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Ohio shuts door on Miami (OH) comeback in 35-33 off-the-rails finish

Jack Sorenson finishes with 286 receiving yards, but it is not enough for Miami to climb out of 28-0 hole.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 04 Syracuse at Ohio Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One of the MAC’s premier rivalries took center stage on the first Tuesday night of the conference’s signature midweek slate.

The rout was on in the Battle of the Bricks, as the underdog Ohio Bobcats claimed a 28-0 lead over the Miami RedHawks at Peden Stadium in the early stages of the third quarter. Until it wasn’t.

Ohio survived an ending which featured countless fireworks and absurd plot twists, but the Bobcats only edged their in-state rival in a 35-33 close call. Miami scored 33 points in the final 23.5 minutes of action, but during the scoring barrage, Ohio broke away for one late touchdown which proved to be sufficient in preserving the victory.

The opening and closing efforts of the night belonged to Ohio running back De’Montre Tuggle, who tallied three touchdowns in the win. No stranger to starring in midweek games, the veteran halfback put the finishing touches on a 12-play drive as the recipient of a speed option pitch. Early in the second quarter, Tuggle expanded Ohio’s lead to 14-0 when quarterback Kurtis Rourke delivered him a screen to avoid a house blitz from the RedHawks, resulting in a 48-yard touchdown.

Rourke’s cannon arm wound up guiding Ohio to a 28-0 advantage. The Canada native connected on 23 of his 32 attempts for 288 yards, and he posted a trio of touchdown passes which all transpired before Miami’s first point. After the early dump-off to Tuggle, Rourke continued his rampage in the third quarter by finding deep threat Isiah Cox on 25 and 33-yard touchdowns. Cox finished with a season-high 106 yards on six receptions, playing a pivotal role in the Bobcats’ first home win of 2021.

First half miscues including an interception and blocked field goal attempt stalled early Miami drives, but the RedHawks passing attack woke up with a vengeance and started finishing in the third quarter. Quarterback Brett Gabbert pieced together one of the most statistically eyebrow-raising performances of the entire season, lighting up the air for a career-best 492 yards and five touchdowns.

His star wide receiver, Jack Sorenson, entered Tuesday riding a streak of three consecutive 110-yard showings. But what Sorenson accomplished in Athens, OH has not been done by another wide receiver in 2021. The star wideout secured 14 passes for a ridiculous 283 yards, complete with two second half touchdown receptions.

Gabbert’s first touchdown sling came in immediate response to Ohio’s fourth touchdown of the night. The third-year starter found wide receiver Jalen Walker in the seam for a 51-yard score to put the RedHawks on the scoreboard. He later handed Sorenson a touchdown with 5:13 remaining in the third quarter to bring Miami within two scores, but a missed extra point which kept the score at 28-13 later proved to be critical.

Fourth down failures proved costly for the RedHawks in the second half and ultimately prevented Miami from completing the comeback. Ohio’s unforgiving front seven stuffed a halfback dive at the Miami 34-yard line in the early third quarter. In the fourth quarter, it was déjà vu as the Bobcat defense stifled another fourth down handoff from the Ohio 10-yard line — a missed scoring opportunity for Chuck Martin’s team. One drive after that red zone miscue, the RedHawks elected to go for their third 4th and 1 of the half. This time, they faked the handoff and Gabbert rolled out to launch it downfield, but the pass was broken up. Ohio’s defense trashed three Miami scoring opportunities due to its sturdiness on critical situations.

However, with 5:18 remaining in the contest, Miami lined up for another fourth down opportunity — its fourth of the half. This time, Gabbert rolled out to the right, surveyed the field, and couldn’t find a reasonably open target. He kept the ball in play by aiming for Sorenson in double coverage, but it was deflected. The ricocheted pigskin fortunately landed in the hands of Mac Hippenhammer, who stood in opportune position toward the back of the end zone for a touchdown. Rather than keep it a one-score game with an extra point, Miami elected for the early gamble. The two-point attempt did not feature the same luck and the RedHawks’ “Philly Special” derivative was unsuccessful, so Ohio led 28-19.

Miami’s defense was led by Ivan Pace Jr. who registered a personal-best 18 tackles and two sacks on the night. Armed with a slew of timeouts, Pace’s unit stepped up to the occasion to force a late Ohio punt. With the home run potential of the passing attack, it didn’t take long for Miami to slice the deficit to a one-possession ballgame. Gabbert launched a 50/50 lob down the sideline, and Sorenson high-pointed the ball, shed his defender, and completed the trek to the end zone for an 82-yard touchdown to edit the scoreboard to 28-26.

After coming up empty-handed on an onside kick, all the RedHawks needed was one stop. Miami halted Ohio’s mobile quarterback Armani Rogers on consecutive plays to open the possession, but what transpired on 3rd and 8 ultimately put the RedHawks’ comeback effort to rest. Tuggle, who shined in the early moments of the Battle of the Bricks, became the crunch time hero by breaking free for a 46-yard touchdown run with 1:35 remaining.

Since midweek games don’t end without an extra dose of chaos, Gabbert expeditiously drove the RedHawks down the field for one final touchdown. The quarterback, one play after spiking the ball without a right shoe, connected with Hippenhammer in the end zone for the second time of the night — just 40 seconds after Tuggle’s breakaway run. However, for the third time in the fourth quarter, Miami couldn’t recover its own onside kick. Ohio hung on for the victory to snap its two-game losing streak to the RedHawks and snap a three-game losing streak overall.

Miami slips out of first place in a balanced MAC East, but the defeat was not without incredible individual performances. Sorenson’s near-300 yard outing catapults him into fourth in the FBS in receiving yards. The 283 yards marked a school record, while Gabbert’s 492 passing yards rank third in the program’s history behind Ben Roethlisberger’s 525 in 2002 and Zac Dysert’s 516 in 2012.

Ohio may have secured its first losing season since 2008, but the Bobcats are improving each week of the Tim Albin era. After three consecutive one-score losses, Ohio hung onto its four-touchdown lead to deliver the second win since Albin took over for longtime program staple Frank Solich. Solich was in attendance at Peden Stadium on Tuesday night, watching his former players triumph after a chaotic midweek MACtion finish.