The Ohio Bobcats (6-2, 3-1 MAC) became bowl-eligible with a home win over the Western Michigan Broncos (2-6, 1-3 MAC) by a final score of 20-17.
The ‘Cats bounced back from a shaky performance against Northern Illinois with the win, but it wasn’t pretty at times. The Ohio offense still has some kinks to work out, but they survived today.
Western Michigan took the opening kick off, bobbling it before recovering it inside the 20, and finally gave Hayden Wolff his first start of the season. It led to a prompt three-and-out. The most interesting call of the first drive was giving defensive end Marshawn Kneeland the carry on third-and-one. He was stacked up immediately and looked like a player not used to carrying the football.
After a punt, Ohio started their march down the field. Starting from their own 33-yard line, they ran 12 plays and covered 54 yards to take the early lead when they kicked a short field goal. Tight end Will Kacmarek had two catches on the drive for 32 yards, but wasn't targeted during the goal-to-go sequence.
The Broncos caught the kickoff this time and had a decent return to their own 29 to start their next drive. Western was moving the ball in chunks until they got into scoring position. A negative play knocked the Broncos off schedule and a checkdown on third-and-13 meant the Broncos attempted a rare field goal. Palmer Domschke doinked the right upright and the Broncos came up empty.
For the next six combined drives, when either team ran into a third down, the drive ended.
The Broncos did have one drive that could have been the difference in the game if it wasn’t for very sloppy and silly penalties after a first-and-goal opportunity that started on the Ohio six-yard line. They went Wildcat on the first play and drew a false start penalty. Then a holding penalty dropped them back to the 21-yard line. A personal foul for taunting after second-down play pushed the Broncos further back, this time to the 29-yard line. This key sequnce, which started at the Ohio six-yard line, ultimately ending in a missed field goal by Palmer Domschke.
After trading punts and getting runs stuffed on fourth downs once each, Western Michigan had the ball on their own 14 with just over two minutes left before halftime. The Broncos were moving the ball forward slowly, but steadily and with the help of a roughing the passer. They converted their first third-down of the game and had the ball at the Ohio 39. Then Ohio made the first big play of the day.
TANNKKKKKKKKK! INTERCEPTION! IT'S OHIO BALL ‼️— Ohio Football (@OhioFootball) October 21, 2023
Tank Pearson intercepted a poorly thrown ball from Wolff and gave Ohio a chance before halftime.
Sam Wiglusz took the game over starting with this drive. After finding Miles Cross for 17 yards to start the drive, Kurtis Rourke took a shot from midfield and connected with Wiglusz for 38 yards.
The exceptional diving catch gave the Bobcats a field goal to extend the lead to 6-0 before the break. Western Michigan was the more impressive squad through the first half despite having no points to show for it. The Bronco defense was forcing the Bobcats into passing situations and standing tall in power situations. They had held the Bobcat offense to six points and were 17-point underdogs.
The offense just couldn’t convert any of their three scoring opportunities into points to support their defense.
Ohio opened the second half highlighting Wiglusz. He had three catches for 50 yards on this drive alone, but a nine-yard sack by Joshua Nobles pushed the Bobcats out of comfortable field goal territory. Ohio’s kicker Gianni Spetic doinked a field goal attempt of his own off the left upright and the 6-0 score held.
Western Michigan would hit a big play of their own as the offenses found their stride in the second half. Hayden Wolff found Jalen Buckley on a check-down pass that he took for 49 yards to the Ohio 27. The drive stalled but WMU broke through with a field goal of their own.
Ohio answered immediately with a 75-yard touchdown drive, their best of the day. They covered 45 yards in four plays and then started getting help from the Broncos. A pass interference call moved the ball to the WMU 15-yard line and another pass interference call in the back of the endzone gave Ohio the ball at the two-yard line. Sieh Bangura scored the first touchdown of the game two plays later.
Now down by 10, the Broncos special teams made another good play when Leroy Thomas returned the kick-off 53 yards and into Ohio territory. Wolff found Kenneth Womack for 18 yards and Austin Hence for 20 yards on the next two plays to get a first and goal from the three. The drive almost stalled out because of a holding penalty, but Wolff finished it off himself with a three-yard scramble to the endzone. The Broncos were in a game no one outside the locker room thought they should be.
The Ohio offensive linemen asserted themselves and gave O’Shaan Allison the space to rush for 47 yards on five touches, including this 30-yard rush.
