ATHENS, Ohio -- The 1968 Mid-American Conference champion Ohio football team boasted a record-setting offense that's production still ranks prominently in the program's record book.
On a day in which the Bobcats paid homage to the 50th anniversary of that championship squad and donned helmets with the retro logo from that special season, the Ohio offense produced an afternoon that made the champions of yesteryear proud.
Ohio (2-2) exploded for a program-record 664 yards en route to a 58-42 victory over UMass (2-4) today in a Parents Weekend showdown at Peden Stadium. The Bobcats did the bulk of their damage via the ground game, racking up 394 rushing yards. Ohio climbed out of an early 14-0 hole to record the win.
"That was a tough ball game, getting down 14-0 so early," said 14th-year head coach Frank Solich. "I thought our guys did a great job of coming back. It started to get clearer as the game unfolded that we would be able to move the ball with consistency and get points on the board. Then it became a question if it was going to be enough points on the board because they were moving the ball equally as well. Being down 14-0 and coming back showed a lot. I'm proud of guys for what they got accomplished on that end of it. Defensively, we weren't playing very well. We started applying pressure in the second half, and particularly the fourth quarter, which made a big difference in the outcome of the game. Once we didn't allow the quarterback to just sit back there, it helped us and caused them some problems. We got a 15-yard penalty out of a blitz, interception out of a blitz, sack on fourth down out of a blitz. We have a pretty fast football team on the defensive side of it. I think moving people like that seemed to be a good thing for us."
Junior quarterback Nathan Rourke (Oakville, Ontario, Canada) got the job done with both his arms and his legs, rushing for a career-high 189 yards and a touchdown on 16 attempts. He also passed for 270 yards and three touchdowns, going 27-of-32 through the air with one interception. Redshirt senior running back Maleek Irons (Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada) rumbled for a career-high 140 yards and matched his career high with two rushing touchdowns on 13 carries. Redshirt senior running back A.J. Ouellette (Covington, Ohio) finished with 70 yards on 12 touches and scored a touchdown. Redshirt senior wide receiver Papi White (Seminole, Okla.) produced another solid effort, catching six passes for 84 yards and setting a new career high with two touchdown receptions.
The Bobcats overcame a rocky start to the contest. UMass struck first on the sixth play of the game's opening drive as redshirt senior quarterback Andrew Ford found senior wide receiver Andy Isabella for a 39-yard touchdown pass near the right pylon. The Minutemen took a two-touchdown lead when junior cornerback Isaiah Rodgers picked off Rourke on Ohio's first drive and ran the interception back 55 yards for a score.
The Bobcats got on the board with 6:23 left in the first quarter. Rourke completed a 15-yard pass to White, then found redshirt sophomore wide receiver Cameron Odom (Bedford, Ohio) for a 23-yard gain three plays later to put the ball on the UMass 22 yard line. Two plays later, Rourke connected with White again -- this time for a 19-yard touchdown -- to help cut Ohio's deficit to 14-7.
UMass extended its lead to 21-7 on the next drive. Aided by a roughing the passer penalty that put the Minutemen on the Ohio 37, redshirt senior quarterback Ross Comis threw a 37-yard touchdown to Isabella on the next play.
Rourke got Ohio's ensuing drive started with a 10-yard completion to redshirt senior wide receiver Andrew Meyer (Canal Winchester, Ohio). Three plays later, Rourke turned a 3rd-and-1 into a 34-yard gain, breaking multiple tackles to move the ball to the UMass 15. Ouellette then ran the ball 13 yards down to the two. On the next play, Rourke kept it himself and scored a touchdown to help cut the UMass lead to 21-14.
After forcing UMass to go three-and-out, the Bobcats marched 44 yards in five plays. A 10-yard run by Rourke and a 12-yard completion from Rourke to White set the table for a 16-yard touchdown run up the middle by Irons, helping Ohio even the score up at 21-all.
The Bobcats forced the Minutemen to punt again, then drove 88 yards in eight plays en route to taking a 28-21 lead with 7:52 left in the half. The drive began with a 23-yard pass from Rourke to Meyer, followed by Irons ripping off a 23-yard run. On 3rd-and-9 from the UMass 41, Rourke found Odom along the sideline for a gain of 10. Irons then gave Ohio a 1st-and-goal at the nine when he picked up 22 more yards on the ground. Two plays later, Rourke hit White for a 12-yard touchdown pass.
