Ohio (7-3. 5-1 MAC East) got a huge road win over rival Miami (4-6. 2-4 MAC East) to stay in first place in the MAC East with two weeks left to play— and got a lovely little trophy to go with it to boot.
The defenses dominated the first half but Ohio’s offense ultimately wore Miami down with multiple long drives that saw the ‘Cats dominate the time of possession by over a two to one margin, 41 to 19 minutes.
The first quarter began with the defenses giving up some yards on the opening drives, but ultimately trading punts.
Miami’s opening drive stalled out a midfield when Ohio defensive tackle Denzel Daxon stopped Miami on a run on third and short. Any decision by the RedHawks to go was thwarted by a personal foul backing up the RedHawks 15 yards.
The flag was not the first-time rivalry tempers flared as battles in the Bobcats secondary erupted more than once in the first quarter.
Miami’s defense did what no team in the last three weeks has done and that is to keep the Bobcats offense off the scoreboard on its opening drive. However, the Bobcats managed to flip the field on its first drive so when they got the ball on its own 45 on the second offensive possession, it took advantage of excellent field position for its first points.
Ohio’s three-play, 55-yard drive was keyed by a 49-yard strike from quarterback Kurtis Rourke to Miles Cross on a staple Bobcat play where Rourke pulls up from an option look and throws deep in single coverage. Rourke showed once again that he is one of the more accurate deep passers in the FBS with an absolute strike to Cross. Running back Sieh Bangura, who was questionable to play prior to kickoff, cashed it in for six on a one-yard run. Bangura would lead all rushers with 145 yards on the day.
After the Bobcats defense forced punts on the first three drives, Miami got things going offensively in the second quarter, a 72-yard drive capped by a five-yard pass from quarterback Brett Gabbert to receiver Mac Hippenhammer. A key play on the drive was a targeting call that bailed the RedHawks out of a third-and-14 near midfield.
In the first half, Miami continued the effective defense it showed all season, holding the Bobcats to just three points on two second quarter drives deep into RedHawks territory where Ohio ran an incredible 25 total plays. The first Bobcat drive was thwarted by back-to-back negative plays which forced a 40-yard field goal attempt which was missed.
The Bobcats closed out the second quarter with a 25-yard field goal by Nathanial Vakos after a 67-yard drive. The key play for Miami was a tackle-for-loss by defensive lineman Brian Ugwu in the redzone which forced a third and long which Ohio could not convert. Ugwu had some other big plays, adding a sack in the fourth quarter.
Ohio also played very good team defense most of the first half allowing only 113 yards offense and seven points.
The game took a major turn in the third quarter where the offenses took center stage after a defensive struggle in the first half.
The key strategy in the second half was the Bobcats turning to its rushing game. After recording just 19 yards rushing in the first half, Ohio rolled up 174 rushing yards in the second half, dominating the sticks and time of possession. Time and time again, Ohio’s offensive line made effective blocks, with tackles Jay Amburgey and Shedrick Rhodes Jr. manning the outside while guards Kurt Danneker and Hagen Meservy and center Parker Titsworth dominated the interior.
The Bobcats’ opened the second half with a 13-play, 76-yard drive capped on a 13-yard dump off to outlet Sieh Bangura. Ohio rushed for 63 yards and bled half the time off the third quarter clock on this drive.
Gabbert answered quickly though on a three-play, 76-yard drive that took just over a minute. Mac Hippenhammer made short work of the Ohio secondary on a 37-yard strike from Gabbert. Hippenhammer had his biggest game of the year finishing eight catches for 107 yards and three touchdown receptions.
The scoring continued furiously as the Bobcats answered to extend its lead back to 24-14 on a 48-yard touchdown from Rourke to wideout Jacoby Jones, who used a quick move on a short pass to find the crease and race for six.
The Bobcats help turn the game in its favor with deal two key drives, one defensively and one offensively. Miami drove deep into Ohio territory but were turned away scoreless on a 4th and five on a stop on a screen by Ohio linebacker Keye Thompson.
Ultimately, Miami’s defense just wore down as the fourth quarter as Ohio continued to possess the ball, this time a 10-play, 67-yard drive. Ohio wideout Jacoby Jones finished the drive with a circus catch in the corner of the endzone for a ten-yard score and a 31-14 lead.
Miami had one last chance to get back in it with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter and a 34-21 deficit, but the Ohio defense rose to the occasion for a late stop as it has done multiple times this season to close out a game. The key play was made by cornerback Justin Birchette who batted the ball down in single coverage to deny Gabbert a deep completion.
Although the Bobcats dominated with the ground game in the second half, Ohio’s passing game put up stellar numbers again. Kurtis Rourke completed 71 percent of his passes for 363 yards and three touchdowns. The three touchdown passes by Kurtis Rourke gives him 24 on the season, surpassing his brother Nathan for second most in a season.
Ohio showed the depth of its receiving corps as Miles Cross had a breakout game with six catches for 133 yards, while the ‘Cat’s offense as a whole made a statement on the game against a very good Miami defense, totaling 200 yards and 17 points more than Miami had allowed on average coming into the game.
The MACtion resumes apace next week, as Ohio travels to Ball State while Miami looks to keep its bowl hopes alive against a struggling Northern Illinois squad