DETROIT — Greg Windham sat with eyes fixed ahead.
There was so much he could’ve said. Instead, he quietly took responsibility for a loss that was far from his fault.
Put into a freefalling situation — a 9-0 deficit — Windham reached for a conference title and was left crouched over, heartbroken and defeated.
In a 29-23 loss to No. 17 Western Michigan on Friday in the Marathon Mid-American Conference Game, it was Windham above every other Bobcat who looked the most defeated — a self-inflicted condition entirely undeserving.
If anything, perhaps it was Windham who had been the most unappreciated all along.
A redshirt senior, he was named the starting quarterback when fall camp concluded. After filling in as Ohio’s third-stringer last season, 2016 offered an opportunity to prove his worth.
With a strong arm, unfaltering determination and unteachable-grit, all Windham wanted this year was a conference title.
By week seven, Windham and the Ohio offense were struggling. Redshirt freshman Quinton Maxwell was brought in to be the revivalist. Eventually, Maxwell struggled, too, but he had to continue when Windham was injured in week nine at Toledo.
Until Friday, whether out from injury or by coach’s decision, he was left out of the offensive plans entirely.
“It was a battle mentally just starting off the season as the guy and just leading my team,” Windham said. “We had to switch it up and I had to just continue leading my team.”
He mentioned that he felt as though he couldn’t lead the team after the Toledo win, but he kept his head high. That was Oct. 27.
Friday night in Detroit, it was Windham’s chance to lead again. He did.
Entering the game in the second quarter, he found Papi White on a 67-yard pass his first play. Soon after, he found Jordan Reid for a 8-yard touchdown pass.
“Tonight I told my coaches and I told my team I was going to give it all I got as soon as I got my chance,” Windham said. “I got my opportunity and made the most of it.”
His second of three touchdown passes was a five-yard corner fade, their second scoring connection of the night.
“It was really just the flow of the game,” Reid said of the combo. “Greg made a great throw and I just had to go out there and make a play for him. He did well.”
The third was Windham’s best pass of the night. Slightly behind, but out of reach of the Western Michigan cornerback, he found Papi White on a 31-yard seam route to make it 26-20 with 1:09 left in the third quarter.
But it is Windham’s final throw he’ll remember the most. Trailing 29-23 with 1:24 left, Windham was the first Ohio player onto the field, waiting for his offense to join him.
After moving the team to the Western Michigan 37-yard line, Windham dropped back and threw to Sebastian Smith. Bronco linebacker Robert Spillane caught the ball instead.
“I read the safety and I thought I was going to have my receiver across the middle,” Windham said. “That was a mental mistake on my part and it cost us the game.”
Without Windham, however, Ohio never would’ve recovered to make it a close game.
“I thought it was a great performance,” Solich said of his quarterback. “He’s had a tough year. When you play great and then don’t play maybe quite as well and then get injured, or play great again, then get injured, that’s a lot to go through.”
The quote was as much of a jumble as Windham’s season. As Solich spoke, Windham, who sat next to him, kept his head down.
Sitting beside the coach who originally benched him, Windham was 37 yards away from giving that coach his first conference title in 12 years and on now four attempts.
“He handles it all tremendously well, kept a great attitude throughout it,” Solich said. “(He) was doing everything he could to help his football team.”
The ultimate irony, however, is if he was truly given a full chance, perhaps the job always would’ve been Windham’s and Solich would’ve had the conference championship he’s never had.