in three plays. Louie Zervos connected on the 33-yarder but provided the Broncos an opportunity to win with a touchdown.
Running back LeVante Bellamy certainly didn’t have his best day in Athens. The Bobcat defense routinely stopped the 1,200-yard rusher all night, snapping his 4-game 110+ yard streak and his 4-game multi-touchdown streak. But Bellamy improved as the night progressed, and he iced the contest with a powerful 4-yard run to boost Western Michigan to victory in walk-off fashion.
Western Michigan is 7-4, but the Broncos do not control their own destiny due to sharing the same number of conference losses as Toledo, a team which the Broncos fell to earlier in the year. As the only team in the FBS with 11 games played, Western Michigan will rest on a late bye week before closing the season on the road against reigning MAC West champion Northern Illinois. With seven victories, the Broncos have already tied a record for most wins in the Tim Lester era with two games likely left on the schedule.
Ohio dropped its second consecutive midweek game to fall to 4-6, putting its bowl hopes on alert. The Bobcats completed their home slate, but they face Akron and Bowling Green, who combine for a 3-16 record, to close the season. Solich needs one win to become the winningest MAC coach of all-time and his program needs two wins to extend its streak of bowl eligibility to 11 seasons.
An offensive lineman did a cartwheel in the middle of a play
One of the most iconic plays in college football history transpired on Tuesday night in Athens. Ohio offensive tackle Hagen Meservy, built 6’3” and 300 pounds, inexplicably performed a cartwheel in the middle of a play in the third quarter. Meservy’s role was to distract the Western Michigan defense, and the perfectly-executed cartwheel worked! Ohio gained 25 yards on a completion from Rourke to Leuhrman on the play, and the Bobcats scored on a 10-yard run by Tuggle a play later.
We’ve seen Arkansas State’s fainting goat punt, but that play resulted in a ridiculous interception. Conversely, this planned distraction worked wonders for the Ohio offense. We have no idea how long Frank Solich has had this gem hidden in his playbook, but we’re just thankful we got to witness Hagen Meservy land a cartwheel mid-play on Tuesday night #MACtion.