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Ohio Football Blasts Ball State Behind Dominant Rushing Attack

Ohio Football Blasts Ball State Behind Dominant Rushing Attack

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ATHENS, Ohio – The Ohio football team (5-3, 3-1 MAC) racked up 411 rushing yards in a dominant 52-14 victory over Mid-American Conference West Division foe Ball State (3-6, 2-3 MAC) tonight in the annual Blackout Game at Peden Stadium.

The Bobcats' 411 yards via the ground game marked the eighth-most in a single game in program history and the most since Ohio piled up 414 rushing yards in a 38-21 win over Ball State on Oct. 22, 2005. Ohio scored six rushing touchdowns, the program's most in a single game since scoring six in a 47-7 rout at Eastern Michigan on Oct. 4, 1997. In all, the Bobcats piled up 554 total yards of offense and scored on eight-straight possessions.

Redshirt senior running back A.J. Ouellette (Covington, Ohio) broke the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time in the 2018 campaign, racking up a game-high 135 yards on 13 carries and scoring two touchdowns. Redshirt senior running back Maleek Irons (Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada) picked up 102 yards of 16 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns. Junior quarterback Nathan Rourke (Oakville, Ontario, Canada) rushed for 77 yards and a pair of touchdowns while going 11-of-19 for 127 yards, a touchdown and an interception through the air.

The Ohio defense limited the opposition to just 14 points for the second week in a row. The Bobcats held Ball State to just 242 total yards of offense -- the lowest output by an Ohio opponent in 2018. Ball State did not managed just one first down over the second and third quarters. Ohio tallied 63 total tackles, with redshirt junior safety Javon Hagan (Jacksonville, Fla.) leading the Bobcats with five total tackles (two solo, three assisted). Redshirt sophomore Ilyaas Motley (Centerville, Ohio) recorded a team-high two tackles for loss -- including the first sack of his career. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Jared Dorsa (Kings Mills, Ohio) notched his first career interception while redshirt sophomore linebacker Dylan Conner (Fort Wayne, Ind.) and redshirt junior wide receiver DL Knock (Springboro, Ohio) both recorded their first career fumble recoveries. Sophomore cornerback Marlin Brooks (Miami, Fla.) forced his second career fumble. 

"We got our ground game going, and they were not able to stop that, and when that happens, you're usually a tough team to beat," said 14th-year head coach Frank Solich. "So, we didn't really need to highlight our receivers much in this game, but as far as our running backs, offensive line, the defense played really well."

Ohio turned the ball over on its second drive of the contest, which led to the first score of the game for Ball State. Ouellette picked up 24 yards on the ground, but Rourke was picked off by Ball State sophomore linebacker Christian Albright, giving the Cardinals the ball at the 50 yard line. A 32-yard pass from redshirt junior quarterback Riley Neal to sophomore wide receiver Justin Hall on the first play of the ensuing drive gave Ball State a fresh set of downs at the Ohio 20. A four-yard run by redshirt junior running back James Gilbert on 3rd-and-4 made it a 1st-and-goal for Ball State at the 10. A false start pushed the Cardinals back to the Ohio 18, but Neal threw an 18-yard touchdown to redshirt junior wide receiver Riley Miller to third down to help Ball State land the first strike.

The Bobcats answered back with an eight-play, 70-yard drive. Rourke followed up a seven-yard completion to redshirt senior wide receiver Papi White (Seminole, Okla.) on the first play of the drive with a 37-yard run to the Ball State 20. The Bobcats then called the number of Irons on five-straight plays, which resulted in the gain of 25 yards on the ground. His last run of six yards went for a touchdown and helped Ohio even the score with the Cardinals.

After forcing Ball State to go three-and-out, Ohio drove back down the field and into scoring position. An eight-yard completion from Rourke to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Cameron Odom (Bedford, Ohio), a seven-yard run by Rourke and a 22-yard run by Irons moved the ball to the Ball State 33. Ohio's drive stalled at the six after White picked up five yards on a pass from Rourke, but redshirt junior kicker Louie Zervos (Tarpon Springs, Fla.) connected on a 23-yard field goal to give the Bobcats a 10-7 lead with just under 10 minutes to play in the first half.

Ohio forced the Cardinals to cough the ball up on the ensuing drive. Neal completed a 12-yard pass to Miller, but Brooks dislodged the ball from Miller's grasp, with Conner recovering for the Bobcats at the Ball State 40. Ouellette picked up 13 yards on first down for Ohio. Three plays later, Rourke kept it himself for a gain of seven. A targeting call on Ball State redshirt freshman safety Myles Hannah at the end of the play gave the Bobcats a 1st-and-goal at the nine. Ouellette capitalized for Ohio on the next play, plowing into the end zone to help extend the Bobcats' lead to 17-7.

The Bobcats scored on a fourth-straight drive to extend their lead to 24-7 late in the first half. After Ohio's defense forced Ball State to punt again, the Bobcats marched 56 yards in eight plays. Rourke completed passes of 10 yards to redshirt senior wide receiver Andrew Meyer (Canal Winchester, Ohio) and nine yards to Ouellette. Ouellette rushed for 28 yards on the drive while Irons added seven more. That set up a 1st-and-goal at the two, with Rourke keeping it himself and crossing the goal line. 

The Cardinals quickly went three-and-out again, giving Ohio the ball back with 31 seconds left in the half. After completing an eight-yard pass to Odom and keeping it himself for a gain of seven, Rourke connected with redshirt freshman wide receiver Isiah Cox (Jasper, Ala.) for a 24-yard gain down to the Ball State 21. After the Bobcats called a timeout with 11 seconds remaining, Rourke threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Meyer to help send Ohio into halftime with a 31-7 advantage. 

Ohio received the second-half kickoff and marched right back down the field, moving 74 yards in 10 plays. Rourke, Irons and Ouellette combined to gain 51 of the 74 yards on the ground, with a three-yard touchdown run by Rourke capping off the drive and helping to extend the Ohio advantage to 31 points. Rourke scored two rushing touchdowns in a game for the first time this season and ninth time in his career.

After Ball State was forced to punt again, Ohio wasted little time getting back in the end zone, as Ouellette scampered 44 yards for a touchdown on the second play of the ensuing drive. Ouellette scored multiple rushing touchdowns in a game for the second time in 2018 and has already matched his rushing touchdown total from the 2017 season with seven so far this year.

Ohio's defense forced another Ball State turnover on the next drive as redshirt freshman defensive lineman Amos Ogun-Semore (Dacula, Ga.) pressured redshirt sophomore quarterback Drew Plitt into throwing a pass that was picked off by Dorsa and returned 16 yards to the Cardinals' 11. Four plays later, Irons scored his second rushing touchdown of the night -- this one from a yard out -- to help push Ohio's advantage to 52-7. The contest marked the third time this season Irons has scored multiple rushing touchdowns.

The Cardinals managed a second touchdown with 2:53 to play in the fourth quarter when Plitt kept it himself and scored an eight-yard rushing touchdown.

Plitt, who came on in relief of an injured Neal in the second quarter, finished 9-of-17 for 86 yards and an interception for Ball State. Neal went 7-of-15 for 76 yards and a touchdown. Gilbert led the Cardinals on the ground with 52 yards on nine touches. 

Ohio will look to run its winning streak to three in a row next Thursday (Nov. 1) when it travels to Kalamazoo, Mich., for a 7 p.m. matchup against MAC West Division foe Western Michigan (6-3, 4-1 MAC) at Waldo Stadium. The contest will be nationally televised on either ESPNU or CBS Sports Network.

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