BOWLING GREEN, Ohio — With Ohio in the divisional driver’s seat, Tyler Tettleton accelerated Ohio’s offense, Noah Keller applied the brake to Bowling Green’s attack, and Matt Keller proved to be Mr. Clutch.
The Bobcats escaped a near upset at Doyt Perry Stadium in a 29-28 win Wednesday night. Matt Weller kicked a school-record five field goals on six attempts, including the game-winner as time expired.
With the win, Ohio claimed its second Mid-American Conference East Division title in three seasons. Western Michigan defeated Miami 24-21 earlier Wednesday to allow the Bobcats to clinch the crown with a victory.
“They’ve got a lot of heart,” coach Frank Solich said. “I love the way they came back and did some stuff when they had to to win it at the end.”
Ohio (8-3, 5-2 MAC) fell behind early in the contest after Tettleton fumbled during Ohio’s first possession. Two plays later, Bowling Green quarterback Matt Schilz found Tyler Beck in the end zone for the score.
The Bobcats had more success on their next drive, but tight end Derek Roback fumbled after making a catch on the brink of the red zone. Ohio’s defense stopped Bowling Green, and the ensuing Bobcat drive ended in a 31-yard Weller field goal.
The turnover battle swung in Ohio’s favor in the second quarter. Keller ended Bowling Greens’ first drive by forcing a fumble and snagging the recovery. The Bobcats took advantage of the good field position, and Tettleton tossed a perfectly placed pass to LaVon Brazill for a touchdown.
But Bowling Green needed only four minutes to respond. Schilz threw his second touchdown pass of the night, this time to Kamar Jorden.
The Falcons tried to expand their lead after blocking a Bobcat punt, but Keller forced his second fumble of the night to give Ohio excellent field position again. Weller connected from 39 yards out to cut Bowling Green’s lead to 14-13.
With time winding down in the half, the Falcons mounted a final drive, but Schilz made a critical mistake with 25 seconds remaining. Travis Carrie picked off an errant pass and returned it to the opposing 7-yard line, from which Weller easily gave Ohio a 16-14 halftime lead.
Weller’s longest kick of the night came early in the third quarter. He kicked a season-long 49-yarder into the wind to extend Ohio’s lead.
But the Falcons marched back down the field, and running back Anthon Samuel capped the drive with a series of impressive rushes. He crossed the plane from 3 yards out to renew Bowling Green’s lead at 21-19.
The Bobcats drove down the field again, but a third-down intentional grounding penalty by Tettleton backed up Ohio from the 8-yard line to the 30. Weller’s kick into the wind sailed wide right from 47 yards out.
The Falcons slowed their pace and relied on the running game and short passes to keep the clock moving. Schilz tossed his third scoring pass of the game to Eugene Cooper to give Bowling Green a two-possession lead early in the fourth quarter.
Donte Harden jump-started the ensuing drive by returning the kickoff into Bowling Green territory. Tettleton picked up two first downs on the ground before crossing the plane for a rushing touchdown. The Bobcats needed only 1:49 to answer the Falcons’ score and to bring the game within two points.
Blake Jones contributed a drive-killing sack just as the Falcons were on the edge of striking distance. But 90 yards separated Ohio from the end zone during what proved to be its final drive. Tettleton completed only two passes during the drive, as he and Harden powered the Bobcats on the ground.
Tettleton dove near the center of the field at the 7-yard line to give Weller a straight shot on his sixth and final attempt of the night. After an Ohio timeout to freeze the clock at two seconds and a Bowling Green timeout to ice the kicker, Weller came on with a shot to walk off as a hero.
And he did not disappoint.
Weller banged home a 23-yard field goal to send Ohio to Detroit for the MAC Championship game Dec. 2.
“It would be nice to get a touchdown, but if you get down there and it’s a short field goal it also feels good,” Weller said. “When you’re the kicker, you’re either the hero or the goat, and I’ve been both this season.”
A critical penalty aided Ohio’s march. Facing fourth and 1 from the Bowling Green 46-yard line, Falcons lineman Chris Jones jumped offside and pointed at the Bobcat line to indicate that the visitors had jumped the gun as well. In doing so, he touched the helmet of an Ohio lineman, leading to the yellow flag even though the ball was never snapped.
Tettleton finished the game with 18 completions on 27 attempts for 194 yards. He picked up a season-high 128 rushing yards on 23 carries.
“It was one of those deals where they mixed up their secondary, and their coverage was pretty good,” Tettleton said. “If it wasn’t there I’d just take off and try to make a play.”
Brazill tightened his hold on Ohio’s receiving record book with two more accolades. He now holds the Bobcat record for single-season receiving yards and caught his 10th touchdown pass of the season, a first in program history.
Matt Schilz put up impressive numbers in the losing effort. He completed 23 of 34 passes for 232 yards and three touchdowns.
With the loss, Bowling Green lost any hope of making it to a bowl game. Ohio wraps up the regular season Tuesday against Miami at Peden Stadium.
“We’re wanting to finish the season off well,” Solich said. “The game against Miami will be a hard-fought football game.”