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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Ohio football team (1-1) fell to Virginia (2-1), 45-31, today at Vanderbilt Stadium, suffering its first loss of the 2018 season.
The Bobcats battled back from a 35-7 second-quarter deficit to make it a 10-point game with just over nine minutes to play in the third quarter but could not quite complete the comeback. Virginia piled up 552 yards of total offense.
"Slow start, just didn't play well on either side of the ball at the beginning," said 14th-year head coach Frank Solich. "I thought we progressed as an offensive unit, showed flashes at times defensively of playing good defense but not nearly enough. The early part of the game was ridiculous in terms of explosive plays that we gave up and then kind of got going a little bit toward the end. So right now, you look at our first two ballgames, we have not done a very good job getting off to a good start as a team early on. We've given up way too many yards, way too many points to people."
Redshirt senior wide receiver Papi White (Seminole, Okla.) posted his third-straight game with at least 100 yards receiving, hauling in six catches for a team-high 131 yards and a touchdown. Redshirt senior running back Maleek Irons (Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada) scored a pair of one-yard touchdown runs. Junior quarterback Nathan Rourke (Oakville, Ontario, Canada) finished 16-of-31 for 246 yards and two touchdown passes and added a team-high 72 rushing yards.
"The story of our season so far is that we haven't come out and played well, but have played better as the game has gone on," said Rourke. "But this time, we weren't able to come back."
Virginia forced a turnover on the first drive of the contest. Senior outside linebacker Chris Peace sacked Rourke on the second play from scrimmage and forced a fumble that was recovered by junior defensive tackle Eli Hanback. The Cavaliers then landed the game's first punch on the ensuing play when senior tailback Jordan Ellis scored from 18 yards out.
After the Bobcats went three-and-out on the next drive, Virginia extended its lead to two touchdowns when senior halfback Olamide Zaccheaus caught a pass along the sideline from junior quarterback Bryce Perkins and took it 86 yards for a touchdown.
Rourke jump started the Ohio offense on the Bobcats' fourth drive, keeping the ball himself on a 3rd-and-4 and scampering 70 yards downfield to the Virginia four yard line. Two plays later, Irons scored from a yard out to cut Virginia's lead to 14-7.
The Cavaliers answered right back, though, as Ellis raced 75 yards for a touchdown on Virginia's first play of the ensuing drive.
Virginia's lead grew to 28-7 with 11:35 to go in the first half. The Cavaliers marched 68 yards in 11 plays, with a six-yard touchdown run by Ellis capping it off.
The Cavaliers' lead swelled to 35-7 with just under three minutes left in the half after Virginia engineered an eight-play, 44-yard scoring drive that saw Perkins connect with junior wide receiver Hasise Dubois for a 10-yard touchdown pass.
Ohio's defense came up with a turnover that set up a touchdown late in the half to make it a 35-14 contest. Redshirt junior defensive lineman Chukwudi Chukwu (Willingboro, N.J.) produced a strip sack of Perkins that was recovered by junior linebacker Eric Popp (Loveland, Ohio) at the Virginia 29. Rourke found White for a scoring strike on the next play.
Popp then recovered an onside kick by redshirt junior Michael Farkas (Mishawaka, Ind.) for the Bobcats to set up shop for Ohio at its own 46. A pass from Rourke to White moved the ball 18 yards. After a timeout by the Bobcats, Rourke hit redshirt freshman Isiah Cox (Jasper, Ala.) for a 36-yard touchdown. The scoring reception marked the first of Cox's career and second touchdown in a span of 46 seconds for Ohio.
Virginia took a 17-point lead into the break by moving 60 yards in six plays and capping it off with a 32-yard field goal by redshirt sophomore kicker A.J. Mejia, making it 38-21 halftime advantage for the Cavaliers.
The Bobcats forced Virginia to punt on the first drive of the second half. Rourke then completed passes of 12 yards to redshirt senior wide receiver Andrew Meyer (Canal Winchester, Ohio), 37 yards to White and 28 yards to freshman wide receiver Jerome Buckner (Columbus, Ohio). Three plays later, Irons scored his second one-yard touchdown of the game to help cut Ohio's deficit to 10 points with 9:27 remaining in the third quarter.
After Ohio forced Virginia to punt on its next drive, the Bobcats handed the ball to redshirt senior running back A.J. Ouellette (Covington, Ohio) on four-straight plays to gain 17 yards, then Irons broke away for a gain of 14 to put the ball on the Virginia 47. Ohio's drive stalled, though, and the Bobcats turned it over on downs.
The Cavaliers then moved 42 yards to the Ohio 18. On 3rd-and-6, Perkins completed a pass to senior tight end Evan Butts, but redshirt junior safety Javon Hagan (Jacksonville, Fla.) and redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Will Evans (Augusta, Ga.) stopped him a yard short of the first down. That brought on Mejia to attempt a 30-yard field goal, but his try clanked off the left upright to keep it a 10-point game.
Ohio managed just six yards on six plays on its next drive, though, and Perkins delivered the dagger on Virginia's ensuing possession, completing a pass to Zaccheaus on 3rd-and-4 that went for 77 yards and a touchdown.
The Bobcats added three more points to their total with just under three minutes remaining. After Ohio went three-and-out, Virginia freshman wide receiver Tavares Kelly fumbled the punt, with redshirt senior cornerback Cameron Gunnels (Cincinnati, Ohio) recovering at the Virginia 40 yard line. Redshirt junior placekicker Louie Zervos (Tarpon Springs, Fla.) then knocked down a 45-yard field goal to make the score final.
"I loved how we came back and made it interesting there for a minute," said Rourke. "I love that about our team. We just need to come out stronger, and we're all very aware of that. There are a lot of expectations for this team, but there's no higher expectations than the ones that we have for ourselves, and we're not meeting them right now. We've got a really hard stretch of teams. We have UC (Cincinnati) and UMass ,and those are quality ballclubs. We have to come out and play better, and I believe that we will. We have to hit our stride at some point. The bottom line is we have to start better."
Perkins finished the game 25-of-30 passing for a game-high 379 yards and three touchdowns. Nine of his passes went to Zaccheaus, who totaled a game-high 247 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Ellis tallied a game-high 171 yards on 19 carries and scored three rushing touchdowns.
"I think that the confidence is there," said redshirt senior strong safety Kylan Nelson (Lexington, Ky.). "We just have to come out and execute better. We can't start slow. We just can't do that because we can hang with any team. We are capable of doing great things, but we just can't start off so poorly."
Saturday's game between the Bobcats and Cavaliers was originally scheduled to played at Virginia's Scott Stadium in Charlottesvile, Va. The venue change was made due to the threat of severe weather in the Charlottesville area associated with Hurricane Florence and to provide emergency personnel with the ability to focus on the needs of the region's citizens throughout the weekend.
Ohio makes the drive across the state to take on Cincinnati (3-0) next Saturday (Sept. 22) at Nippert Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for noon EST, and the contest will be nationally televised on ESPNU.