ATHENS, Ohio -- Senior quarterback Nathan Rourke (Oakville, Ontario, Canada) ran for two touchdowns and threw for another, but the Ohio football team (4-5, 3-2 MAC) fell to Mid-American Conference East Division archrival Miami (5-4, 4-1 MAC), 24-21, in the 96th edition of the 'Battle of the Bricks' tonight at Peden Stadium.
"Obviously, we want to win a MAC Championship every year, we want to win every game every year," said 15th-year head coach Frank Solich. "We're at a point in time where right now, that doesn't look like it's going to get done. We're going to need an awful lot of help to get into the championship game, but the next game will be here. It'll come and we need to get ready to play it. We're not a group of guys that will not respond in a positive manner to try to win football games and try to play this season out. Otherwise if you don't get ready to go, you don't fight hard and play it well to do everything you can to win the next one then what does that say about you, your team and your program? That's not what we are, so we'll get ready for the next game."
Trailing 21-14 with just under 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Rourke engineered a seven-play, 75-yard drive that began with him completing a 32-yard pass to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Isiah Cox (Jasper, Ala.) that gave the Bobcats a first down at the Miami 43-yard line. Five plays later, Rourke kept it himself and appeared to score on a 35-yard touchdown run down the sideline. The ruling on the field of a touchdown was overturned by instant replay, however, as it was determined Rourke stepped out of bounds at the 13. Two plays later, Rourke left no doubt, running the ball in from nine yards out to help Ohio tie the game with just under nine minutes to go.
The RedHawks answered back with a 10-play, 40-yard march that chewed a little over five minutes off of the clock. Miami converted a 3rd-and-6 from the Ohio 45 with a seven-yard run by redshirt freshman running back Tyre Shelton. The drive stalled at the Ohio 35, but senior placekicker Sam Sloman drilled a 53-yard field goal to put Miami back in front, 24-21, with just under four minutes to play.
Ohio converted a 3rd-and-3 from its own 42 on the next possession when Rourke completed a five-yard pass to junior running back De'Montre Tuggle (Channelview, Texas). The drive stalled from there, though, as an incomplete pass, a sack for an eight-yard loss by redshirt junior linebacker Ryan McWood and sophomore defensive end Kameron Butler and a false start penalty led to a 4th-and-23 from Ohio's own 34. Rourke's deep pass attempt to redshirt freshman wide receiver Shane Hooks (Orlando, Fla.) on fourth down fell incomplete, giving Miami the ball back with 1:51 to go and the Bobcats having just one timeout remaining. Ohio forced Miami to take a delay of game penalty with 15 seconds left and then punt the ball, but the Bobcats' last pass attempt with seven seconds left fell incomplete, ending the game.
Ohio outgained Miami, 374-278, but lost the turnover battle, 2-0, with two lost fumbles.
Rourke finished the contest with 89 rushing yards on 16 attempts while completing 15 of his 27 passing attempts for 133 yards. He has now scored 46 career rushing touchdowns, moving him into second place in program history as he passed Kalvin McRae (45; 2004-07). Tuggle added 74 rushing yards on 12 touches while hauling in a team-high four receptions. Defensively, redshirt senior free safety Javon Hagan (Jacksonville, Fla.) registered a team-high nine total tackles with a team-high five solo stops.
Miami freshman quarterback Brett Gabbert completed 10-of-18 passes for 149 yards and a score while junior running back Jaylon Bester compiled 84 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns on 15 attempts. Three RedHawks registered double-digit tackles, with McWood leading the way with 13 total, including a half a sack.
The Bobcats were plagued by miscues during the first 20 minutes of the contest. Ohio had a promising drive going during the game's opening possession, marching to the Miami 13-yard line. Redshirt freshman running back O'Shaan Allison (Norristown, Pa.) appeared headed for the end zone but was stripped of the ball by redshirt sophomore safety Sterling Weatherford, and the fumble was recovered by Butler for a touchback.
Ohio forced Miami to punt on its first drive of the game, then moved the ball to the Miami 33. The Bobcats attempted a 50-yard field goal, but the try by redshirt senior placekicker Louie Zervos (Tarpon Springs, Fla.) went wide left.
The RedHawks were forced to punt again on the ensuing possession, but the Bobcats gave the ball back to Miami when Rourke fumbled after being hit by junior defensive end Lonnie Phelps, with senior defensive tackle Doug Costin there to recover for the visitors.
Miami turned Ohio's second turnover into points on the first play of the ensuing drive, with Bester racing 45 yards into the end zone to help give the RedHawks a 7-0 lead with just under 10 minutes to play in the half.
The Bobcats answered, though, with a seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive. On 1st-and-10 from the Ohio 39, Tuggle ripped off a 50-yard run that gave the Bobcats a first down at the Miami 11. Three plays later, Rourke found redshirt freshman wide receiver Ty Walton (St. Louis, Mo.) for a four-yard scoring strike, with the first touchdown reception of Walton's career helping to even the score for Ohio.
Ohio and Miami each punted twice over the final four drives of the first half, sending the two teams into the locker rooms deadlocked at seven-all.
The RedHawks received the second-half kickoff and marched 75 yards in 10 plays, capped by a touchdown catch in the back of the end zone by redshirt junior wide receiver Jack Sorenson off a 21-yard pass from Gabbert.
After Ohio and Miami traded punts, the Bobcats got the ball back on its own 46 with just over four minutes left in the third quarter and moved 54 yards in 10 plays, with a quarterback sneak from a yard-out by Rourke helping the Bobcats even the score with the RedHawks with 13:39 to play.
Miami quickly retook the lead, though. A 63-yard pass from Gabbert to freshman wide receiver James Maye on first down set up a seven-yard touchdown run by Bester two plays later, helping to make it a 21-14 lead for the RedHawks.
Wednesday's contest was played in front of a packed student section on the 150th anniversary of college football, and Rourke wanted to take the time to thank the fans for their support following the game.
"I just wanted to say that I appreciated the fan support that we had today," said Rourke. "The atmosphere was really, really awesome, and whoever had a hand in creating the buzz for the game and getting the fans there, we really appreciate it. It was really awesome to be a part of, and one of the positives of the game was being able to be a part of that. We're grateful for that. Sorry we couldn't get it done."
Ohio will play its final home game of the 2019 season next Tuesday (Nov. 12), when it welcomes MAC West Division foe Western Michigan to Peden Stadium for a nationally televised Senior Night matchup on ESPN2. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET.