The Ohio Bobcats (2-2) got back to even on the season despite the valiant efforts of the Fordham Rams in a thrilling comeback win, getting the plays they needed late in the going to take home a 59-52 win at the triple zeroes to conclude their non-conference slate.
Ultimately, QB Kurtis Rourke’s record-setting passing day and some late defense helped the ‘Cats get the win.
Going into the contest, we thought the Bobcats would be focused on starting faster while eliminating the errors that plagued help stake Iowa State to an early second quarter 24-point lead.
Ohio looked like they may get their wish with an impressive first quarter.
Ohio’s first drive went just about exactly to plan. Ohio took the opening kickoff and moved 75 yards in 14 plays, running 7:38 seconds off the clock. The drive leaned heavily on RB Nolan McCormack, who, filling in for starter Sieh Bangura, had 32 yards. After McCormack had the attention of the defense, Rourke pulled the ball from McCormack and ran around right end for an easy one-yard score.
Ohio’s defense then did its thing, forcing a punt on a bend-don’t-break sequence where the Rams got 35 yards but were ultimately stopped on a sack by defensive tackle Rayyan Buell.
The ensuing Rams punt pinned Ohio inside its three-yard line for what feels like an NCAA record number of times in the last two seasons. This was a good play by Rams special teams, who were able to control the ball before it bounced into the end zone.
Rouke and company shook off the starting field position, marching 99-yards on five plays, capped by a 39-yard pass on a busted coverage for a touchdown to tight end Tyler Foster. The score was Foster’s second in as many weeks.
As the teams entered the second quarter, Ohio’s hopes for a polished effort quickly faded, as defensive breakdowns in the secondary lead to easy scores, while penalties hampered the offensive efforts, with 11 penalties for 111 yards on the day in a closely-officiated contest.
The Rams got on the board on a 33-yard pass on a busted coverage, with QB Tim DeMorat hitting a wide-open WR Folis Kokosioulis for what would be the first of eight-straight scores by Fordham.
Kokosioulis torched the Bobcat secondary for the rest of the afternoon, finishing with 12 catches, 316 yards, and four touchdowns. The former NIU Huskie was all-around impressive, also pulling an interception away from All-MAC safety Tariq Drake later in the contest.
The teams traded multiple scores, with good QB play by Rourke helping the Bobcats overcome multiple holding penalties to keep pace with Fordham.
The momentum of the game started to swing after the first DeMorat-to-Kokosioulis connection, as the Rams answered every score with score including a busted coverage pass to Kokosioulis for 74-yards.
As the teams went into halftime with Ohio leading 31-21, injuries on Ohio’s side started to mount, as left tackle Jay Amburgey was injured and did not return. Ohio also played the rest of the games with reps going to the sixth running back on the depth chart.
A struggling Ohio defense which was already struggling in the second quarter of play collapsed completely in the third, as missed tackles and the stellar Rams offense combined for four Fordham TDs. Fordham’s offensive play calling and execution in the frame were excellent, mixing pass and run to great effect. QB DeMorat threw for three TDS in the third quarter, finishing the day with 501 yards and an incredible seven TD passes.
One bright spot for the ‘Cats in the third was a 98-yard kickoff return for score by Keegan Wilburn. That was the second big kickoff return for Wilburn on the season as he turned in a 50-yarder against Iowa State last week.
Down 49-38, Ohio’s offense got back in sync in early in the fourth when Tyler Foster made a great stab at a Rourke pass on the sideline, laying out to corral the pass along for the score despite the pass interference on the play.
The score and ensuing two-point conversion was the start of the momentum gradually shifting back in Ohio’s favor, with the offense on track and the defense stiffening.
Ohio’s defense started to slow the Rams, holding them to a field goal on the next drive, spearheaded by a physical tackle by safety Adonis Williams Jr. and a pass break-up by CB Roman Parodie.
The Rams got the ball back on a turnover-on-downs, but were forced to punt as Ohio defensive captain Kai Caesar made a couple of impact plays and Parodie turned in a PBU on a deep throw in single coverage on third down.
Ohio’s luck appeared to have run out down 52-46 with 3:19 left in the game when a hit to Rourke’s passing arm dislodged the ball and was summarily recovered by the Rams at the Bobcat 36-yard line.
The Ohio defense bowed up, and the Rams were unable to get the five-to-ten yards needed to get a FG attempt to put the game out of reach due to a combination of offensive penalties and disciplined defensive play.
Ohio’s offense, led by Rourke, would turn in an inspired performance to take the lead, a nine-play, 77-yard drive capped off with 52 seconds left on a fade to wide receiver Jacoby Jones in the left corner end zone.
The key to the drive were several gutsy plas, with Miles Cross holding on to a sideline pass while absorbing a big hit from the Rams secondary for a gain of 20 yards on third-and-one to get into Fordham territory, and Sam Wiglucz sneaking past the secondary to set up Ohio inside the five-yard line to set up the touchdown to Jones on the next play.
Down 53-52 with under a minute to go, the Rams had a chance at a game-winning drive, but were unable to maintain composure, as the Rams drew a holding call on what appeared to be a Kokosioulis first-down reception near midfield. Fordham head coach Joe Conlin was extremely upset by the call, as the officiating crew had called holding close all day, and threw his headset to the ground while screaming at officials on the field, drawing an additional 15-yard flag to push the offense back inside its own ten yard-line.
The Bobcats sealed the win on the last play of the game, when LB Bryce Houston recovered a fumble that he returned for a TD on a failed hook-and-ladder attempt by the Rams.
Rourke completed a staggering 41-of-50 passes on the day for 537 yards and five total scores (4 pass, 1 rush). His 537 yards passing smashed the Bobcat all-time, single-game record of 409 set by Donny Harrison in 1983. It was also the second time this season Rourke has set a single game passing yards record, as he had the eighth-best effort all-time with his 345 yards against FAU in Week 1.
The Bobcats and Rams begin conference play next week but first will need to take some time to recover from this offensive thriller.