Ohio (7-6, 5-3 MAC) held on to defeat Nevada (7-6, 4-4 MWC) by a final score of 30-21, and with the victory, won a program-record third straight bowl game. The third straight win ties Ohio with the Toledo Rockets and Miami RedHawks as the only current conference members to win three straight bowl games.
Ohio largely dominated the first half with its running game but needed to withstand a furious Nevada fourth-quarter rally to get the win.
The scoring account opened with an exchange of field goals by each squad, with promising drives stalling early. The defensive play of the opening drives was by Nevada’s Christian Swint, who batted the ball away in the endzone on what likely would have been a touchdown pass by Ohio’s Nathan Rourke.
Ohio was able to overcome an injury to lead back O’Shaan Allison to score a touchdown on its second drive. Allison left the game with a reported right-hand injury and did not return.
Ohio converted back-to-back fourth downs inside Nevada’s 22-yard line to get the score, a 12-yard run on fourth and one by RB Julian Ross. The scoring try was a wonderful ending to the season for Ross, who battled through injuries for the majority of the 2019 season to get back in shape for the bowl game. The score was Ross’ first of the injury-riddled year.
A promising drive in response by Nevada ended in three points, in part due to a personal foul penalty that moved Nevada back out of the red zone. Despite the penalty, Nevada almost scored a touchdown when Nevada QB Carson Strong dropped a perfect pass on a fade into the corner of the end zone which could not be hauled in by Justin Lockhart, who had a step.
Ohio’s offense made short work of Nevada’s defense on the next drive, moving 77 yards in just three plays. 20 runs by Ohio’s offense in the first quarter and a half set up a 38-yard completion by Rourke to Isiah Cox, who tightroped the sideline to make the catch. On the next play, Rourke pulled the ball and ran around the right end on the next player for a 35-yard touchdown. Rourke’s run tied Ohio’s QB Kareem Wilson for the most career rushing touchdowns in school history with 49.
The momentum shifted palpably after the Rourke run. The defense forced a three-and-out keyed by a sack by Ohio freshman linebacker Jack McCrory. The Ohio linebacker finished what may have been his best game of the season, with 6 tackles, several QB pressures, and a sack.
Ohio tacked on three after Rourke, on a rare miss, overthrew a wide-open Cam Odom for what would have been a touchdown.
Nevada rebounded on the next drive, marching the ball down the field and recovering some momentum. Nevada’s QB Strong, under distress most of the game, was very impressive. Freshman Strong hit Nevada wr Elijah Cooks on several throws to get the ball within scoring range. The future bodes well for the Nevada offense with Strong and Cooks back for another season next year.
Cooks had a monster game, finishing with 14 receptions for 197 yards and a touchdown. Strong also shined, finishing with 402 yards passing and a passing touchdown.
A blitz by Ohio in the red zone on third down stopped the Wolf Pack’s drive and momentum, holding them to three points. Javon Hagan was credited with the sack on the play.
As the teams went to the half with Ohio leading 20-9, the key story lines were these.
Ohio’s defense held in the red zone and limited Nevada’s offense to three field goals. Ohio’s defensive play calling seemed more aggressive and it paid off with several pressures and three first-half sacks.
Nevada was unable to stop Ohio’s rushing game in the first half, as Ohio rushed for 174 yards, two touchdowns, and 7 yards per carry. On the day, Ohio rushed for 285 yards an three scores.
Ohio won the field position battle in the first half, with its average starting position its own 35-yard line while Nevada’s average starting position was its own 21-yard line.
The Bobcats picked up in the third quarter where they left off, driving the ball down the field on the first possession for three points. The drive was keyed by an incredibly tough 15-yard catch by Isiah Cox on third and ten. Cox held onto the ball despite the Nevada defense being flagged for a targeting call, which was confirmed on review as targeting.
With the yards gained on that drive, Rourke surpassed former Ohio QB Tyler Tettleton for most total career yards in Bobcat history (Tettleton held the record with 10,039 yards).
By the end of the contest, Rourke moved into 18th place for the most career yards by a MAC player since 1962, finishing his Bobcat career with 10,081 yards (according to sports-reference.com).
Perhaps the biggest play of the game occurred on Nevada’s next possession when Nevada’s Strong, attempting to maintain his balance, fumbled the ball. Strong was ruled down on the field but the call was overturned on review. Ohio took over near mid-field and drove for a touchdown, capped by Ohio RB De’Montre Tuggle’s two-yard run.
Ohio went into the fourth quarter with a 30-9 lead and the ball inside Nevada’s 30-yard line, looking to close out the game.
Nevada had other ideas, making huge plays to spark a big fourth-quarter rally.
Nevada’s comeback started with a forced fumble on an option, which was recovered by Wolf Pack defensive end Sam Hammond.
Ten plays and 78 yards later, Strong hit Cooks on a corner route for a touchdown to bring the score to 30-15. The extra point was blocked by Ohio’s Austin Conrad. The touchdown was the first surrendered by Ohio’s defense in the last eleven quarters of its last three bowl games.
Nevada’s defense struck again when Dom Peterson’s blind side sack of Rourke caused a fumble, which was recovered by Nevada deep in Ohio territory. Devonte Lee punched it in from the one-yard line. A 2-point conversion was no good, and Ohio led Nevada 30-21.
Nevada defense continued to roll, forcing an Ohio punt. It was the third straight stop of the Ohio offense in the fourth quarter.
Nevada drove into the red zone but a critical error late in the fourth quarter doomed the rally. An ill-advised pitch on a reverse was swatted away by Ohio’s defensive end Austin Conrad and recovered Ohio’s DT Marcus Coleman.
Ohio ran time off the clock and drained Nevada’s timeouts through the running game after recovering the fumble.
Nevada did drive the ball inside the red zone again after an Ohio punt, but was unable to punch the ball in on fourth down.
Ohio has won its last three bowl games by a combined score of 98-27.
The win by Ohio was also the third bowl win this season by the MAC, improving from only one bowl win last season. Kent State and Buffalo won their first bowl games in program history this season.
Miami will be the last MAC program to play in the postseason, as they’re getting ready to play UL-Lafayette in the Lendingtree Mobile Bowl on Jan. 6.