UMass went for it on fourth down twice on the next drive and converted both times. On a 4th-and-3 from his own 45, Ford completed a five-yard pass to Isabella. Five plays later, Ford completed an eight-yard pass on 4th-and-8 to junior wide receiver Sadiq Palmer to give the Minutemen a first down at the Ohio 38. The fourth-down conversion marked the first of four-straight completed passes from Ford to Palmer, with the last resulting in a four-yard touchdown to help UMass tie it at 28-all.
Ohio took the lead back with one last scoring drive before halftime, with the Bobcats driving 78 yards in nine plays. Rourke opened the drive up with a 13-yard completion to Meyer, then ripped off a 20-yard run two plays later. After UMass was flagged for an illegal substitution to put the ball on the UMass 44, Rourke moved the chains with another completion to Meyer -- this one going for nine yards. The Bobcats called a timeout with nine seconds left after Rourke found Cox for a 16-yard gain. On the next play, Rourke completed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Ouellette to put Ohio back in front.
The Bobcats extended their lead to 42-28 on the first drive of the second half. Rourke tucked it and ran 18 yards on the first play. After Rourke completed an eight-yard pass to Brown three plays later, Ouellette rumbled 49 yards for a touchdown.
The Minutemen responded on their first drive of the half, though, with Ford throwing a 55-yard touchdown strike to Isabella on the first play to make it a one-score game.
Ohio went up by 10 when redshirt junior kicker Louie Zervos (Tarpon Springs, Fla.) capped off the next drive with a 36-yard field goal that was set up by a 41-yard run down to the 41 by Irons.
After the Ohio defense forced Ford to throw an incomplete pass on 4th-and-6 that was intended for Isabella, the Bobcats extended their lead to 52-35 on the next drive. Irons gained 27 yards on the ground and then caught a seven-yard pass from Rourke. Rourke picked up 12 more yards rushing and followed it up with a 12-yard completion to White. Irons then plowed in from six yards out to make it a 17-point lead for Ohio with just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Ohio's defense put a stop to the next UMass drive with back-to-back sacks on third and fourth down. Redshirt senior defensive lineman Kent Berger (Mentor, Ohio) sacked Ford on third down for a loss of six, then redshirt freshman defensive lineman Amos Ogun-Semore (Dacula, Ga.) and redshirt junior defensive lineman Sam McKnight (Cleveland Heights, Ohio) teamed up to sack Ford on fourth down.
A 31-yard completion from Rourke to redshirt senior tight end Connor Brown (Miamisburg, Ohio) on the ensuing drive helped set up a 22-yard field goal by Zervos to make it a 20-point contest with just over 10 minutes to go.
The Minutemen retaliated with a six-play, 70-yard drive that resulted in a 19-yard touchdown pass from Ford to freshman wide receiver Samuel Emilus, cutting the Ohio lead down to 13 with just under 12 minutes to go.
The Bobcats were forced to punt for the first and only time during their next drive. Ford completed a 26-yard pass to Palmer on 2nd-and-20 to put the ball on the Ohio 44 for UMass, but he was intercepted two play later by redshirt junior safety Javon Hagan (Jacksonville, Fla.) to end the threat.
Ohio sealed the win with a seven-play, 64-yard drive that ended with Zervos knocking down his third field goal of the day -- this one from 25 yards out.
Ford finished 27-of-38 for 355 yards, four touchdowns and one interception for the Minutemen. Isabella hauled in 12 catches for 198 yards and three touchdowns while Palmer logged eight receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown. Ohio's defense limited UMass to just 41 rushing yards.
Senior linebacker Evan Croutch (Youngstown, Ohio) paced Ohio's defense with eight total tackles (seven solo, two assisted) and tied for the team lead with two pass breakups while sophomore cornerback Marlin Brooks (Miami, Fla.) contributed six total tackles (five solo, two assisted) -- including a sack and two tackles for loss.
Rodgers piled up a game-high 12 tackles for UMass (11 solo, two assisted) -- including two for loss.
Ohio opens up MAC play with a trip to Dix Stadium next Saturday (Oct. 6) to clash with Kent State (1-4, 0-1 MAC) in an East Division battle. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m., and the contest will be streamed live on ESPN+.