Nathan Rourke wanted to make an apology.
He was no longer taking questions in his postgame press conference after Ohio’s 24-21 loss to rival Miami on Wednesday at Peden Stadium, but he didn’t want to leave without acknowledging something he felt was too important to not address.
“I would like to say that I appreciate the fan support we had today,“ the senior quarterback said. “The atmosphere was really awesome. That was really awesome to be a part of.
“We’re grateful for that. Sorry we couldn’t get it done.”
Rourke couldn’t leave without the apology after Ohio suffered its most crushing loss of the season in front of a program record crowd for a midweek game on national television. That was the scene for the Bobcats, who played in the only game on the 150th anniversary of the first ever college football game.
Ohio couldn’t afford mental mistakes. Not on arguably the biggest stage it’s seen for a regular season game in recent history.
Those mistakes happened, and the Bobcats couldn’t overcome them.
“(The RedHawks) weren't giving us anything we hadn’t seen before,“ Rourke said. “I’ll have to look at it to see what happened, but we just didn’t execute the way we could’ve.”
Ohio left points on the field from the first drive. Running back O’Shaan Allison fumbled from Miami’s 3-yard line and gave the Bobcats their first turnover of the night when Miami recovered the fumble in the end zone.
Allison, who leads Ohio running backs with 101 carries for 518 yards this season but has fumbled three times, didn’t play the rest of the night as punishment.
“We’ve emphasized (ball security) so much,“ coach Frank Solich said. “He’s had the ball on the ground. We can’t afford to get into that.”
The next Ohio sequence ended in a missed 50-yard field goal from Louie Zervos, who had a career-long of 49 yards.
Then, another fumble. This time it was from Rourke, who faced heavy pressure in the pocket and lost the ball as his arm rose into a wave of defenders flying around him.
Those missed points would’ve helped Ohio in the second half, when the defense spoiled its best two quarters of the season — it held Miami to 104 total yards in the first half — with mental errors of its own.
The RedHawks took a 14-7 lead on a 21-yard touchdown pass that Ilyaas Motley deflected, only he swatted the ball back in the air and into the hands of wide receiver Jack Sorenson. He caught the ball just as he landed his right foot in the back of the end zone before landing out of bounds.
After Rourke tied the game 14-14 to begin the fourth quarter, the defense gave up a 63-yard completion on Miami’s next drive. The RedHawks took back their lead with a touchdown two plays later.
The defense, however, statistically turned in its best performance of the season. It allowed just 278 total yards, its lowest mark this season, but Miami capitalized on Ohio’s biggest mistakes.
“(Miami) did a great job,” linebacker Eric Popp said. “We just have to execute better and put ourselves in the right spot to be able to make those plays.”
Ohio might have benefitted from different decisions on debatable play calls, too.
With 23 seconds left in the first half and the score 7-7, Solich opted to punt from Miami’s 45-yard line. The Bobcats had two timeouts remaining and might’ve moved into field goal range if they could convert on fourth-and-four.
Instead, Solich sent out his punt team. Miami kneeled from its 20-yard line to end the half.
Solich didn’t initially remember the full sequence.
“I don’t recall that actually,“ Solich said. “I don’t recall that we had two timeouts. Was that accurate?”
It was. Solich said he wanted to avoid giving the RedHawks a scoring opportunity if Ohio failed to convert.
“It was a fourth-down punt, so it made sense to me,“ he said. “I didn’t want a long score. I didn’t want a quick score. I was satisfied going into halftime with the score the way it was.”
On Ohio’s second to last drive of the game, the Bobcats faced a fourth-and-23 with two minutes left after Rourke was unable to convert on the previous play. The clock was stopped, and Ohio was readying for the next play.
Solich called a timeout. He wanted to further discuss the play with offensive personnel.
“I wanted to talk through the options we had with play choices,“ Solich said. “It had nothing to do with punting the ball or not punting the ball. It had to do with play choice. That’s what we discussed.”
Rourke’s pass fell incomplete to wide receiver Shane Hooks, which all but clinched the final result.
Now, Ohio has no control over its path to a MAC Championship. Miami is in first place in the MAC East Division with three games left.
That was the biggest thing at stake Wednesday despite Solich sitting one win away from becoming the conference’s all-time winningest coach.
It all could have happened in front of a memorable atmosphere of 20,589 people, the largest attendance Ohio has ever had in a midweek game, and with a rare appearance on ESPN2.
Instead, there was only disappointment.
So Rourke apologized.
“This one hurts,“ Rourke said. “The implications are what it is.”