First and 10, ball on the opponent’s 35-yard line, 7:49 remaining in the third quarter.
What transpired next on a Tuesday night showdown between Ohio and Western Michigan in mid-November caused many viewers to re-wind their broadcasts and collectively wonder, “Did that actually just happen?”
Ohio offensive guard Hagen Meservy lined up on the edge as a wide receiver. As soon as quarterback Nathan Rourke handled the snap out of shotgun, Meservy put on a display that’s more likely to be witnessed in an Olympics gymnastics routine than on the gridiron. The 6’3”, 300-pound lineman raised his hands in the air and performed a perfect cartwheel toward the opposite the end zone.
“We’re in a special formation,” offensive coordinator Tim Albin said. “We split out a lineman, and we’re trying to get the defense to not know who is eligible, and not know where the tight end is. We’re trying to get one of the linebackers to think the tight end is a tackle. So as Hagen splits out to the boundary there to the left hash, his parameters were: 1) you need to be on the line of scrimmage, 2) don’t be offsides, 3) draw attention to yourself.”
Meservy came up with his own attention-drawing idea, which Coach Albin later dubbed, “Left hash, toward campus.”
“We were doing it in practice, and he said, ‘hey, can I do a cartwheel?’ (Offensive line coach Allen) Rudolph asked me, and I said, ‘hey, it’s legal,’” Albin recalled. “Hagen’s an athletic guy. When we practiced it in practice, he did a cartwheel. Everyone thought it was pretty impressive. He nailed it during the game against Western Michigan.”
The idea to feature an offensive lineman performing a cartwheel was an idea solely generated by the artist himself. Meservy added the comical element to a strategic play, and Ohio’s coaching staff ran with it.
“That’s just the kind of guy (Meservy) is,” Rourke said.
While Meservy’s theatrics were underway, Rourke shed off an unblocked Western Michigan pass rusher and instantly fired a bullet past the sticks to tight end Adam Luehrman. The tight end corralled Rourke’s pass in the open field and charged several yards before Western Michigan free safety A.J. Thomas forced him down at the 10-yard line — an unorthodox gain of 25.
“I’m glad it wasn’t a negative play because it was almost a sack and if we got sacked, it would have been on the Not Top plays,” Rourke said. “Maybe it was on the Not Top plays, I don’t know.”
Where did the inspiration for the unconventional play-call stem from? Two months earlier in a Week 3 matchup at Marshall, the Thundering Herd ran a similar play in the second quarter. Their offensive lineman, Will Ulmer, started a jumping jacks routine as soon as the play commenced, drawing an Ohio defender to fall for the decoy. Meanwhile, Marshall’s tight end Devin Miller assumed position on the offensive line but ran a seam route down the middle. The result — an uncontested 22-yard touchdown for the Herd.
“That was a special play we got from Marshall. Marshall ran it on us for a touchdown that year,” Rourke said. “We had a huddle and broke out of the huddle real quick. We were gonna run it and catch them off guard with our shift and catch them off guard with unbalanced linemen. Hagen Meservy was out to the left, split out like a receiver, and he was just there for distraction. Hopefully no one would cover him and we’d have a tight end where the tackle would usually be, and he ran it like a seam route.”
Ohio’s defense watched the play result in 22 yards and a touchdown when Marshall utilized it in September, but the Bobcats turned that lapse into their own offensive fuel. They practiced it for several weeks leading up to Western Michigan’s Tuesday night visit to Peden Stadium, and the offense managed 25 yards and a 1st and goal from the bizarre trickery. The ensuing play after Luehrman’s reception, running back De’Montre Tuggle handed the Bobcats the lead over Western Michigan on a 10-yard touchdown run.
“You want to do it down in the high red zone, across midfield, so if things don’t go your way, you’ve got a chance to still get the first down,” Albin said regarding the timing of the special play. “If the defense makes a mistake, you might get an explosive touchdown. The time came to call it, and Nathan did a great job of sliding over from the rush. He did a great job of extending the play, side-stepping the defender, and he made a great throw to our tight end down the seam.”
And because of Rourke’s fruitful 25-yard completion to Luehrman, combined with Meservy’s alteration to the call, plays featuring offensive lineman cartwheels have a 100% success rate in college football.