The Ohio Bobcats (2-1) traveled down to Boca Raton on Saturday afternoon and took down the Florida Atlantic Owls in their own house by a final score of 17-10.
Returning a lot of the players from a 2022 battle that saw 79 points and almost 1,000 yards gained, the teams flipped the script in tonight’s rematch, engaging in a defensive struggle where only 10 offensive points were scored in the first half and 20 were scored over the whole contest (with one pick-six mixed in for good measure.) By comparison, the teams scored 35 points combined in the fourth quarter alone last year.
What a difference a year makes.
The contest had a rocky start with bad weather, flaring tempers, penalty flags flying, and a pair of turnovers.
The game’s start was delayed 30 minutes due to weather, but once the teams took the field, the opening kickoff went through the endzone and both sides were called for offsetting personal fouls.
QB Kurtis Rourke returned after missing most of the first two games but his first pass was intercepted on a nifty, juggling catch by linebacker Jackson Ambush.
With FAU looking at first-and-10 at Ohio’s 35-yard line, the ‘Cats defense did what it did throughout the first half, ending serious offensive threats with little or no damage. On FAU’s first offensive play, Ohio’s defense returned the favor on an interception by safety Austin Brawley, his second in three games in 2023.
The interception was a clean play where unusual timing of a sandwich hit by Brawley and cornerback Justin Birchette jarred the ball from Owls’ wideout Je’Quan Burton which was cradled by Brawley on the ground. Burton appeared significantly shaken up on the play without official word on his condition. Burton was eventually able to walk to the cart where he left the field not to return.
The Bobcats offense settled in somewhat but were not able to score until late in the first half owing to some stalled drives and a stingy very Owls defense.
In the first quarter, Ohio moved the ball but missed on a 44-yard field goal, kicker Alex Kasee’s first career attempt.
Ohio got the ball again after a quick punt by the Owls but could not capitalize on an eleven-play, 44-yard drive that came up one yard short of a first down when FAU Dwight Toombs stopped the Ohio tight end in his tracks just shy of the marker.
Ohio’s defense ground the Owls offense into dust in the first quarter, shutting down three drives with a total of 26 yards gain and no first downs.
As the teams played through the second quarter, Ohio turned the ball over twice with the defense minimizing the damage on one of the two miscues.
‘Cats running back Sieh Bangura fumbled the ball, which was recovered by FAU at the Ohio 25. The Bobcats limited the Owls to 13 yards after the freebie, and Logan Lupo would kick off the scoring with a field goal from 37 yards out to put FAU up 3-0.
Later in the second quarter, disaster struck again for Ohio, as a wet ball caromed off of normally sure-handed Ohio’s Tyler Walton and corralled alertly by FAU defensive back Jarron Morris for a 72-yard pick six and a 10-0 lead.
Unfazed by adversity, late in the first half, the Bobcats offense started clicking, putting together an eleven-play, 75-yard drive for its first touchdown. The drive was capped on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Rourke to tight end Will Kacmarek where the ‘Cat QB bought time by sliding around with Kacmarek snaring the ball out of the air in tight coverage.
In the second half, Ohio’s offensive grinding gained traction, ultimately wearing down the Owls defense just enough to win the contest.
Ohio ultimately engineered two key second-half drives, totaling 10 plays and 118 yards. The first resulted in a five-yard rushing touchdown by O’Shaan Allison and the second a 39-yard field goal by freshman Alex Kasee, the first of his Ohio career.
Meanwhile, the Bobcats’ defense absolutely befuddled the Owls offense in the second half, not allowing a point on six second half drives.
Key to one of the six stops was an interception by JUCO transfer Tank Pearson, his first of his Bobcat career.
Despite the offensive struggles, the Owls had a chance to tie the game late when FAU’s LaJonhtay Webster’s 29-yard punt return gave the Owl’s offense possession at the Ohio 42 with under a minute left. The Owls set up a shot in the endzone on the game’s final play but the throw sailed harmlessly out of the left corner of the end zone.
It would be hard to overstate the dominant team defensive show the ‘Cats put on in this one as no better performance against a quality opponent on the road in the last several seasons comes to mind. The Owls came into the contest after reeling off almost 500 yards and 44 points against Monmouth (FCS) in week one but finished tonight’s contest with 185 total yards including a paltry five net yards rushing.
The Owls battled hard and had its share of standouts. Defensively, linebackers Eddie Williams and Jackson Ambush led the charge with a combined for 19 tackles.
FAU’s wideout LaJohntay Webster showed why he is such a threat, combining for 130 all-purpose yards including 12 receptions for 101 yards.
Kurtis Rourke played better than his stats suggest, completing 62 percent of his passes for 203 yards and one touchdown and two interceptions, while adding 26 more yards on the ground.
Meanwhile, the Owls star QB Casey Thompson finished the night completing 53 percent of his throws for 180 yards and two interceptions.
The Bobcats return to action next Saturday at noon Eastern time to host the Iowa State Cyclones. Meanwhile, FAU heads to Clemson for a primetime matchup, with kickoff next Saturday scheduled for 8 p.m. Eastern time.