The ‘Cats (3-3. 1-1 MAC East) got their first MAC victory of the season, winning in a shootout over the Akron Zips (1-5, 0-2 MAC East) in front of a raucous homecoming crowd at Peden Stadum on Saturday afternoon, securing a 55-34 victory to move up the division ranks.
Ohio QB Kurtis Rourke was absolutely masterful on the day, completing 24-of-27 passes for 427 yards and three touchdowns, setting a top-ten all-time program record for passing yards in a game for the third time in the six-game season so far.
The 427 yards passing was the second most in ‘Cats history, and now Kurtis Rourke holds the top two spots in program history, as he set the record against Fordham with 537 yards earlier in 2022.
Rourke’s accuracy has been off the charts with his third game of the year in which he completed 79 percent or more of his passes, finishing with 88 percent in this game.
Both teams were able to move the ball at will through the air in the first half, with 473 combined yards passing, completing an incredible 39 out of the game’s first 41 passes.
The difference on the scoreboard in the first half was Ohio’s bend-don’t-break defense, as the ‘Cats came up with enough fourth down and red zone plays to help contain a Zips offense that was potent between the 20 yard lines.
The affair started with a bang on a 75-yard strike on the game’s first play from scrimmage as Kurtis Rourke hit wideout Sam Wiglusz.
As the weeks go by the Ohio wideout continues to gain momentum, finishing this contest with seven catches for 144 yards and two touchdowns. On the season, Wiglusz has 35 catches for 434 yards and five touchdowns.
Akron (1-5, 0-2 MAC East) responded with a 43-yard drive primarily working edges of the ‘Cats defense. The Zips got past midfield but didn’t get much farther as they got as the Bobcats stiffened, stopping Akron on third and fourth and short.
The final stop of the drive was a physical stop by safety Adonis Williams. That is Williams’ third big hit and stop in three weeks as he made two in this game and another in the critical final minutes in the win over Fordham.
Riding high on momentum created by the defense, Ohio’s offense went to work on the second drive. This time, instead of a quick strike, it was a clock-controlling drive that was well-balanced. Ohio methodically moved the ball down field on a 12-play, 63-yard drive, capped by an eight-yard run by Nolan McCormick. The key to the drive was a conversion of fourth and one at the Akron ten.
Also key was an eye-popping one-handed grab by tight end Will Kacmarek for 19 yards on a ball thrown behind the receiver.
Undaunted by the 14-0 lead, the Zips’ offense went back to work on a 10-play, 61-yard scoring drive of its own. Akron beautifully mixed pass and run, again focusing on the edges of the Bobcat defense. Akron got into the redzone but were stymied on a third-and-five play by Bobcat defensive end Bryce Dugan, who adeptly maintained contain with his inside arm while corralling the back with his right for a two-yard loss.
The Bobcats attack was just too much for the Zips to stop as the hits kept coming on the third touchdown drive in a row, this one covering 89 yards. Kurtis Rourke sparked the drive with a 34-yard run and a 19-yard strike with a great sideline catch wideout Jacoby Jones. The offense was able to overcome an Akron sack by linebacker Antavious Fish to finish the drive on a 12-yard run by Sieh Bangura.
Not to be outdone, the Zips moved into the red zone again but had to settle for three as the ‘Cats defense again stiffened. Ohio made back-to-back great plays, the first on a stop by Bruce Dugan and then as sack by defensive end Jack McCrory that pushed Akron out of the red zone.
McCrory has made a ton of huge plays the last few weeks with 14 tackles, two forced fumbles, two sacks, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
The Zips then turned in a red zone stop of its own, holding on fourth and one on its own 12 to deny the Bobcats points for the first time in the half.
The Zips and ‘Cats traded touchdowns to end the first half with the Bobcats driving 78 yards in 41 seconds to score on the game's final play of the half, a one-yard run by Bangura.
Bangura had perhaps his biggest day as a Bobcat, finishing with a combined 115 yards rushing and receiving and four scores (three rushing).
The Bobcats’ offensive line was dominant at times allowing just one sack while paving the way for a 561-yard offensive performance. The effort was led by Hagen Meservy, who helped create space on interior runs and sustained a block for what seemed like forever on a third-quarter screen pass that sprang Bangura for a 25-yard score.
Neither team punted in the first half with the Bobcats taking a 28-13-point lead going into the third.
The second half began as the first half ended, with both offenses running amok, scoring touchdowns on their respective first drives.
Akron QB DJ Irons was brilliant for most of the afternoon, taking what the defense allowed, completing 43-of-54 passes for 418 yards but, surprisingly perhaps with that many yards, no touchdown passes. The dual-threat QB did add 23 yards on the ground and a score.
The Zips receiving corps was also impressive, hauling in several heavily contested catches. Akron was led by Shocky Jacques-Louis, who finished on the day with 11 catches for 152 yards. The big day brings the Akron standout’s season totals to 37 grabs for 509 yards and one score.
Zip WR George Daniels was also a big factor on the day with 11 catches for 108 yards.
A key difference between the clubs to this point on the afternoon was the Bobcats’ knack for overcoming offensive adversity to keep drives going. For instance, Ohio scored on its opening drive of the second half converting a second-and-19 with a 28-yard Bangura run on a draw play.
As the third quarter progressed, the Bobcats’ defense found its footing and began to shut the Zips down with some big pressures and good, physical tackling.
The ‘Cats forced the first punt of the game halfway through the third quarter. On the next defensive drive, a strip sack by linebacker Bryce Houston was recovered by Jack McCrory for a 13-yard score, extending the lead to 48-20.
Along with Houston, linebacker Keye Thompson was a noteworthy throughout the day with several spirited stops, leading the team with 11 tackles. Thompson was also clutch in pass coverage with two pass break-ups and an interception.
The Zips forced its first punt on the day with 12 minutes remaining in the fourth and a 48-27 deficit.
Akron turned the stop into another score to cut the ‘Cats lead to 14 but the onside kick with five minutes remaining was recovered by Ohio’s Miles Cross. The Green and White converted a third-and-ten with a spirited 42 yard catch and run on a tunnel screen, breaking several arm tackles. Bangura scored the game's final points on a six-yard run.
For Jones, it was his second 100-yard receiving game this season, an Ohio career best 121 yards.
Bobcat ‘backer Keye Thompson sealed the deal with a late fourth-quarter interception, the Bobcats’ first of the season.
MAC action resumes next week as Ohio hosts Western Michigan (2-4, 1-1 MAC West) while Akron hosts Central Michigan (1-4, 0-1 MAC West)