HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Nathan Rourke stood in the shotgun on Marshall’s seven-yard line with his hands pointed at the tight coverage that was in front of him. To Rourke’s right was tight end Ryan Luehrman. To his left was a trips-bunch package.
Rourke didn’t even bother looking to his left when the 250-pound tight sprinted wide right. Rourke caught the snap and threw the ball between the sideline and the green No. 88 on Luehrman’s jersey for Ohio’s third touchdown of the night.
More importantly, it was Rourke’s 83rd touchdown in an Ohio uniform. The program record held by former quarterback Tyler Tettleton since 2013 was broken.
Despite the Bobcats’ 33-31 loss at Marshall in the “Battle for the Bell,“ Rourke’s performance in Week 3 hushed any critics after an atypical game last week at Pitt.
On Saturday night under the lights at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in a rivalry game that he hadn’t played in, the senior turned in the kind of performance you’d expect from someone who’s on numerous award watch lists, who’s a second-time captain and who commands the respect of any opponent.
With a stat line that read 15-for-25, 215 passing yards and three touchdowns through the air, paired with 118 yards and a touchdown on the ground, Ohio should have won the game.
It had it in its grasp, too. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Bobcats had a drive that started on their own nine-yard line. Running back De’Montre Tuggle was injured on a carry that went backward. Three plays later, running back O’Shaan Allison left the game on an awkward tackle.
With the roughed up Tuggle back in the game, Rourke ran a speed option toward the short side of the field at their own 28-yard line. Rourke faked the cut toward the sideline and hit a seem that left him unscathed for a 72-yard touchdown run that gave Ohio its first lead of the night at 31-27.
The life on the Ohio bench was noticeably different. The Bobcats defense, which had been gashed for 205 rushing yards in the first half, had shut out the Thundering Herd in the third quarter. All it had to do was hold on for 11 minutes, and Rourke’s performance would’ve been a storyline worthy for a Court Street celebration.
But instead, it’s hidden under the disappointment and the “what-could-have-been” fact of its loss.
“He’s just a special individual,“ coach Frank Solich said. “Not just (as) a football player, (but) a tremendous young man, and he has shown great leadership from the moment he stepped on our campus. He just works on improving himself and he makes his teammates better.”
And that’s what he did Saturday in a hostile environment.
Ohio’s well-documented youth at various skilled positions showed last weekend at Pitt. At Marshall, Rourke made them look like fifth-year seniors. Redshirt sophomore Isiah Cox was the Bobcats’ leading receiver with four receptions for 61 yards. After Rourke himself, Allison, a redshirt freshman, had 60 yards on 12 carries.
“Some great players make those around them better, and I think he does that,“ Solich said.
Rourke wasn’t perfect against the Herd. He was the first to say it took him a while to settle into the game after another slow start — Ohio didn’t score a touchdown until 14:09 of the second quarter. He had his fair share of close calls with passes that perhaps shouldn’t have been thrown. He sometimes spent too much time in the pocket and could’ve been sacked.
But unlike last week, he was able to shake off the slow start and turn in a performance that put the offense back on track. Despite him knowing he broke Tettleton’s record, it’s not a page of history he necessarily wanted to have leaving Marshall.
“Didn’t even think about it,“ Rourke said in regards toward him scoring the touchdown that broke the record.
As he stood in front of the brick wall in the Fred and Christine Shewey Athletic Building in his black long-sleeved Adidas T-shirt with lights, cameras and recorders in his face, Rourke kept a disheartened stare and sagged his shoulders.
There was nothing more he could have done, and yet, he carried himself as such. In the moments following Saturday’s game, Rourke probably won’t think much about the lob he threw to hold a spot in history. That’s just the kind of player he is.
“Individual accomplishments are far less gratifying than the team accomplishments,“ Rourke said. “Not bringing home this trophy is going to sting a bit.”