Unfortunately for Ohio, they were done making field goals for the afternoon. The WMU defense would bow up and force a field goal attempt and Spetic would miss the 26-yard attempt.
The Broncos initially completed a ten-yard pass, got the help of a defensive pass interference, but then came up empty. Three straight incompletions ended the drive and Ohio would capitalize with an eight-play, 78-yard drive. Six rushes produced 53 yards and killed clock including this play extended by some poor tackling or ineffective stripping the ball.
Wiglusz provided the dagger with an incredible catch in the back of the endzone.
That put the score officially out of reach. The Broncos would score a touchdown to pull within three but they would not get the ball back. The Bobcats won a clunker but that’s what teams need to do to stay in the race for a division title.
What Decided the Game
The sequence from the last missed field goal to the Sam Wiglusz touchdown is where the Bobcats separated and won the game. For a minute in the fourth quarter, the game seemed to be turning in Western Michigan’s favor.
The Bobcats had just had a drive stall inside the WMU 10, and they missed a chip-shot field goal. The Broncos scored on their last drive and had the ball down three points. If they could have found a way to get in the endzone, the game would be theirs to lose and at worst a back-and-forth affair down the stretch.
The drive ended in a punt after not getting anything going. Ohio’s Torrie Cox Jr. got to Wolff for a sack on second down and an incomplete pass brought out the punt unit.
Even that wasn’t the end of the world, but the Broncos needed a stop. A field goal would be acceptable, but letting the game get to two possessions would cut the margin for error too low for this WMU team.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened. A beautiful throw and catch from Rourke to Wigulsz in the corner of the endzone killed the Broncos' attempt at a late comeback.
Wigulsz in general was too much for the Broncos. His final line was 10 catches for 155 yards and that critical touchdown. He was everywhere making catches. It was big plays like the plays above, but his most common catch was six to 12 yards deep running across the middle of the field. WMU’s linebackers and safeties couldn’t keep up.
Stats That Tell the Story
Whatever happened at halftime worked for both offenses. Thirty-one of the 37 points scored came in the second half and none of it was turnover-aided. Both teams averaged 5.3 yards per play in the first half and those numbers jumped to 7.1 for WMU and 7.0 for Ohio. The yards gained in this game are very even, and without a strong edge for either team in starting field position, this game was remarkably even.
One edge that Ohio earned in the second half was the run game. the Broncos ran the ball 20 times total for 81 yards. It was a struggle to find consistent yards on the ground. The credit for that belongs to the Ohio front seven. They didn’t give the Broncos any running lanes or chunk plays on the ground.
Ohio on the other hand, ran the ball 36 times for 197 yards. Twenty-four of the rushes came in the second half for 167 yards. Sieh Bangura ran 15 times for 86 yards, carrying defenders for extra yards.
It kept the Bobcats on schedule and gave them options on third down. Ohio converted seven of their final nine third-down attempts in the late going, with three of them picked up on the ground.
The Broncos couldn’t match the pace and finished 3-of-11 on third downs. The Ohio defense ushered the offense off the field too many times for the Broncos to have a shot. They had to stay out of third down altogether to score points.
Important Going Forward
Lance Taylor is still enforcing the culture he wants to see in the Bronco program, but the defense extends too many drives for their opponents. They did it today on the drive that ended with the Bangura rushing touchdown, last week against Miami and against Syracuse. It’s really hurt them in the last two weeks. They had opportunities to get off the field in critical moments but instead, spot their opponents more bites at the apple.
The offense looks like it belongs to Wolff now. He made one mistake today and he doesn’t sacrifice too much in quarterback mobility despite being not the most nimble. He ran intentionally three times for 25 yards and a touchdown. That’s about all the offense has asked of any of the quarterbacks so far this season.
Ohio is bowl-eligible and maintains control of its own destiny in the MAC East. Even before the Miami and Toledo game today, the Bobcats will be in first place with a win next Saturday in the Battle for the Bricks.
Speaking of that game, it’s important that the Bobcats made it through the win without major injury losses. A handful of players left the game briefly, including Wiglusz, but almost every one of them made it back into the game. Defensive back Mekah Ryder will miss the first half of their next game due to a targeting penalty on WMU’s final drive.
There are only two games next Saturday as most MAC teams take their bye week to transition into #MACtion on weeknights. Both of these teams play on Saturday. Ohio plays Miami to decide the MAC East, at least for now. The Broncos stay on the road and head to Eastern Michigan to play a game on the gray turf at The Factory.