Ohio (1-1) got their first win of the season by riding the offensive line and a stout, opportunistic defense to victory over LIU (0-1).
The ‘Cats started the contest with four offensive skill position starters in street clothes including QB Kurtis Rourke. With backup QB CJ Harris at the helm, the ‘Cats moved the ball systematically down the field on the opening drive, leaning on the run while sprinkling in a few passes to start the scoring with a 24-yard Gianni Spetic.
The first-drive formula worked the rest of the first half with Ohio running behind an offensive line that dominated LIU’s front seven more times than not. While perhaps having some RPO opportunities, the Bobcats had only five pass attempts in the first half while scoring 17 points.
LIU was not without its moments in the first half, adeptly moving the ball on their first drive under QB Luca Stanzani by mounting an eight-minute drive deep into Bobcat territory but were unable to capitalize, missing a 31-yard field goal.
The Sharks did capitalize on a Bobcat fumble with 20 seconds left in the first half near midfield by moving the ball into position for a Mike Coney 41-yard field goal.
In between the Sharks first and last drive of the first half, the Bobcats dominated on the ground with back-to-back touchdown drives involving only two passes. The first drive was orchestrated by QB Harris with multiple option runs to the boundary, capped by a three-yard pass to Tyler Walton.
Third-string QB Parker Navarro returned after missing most of 2022 to guide the next drive, rushing for 29 yards then finishing the drive with a nine-yard touchdown pass to TE Bryce Butler.
On most drives in the first half, the Bobcats offense did not seem to be in a rush, routinely winding down the clock to around five seconds before snapping the ball.
Ohio started the second half where they left off the first, scoring their third touchdown of the contest in less than five minutes. The ground game to that point had been so effective that, even when the running back or quarterback turned the wrong way on play action, the Ohio receiver was wide open, as Navarro hit freshman TE Mason Williams for a 32-yard score.
The Bobcats took a 27-3 lead into the middle of the fourth quarter when misfortune struck for Ohio on back-to-back drives. Moving down the field, a Navarro pass was intercepted by Shark DE Eric O’Neill on a tip drill. On the ensuing series, Ohio’s starting nickel defender Adonis Williams Jr. was injured and carted off the field with no official word on what appeared to be a leg injury.
LIU scored on the drive with a 15-yard strike from Stanzani to wideout Davon Wells to round out the scoring at 27-10
Ohio’s defense was solid all afternoon, with Bobcat offensive turnovers leading to the only two scores surrendered on the day.
Bobcat linebacker Bryce Houston continued to make an early case for MAC defensive MVP with 11 tackles, a sack, and a nifty interception.
The game included a number of Bobcats firsts, including the first career touchdowns for backup tight ends Butler and Williams as well as the first career interception by safety Austin Brawley.
Ohio finished the day with 200 yards rushing, led by Sieh Bangura who had 107 yards on 19 carries.
CJ Harris finished completing seven of eight passes for 44 yards and a score while rushing for 28 yards.
The Sharks battled hard throughout the contest and their best players stood out. Defensive end Eric O’Neill, a preseason nominee for FCS Player of The Year, was every bit as good as advertised, leading LIU with 13 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss, a sack and an interception.
LIU QB Luca Stanzani threw a couple of picks but otherwise showed a lot of accuracy and good decision making on the day, finishing with 21-33 for 172 yards and a touchdown. Several of the incompletions were catchable passes.
The Bobcats return to action next Saturday, taking on the Florida Atlantic Owls in Boca Raton for a 6 p.m. ET matchup on ESPN+, while the Sharks travel to Rhode Island to take on the Bryant Bulldogs, also at 6:00pm ET on ESPN+.