It was a beautiful Saturday night for football in the Midwest, and the Ohio Bobcats (1-0) and Florida Atlantic Owls (1-1) made sure to give the assembled fans at the newly-cristened Frank Solich Field at Peden Stadium a show they won’t be forgetting any time soon, as the Bobcats won a barnburner over the Owls by the final score of 41-38.
The FAU Owls came out high-flying, taking the first possession of the game the length of the field on a 10-play, 75-yard drive over the first 3:50 of game time and converting it for a touchdown on a N’Kosi Perry pass to Je’Quan Burton from 20 yards out to go up 7-0.
After going three-and-out, Ohio’s Jonah Wieland would trot on to punt for the Bobcats, but FAU returner LaJohntay Wester muffed the catch on a tricky ball, and Justin Holloway rushed into recover the ball, giving the drive new life. Nathanial Vakos would hit from 29 yards out to put Ohio on the board, down 7-3.
FAU would once again do what they liked offensively on the next drive, though this go-around the Ohio defense was able to bend enough to ensure it was only a field goal to cap an 11-play, 68-yard drive to put the Owls up 10-3 with 2:50 to go first quarter.
The Bobcats struck back at the start of the second quarter, with Ohio State transfer Sam Wiglusz coming in the clutch twice on the drive with a 30-yarder on third-and-seven and a six-yard scoring strike on a tunnel screen play to get Ohio tied up at 10-all with 14:13 to go in the first half, capping off a nine-play, 75-yard drive.
As was the pattern, the Owls pulled down yet another 11-play drive, this time for 73 yards, en route to a wide-open 16-yard touchdown pass from Perry to Jahman Edrine to push the score to 17-10 FAU.
The two teams would stymie one another until the 1:24 mark of the second quarter, when Ohio’s Nathanial Vakos converted another short field goal to get the ‘Cats to 17-13 just before the break.
In what was perhaps the most key stretch of the game, Ohio took possession first in the third quarter, taking up 4:21 of the game clock to record their longest drive of the night on an 11-play, 87-yard drive ending in another Wiglusz touchdown, this time from five yards out, to put the ‘Cats ahead 20-17.
They would add two more touchdowns on their next two possessions, with Miles Cross putting Ohio up 27-17 on a one-yard catch, and Kurtis Rourke calling his own number on a two-yard scamper to push the lead further out to 34-17 with 12:20 remaining.
The Rourke score was set up by a Rodney Matthews sack fumble of N’Kosi Perry, which Bryce Houston recovered and returned to the FAU 29 to set up the drive.
That’s where the fireworks would begin, as FAU settled down after a series of bad possessions and scored on a nine-yard pass from Perry to Tony Johnson to end a seven-play, 75-yard drive lasting just under two minutes. That cut the lead down to 34-24, and stopped the 24-point unanswered streak the Bobcats had built up.
Unfortunately for the Owls, the Bobcats would go back to their scoring ways on the ensuing drive, as Kurtis Rourke fooled the defense on an inverted veer look to find James Bostic for a 54-yard reception, Sieh Bangura would spin cycle his way into a 16-yard run, and Rourke and Bostic would connect a second time from 15 yards out to go up 41-24 with just 7:10 remaining.
Florida Atlantic would sandwich an Ohio three-and-out with two scores of their own, with two separate seven-yard touchdown passes to Jamhal Edrine and LaJohntay Wester capping their respective drives and pulling the score back to a more managable 41-38 deficit.
The Wester touchdown drive was one engineered by Wester himself on the three-and-out punt, as he took advantage of the sky boot from the endzone, hesitated to let blocks get downfield, and returned the 47-yard punt 41 yards the other way, giving FAU advantageous field position.
The FAU defense bowed up on the next Ohio series, forcing another three-and-out and possessing the punt at their own 16-yard line— after a holding penalty was called on the returning team.
That left about 1:36 on the board for the Owls to come back, but after some initial successes with a 12-yard pass to Je’Quan Burton and Jahmal Edrine, N’Kosi Perry was stifled on his next four attempts, with the final throw of the contest broken up by Ohio’s emergent Roman Parodie.
The win is the first for Ohio in the month of September since Sept. 29, 2018, when they took down UMass by a score of 58-42. The ‘Cats had gone 0-7 since their last September win prior to tonight’s contest.
It was also the first opening week win for head coach Tim Albin, who took over the program from Frank Solich in 2021.
It was a coronoation game for Kurtis Rourke, brother of former Bobcat legend Nathan, as the Ontarian went 27-of-34 for 345 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, while also picking up a rushing score.
James Bostic led all receivers on the day with 136 yards and a touchdown on six receptions, while debutante receiver Sam Wigluscz made his presence felt with two touchdowns on 59 yards and five receptions. Ty Walton also had a key performance in a drive which resulted in points, finishing with six catches for 64 yards.
Sieh Bangura broke the 100-yard barrier in his first game as a lead back in 2022, with 114 yards on 23 carries.
Defensively for the ‘Cats, safety Ben Johnson was all over the field, with 14 tackles on the day even despite his ejection about halfway through the fourth quarter. Jack McCrory was also an asset for the defense, with seven tackles, one tackle-for-loss and a sack.
Kicker Nathanial Vakos was 2-of-2 on field goals from 29 and 36 yards, while punter Jonah Wieland had five punts for 221 net yards, including two inside-the-20 punts and a long of 51 yards.
Florida Atlantic had a quietly good performance despite the circumstances, with QB N’Kosi Perry, the former Miami [FL] product, finishing the day 23-of-41 for 346 yards and five touchdowns, with no interceptions.
Je’Quan Burton paced the owns with 115 yards on just five receptions, scoring once. Fellow receiver Jahmal Edrine led all receivers in receptions (eight), while pulling in 87 yards and two touchdowns. Tony Johnson and LaJohntay Wester also had touchdowns on the day.
The FAU run game was fairly limited, with Larry McCammon picking up just 60 yards on 14 attempts. Perry (32 yards) and Zuberi Mosley (19) eeked out some yards to get the Owls attack over the 100 mark threshold.
Owls linebacker Eddie Williams led all tacklers (15 total), while also picking up two tackles-for-loss and a sack. Cornerback Jayden Williams was a fellow double-digit tackler (11), while defensive back Romain Mungin had five tackles, 1.5 tackles-for-loss and a sack.
Riley Thompson had four punts for FAU, totaling 155 yards, including two inside-the-20, while Morgan Suarez was good on his only attempt of the day from 24 yards out.
Next week, Ohio will take on a tough noon matchup against Penn State on national television on Saturday, Sept. 10.
The FAU Owls, meanwhile, will host Southeastern Louisiana in Boca Raton for an evening contest on Saturday, Sept. 10 at 6 p.m. Eastern time.