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Ohio Football Rolls To Victory At Western Michigan, Clinches 10th-Straight Season Of Bowl Eligibility

Ohio Football Rolls To Victory At Western Michigan, Clinches 10th-Straight Season Of Bowl Eligibility

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- Junior quarterback Nathan Rourke (Oakville, Ontario, Canada) threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more, and the defense and special teams combined for six takeaways and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown as the Ohio football team (6-3, 4-1 MAC) rolled to a 59-14 win over Mid-American Conference West Division foe Western Michigan (6-4, 4-2 MAC) tonight at Waldo Stadium.

The victory clinched Ohio's 10th-straight season of bowl eligibility. The Bobcats have now won four of their last five games -- including each of the last three.

"It's coming like we had hoped," said 14th-year head coach Frank Solich. "We would have liked to start a little sooner, but they're really playing well now. They can't wait to get out to practice. They've been that kind of team."

The victory marked Ohio's first over Western Michigan since a 27-20 triumph on Oct. 7, 2006. The Bobcats earned their first win in Kalamazoo since a 37-35 victory on Sept. 26, 1998.

"It's fun to be a part of things like that," said Rourke. "It's fun to be a part of this because I know it's the first win here for a lot the coaches on this staff. This will definitely be a win we remember."

The Bobcats scored 45 first-half points en route to the victory – the most scored in one half during 14th-year head coach Frank Solich's tenure – and matched the high water mark for points scored in a game under Solich with 59. Ohio's offense racked up 420 total yards – including 256 on the ground. 

Ohio has scored at least 50 points in each of the last two contests. The Bobcats beat Ball State, 52-14, last Thursday (Oct. 25) at Peden Stadium. The last time Ohio scored at least 50 points in back-to-back games was 2002.

Rourke was efficient once again, completing 12 of his 14 pass attempts for 149 yards and three scores. He also added 68 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

After Western Michigan freshman kicker Gavin Peddie missed a 39-yard field wide right on the opening drive of the game, Rourke drove the Bobcats right down the field on their first drive. He accounted for all 78 of Ohio's yards, passing for 32 yards and adding 33 more on the ground. He completed passes of 10 and 15 yards to redshirt senior wide receiver Papi White (Seminole, Okla.) and seven yards to redshirt senior wide receiver Andrew Meyer (Canal Winchester, Ohio) and added runs of 15, one and four yards, helping to set Ohio up with a first down at the Western Michigan 26-yard line. Rourke then drew a roughing the passer penalty on Western Michigan junior nose guard Wesley French to move the ball to the 13. Three plays later, Rourke kept it himself and scored from six yards out to put the Bobcats in front. 

The Broncos coughed up the ball on their second drive, with redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Austin Conrad (Grafton, Ohio) pouncing on a fumble by redshirt senior running back Jamauri Bogan at the Western Michigan 31. After finding Meyer for a gain of 10 yards on first down, Rourke tossed an eight-yard touchdown pass to White two plays later, helping Ohio extend its early advantage to 14-0.

Ohio's special teams produced a huge play that resulted in a touchdown for the Bobcats on the ensuing drive. Redshirt junior wide receiver and special teams ace DL Knock (Springboro, Ohio) blocked a punt by Western Michigan freshman Nick Mihalic, and the loose football was scooped up by redshirt freshman safety Alvin Floyd (North Miami Beach, Fla.) and returned for a touchdown. Knock's blocked punt marked the first by an Ohio player since Grant Cunningham blocked one against Eastern Illinois in 2014, and Floyd's return of the blocked punt for a touchdown marked the first by a Bobcat since Melvin Payne ran one back 15 yards for a score in 2009 at Akron.

The Bobcats' defense produced another takeaway with just over eight minutes to play in the second quarter as redshirt sophomore safety Jarren Hampton (Fostoria, Ohio) intercepted Western Michigan freshman quarterback Kaleb Eleby.

Ohio took over at its own 36. After Rourke completed a 33-yard pass to Meyer, he kept it himself and raced 13 yards for another touchdown to help push the Bobcats' lead to 28-0.

Ohio's special teams produced another big play on the ensuing kickoff, with redshirt freshman cornerback Tariq Drake (Leavittsburg, Pa.) picking up a fumble by Western Michigan junior returner Davon Tucker to give the Bobcats the ball back at the Broncos' nine. Ohio added a 30-yard field goal from redshirt junior kicker Louie Zervos (Tarpon Springs, Fla.).

Western Michigan coughed the ball up again on the kickoff, with junior safety Alex Wolff (Chillicothe, Ohio) recovering his first career fumble off the turnover by freshman returner Jayden Reed that gave the Bobcats possession at the Broncos' 11. Two plays later, redshirt sophomore tight end Adam Luehrman (Athens, Ohio) snagged his first career reception for his first career touchdown off an eight-yard pass from Rourke, helping to make it a 38-0 lead for the Bobcats.

After the Broncos turned the ball over on downs on their next drive, Ohio moved 44 yards in five plays. Passes of 14 yards to redshirt freshman wide receiver Isiah Cox (Jasper, Ala.) and 13 yards to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Cameron Odom (Bedford, Ohio) helped move the ball to the Western Michigan 17. Three plays later, Rourke connected with Cox again – this time for a 10-yard scoring strike. 

Ohio came away with another takeaway at the end of the first half, with sophomore cornerback Marlin Brooks (Miami, Fla.) producing a strip sack of Eleby that was recovered by redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Will Evans (Augusta, Ga.). The turnover helped the Bobcats take a 45-0 lead into halftime.

The Broncos got on the scoreboard on their first drive of the second half, capping off an 11-play, 65-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown plunge by Bogan.

Ohio went back up by 45 points with just over five minutes left in the third quarter. Redshirt senior safety Kylan Nelson (Lexington, Ky.) intercepted Eleby, setting up shop for the Bobcats at the Western Michigan 49 after a four-yard return. Redshirt senior running back A.J. Ouellette (Covington, Ohio) then rumbled for 32 yards on the first play of the ensuing drive, then scored from 17 yards out on the very next play to make it a 52-7 Ohio advantage. Ouellette led Ohio on the ground with 71 yards on eight carries.

Western Michigan scored a second touchdown with 10:36 remaining in the fourth quarter when Eleby completed a 26-yard scoring strike to redshirt freshman wide receiver Jaylen Hall. Ohio sealed a 45-point victory, though, when redshirt junior quarterback Quinton Maxwell (Rayville, Mo.) tucked it and ran 18 yards for a touchdown with just under seven minutes to play.

Defensively, Ohio was led by redshirt senior linebacker Tyler Gullett (La Grange, Ohio), who tallied a team-high five solo stops. Brooks and redshirt senior defensive lineman Kent Berger (Mentor, Ohio) each produced sacks for the Bobcats.

Ohio's final road game of the regular season will be a trip to Oxford, Ohio, next Wednesday (Nov. 7) to clash with MAC East Division archrival Miami (3-6, 3-2 MAC) in the Battle of the Bricks. Kickoff is schedule for 7 p.m. at Yager Stadium, and the contest will be nationally televised on ESPNU.

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