Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke allowed himself a brief moment of frustration, lying on his chest with his facemask in the turf, after relinquishing the ball to Central Michigan for a fourth time on Saturday.
Rourke had entered the game with a spotless turnover record, but he coughed up three fumbles and an interception in a 26-23 loss to the Chippewas on Homecoming at Peden Stadium.
“You can look at any stat sheet and it’s gonna be the story,” he said. “You gotta take better care of the ball.”
Ohio (4-2, 1-1 Mid-American Conference) held Central Michigan off the scoreboard in the possessions immediately following Rourke's first three turnovers, forcing two punts and stopping the Chippewas on a fourth down at the Ohio three-yard line.
The fourth error was the costly one.
The Bobcats trailed by five at their 42-yard line with under 11 minutes to play when Rourke tried to step up from pressure, as he often does. But Chippewas defensive end Joe Ostman jarred the ball from Rourke and fellow lineman Mike Danna fell on it.
Two passing plays later, both completed to tight end Tyler Conklin, Central Michigan was in the end zone and extended its lead to 12 points. In his first game of the season, Conklin, a senior, caught 10 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns.
Rourke's miscues overshadowed his electric offensive output, in which he rushed for all three of Ohio's touchdowns with 105 yards on 13 carries. He also completed 17 of 31 passes for 160 yards.
It was his second-straight game with 100 or more rushing yards. He leads the Bobcats with nine rushing touchdowns, just one fewer than the rest of the team combined.
Evasiveness is typically Rourke’s strong suit, but on a few occasions Saturday when the pocket caved in, his desire to run clouded his emphasis on ball protection.
Ohio coach Frank Solich chalked up a pair of Rourke’s turnovers to circumstance, saying his sophomore quarterback was “blindsided” and couldn’t help the outcomes.
Rourke, on the other hand, acknowledged that he has to know when to try to escape pressure and when to accept a sack.
“Obviously, there were some times where I probably made the wrong decision in terms of scrambling or staying in there and giving someone a chance or whatnot,” Rourke said. “You just find that balance and that’s just something you gotta work on. Make sure it’s not an issue the rest of the season.”
The loss snapped Ohio's three-game win streak and extended its abysmal all-time record against Central Michigan to 5-25-2 (.156), the Bobcats' lowest win percentage against current MAC opponents.
Under Solich, Ohio has lost eight times in nine games against the Chippewas. This time at least, the reason was clear.
“It was nightmarish to see the number of turnovers that we committed,” he said.