Nathan Rourke took the field for the last time at Peden Stadium on Tuesday in overtime against Western Michigan.
With Ohio starting at the Broncos’ 25-yard line, the senior quarterback began the drive with an incomplete pass to Tyler Tupa. The next play was a five yard pickup on a short pass to running back O’Shaan Allison. The drive ended on a 37-yard field goal from Louie Zervos after coach Frank Solich called for a run, which gained zero yards, on third-and-5.
None of it mattered.
Western Michigan started the next drive with a 20-yard run from LeVante Bellamy. Two plays later, Bellamy was in the end zone. The defense couldn’t stop the running back from scoring his Mid-American Conference-leading 21st touchdown of the season.
The overtime portion of Ohio’s 37-34 loss to Western Michigan in its final home game of the season encapsulated everything that has gone wrong this season for the Bobcats, whose best finish to the year now is a 6-6 record and a bowl appearance that won’t be guaranteed.
If Miami wins Wednesday against Bowling Green, who currently sits in second-to-last place in the MAC East Division, then the Bobcats can no longer make the MAC Championship.
After the consistent struggles Ohio has attempted to fix all season, however, the end result shouldn’t come as much of surprise.
“We’ve got two games left,“ Solich said. “We plan on winning those two games. We’re trying to do our best we can to salvage the season and make it 6-6. That’s the opportunity we have in front of us right now.”
That’s all the Bobcats can do after a season full of clutch offensive performances that have been spoiled by big plays from their defense.
Last week, Ohio scored 14 fourth-quarter points to rally the Bobcats against Miami in a game that will likely decide the MAC East Divison’s representative in the MAC Championship. Those two touchdowns meant nothing, however, when the Bobcats allowed the RedHawks to gain 40 yards and convert a game-winning field goal.
This week, the Bobcats needed to prevent the Broncos from reaching the end zone from their own 25-yard line.
That’s no easy task against Western Michigan’s offense, which led the conference in scoring before the game. But the Bobcats limited damage in the first half when they held the Broncos to only 10 points. Ohio’s defense was plenty capable of stopping Western Michigan in one of its most important drives of the season.
Sure, an overtime stop wouldn’t have necessarily guaranteed the Bobcats a win. The Broncos only needed a field goal to extend the game and were already in favorable field position for a potential kick.
But after Bellamy, a front runner for MAC Offensive Player of the Year honors, trucked ahead for 20 yards on the first run, a touchdown seemed evident.
Ohio’s defense has failed to make those stops all season. That led to losses to Northern Illinois, Miami and now Western Michigan.
It couldn’t pull through again, and that’s why the Bobcats will likely end their season in a cloud of disappointment, regardless of whether they make a bowl game.
“It has been frustrating,“ Solich said. “It’s been frustrating for the coaches and also the players. They’re very frustrated. We expected more out of this season.”
Those expectations were high in large part due to Rourke, who will end his collegiate career on a team that will end the season with its worst record since at least 2014, the last time the Bobcats failed to make a bowl game.
Rourke will leave Ohio as the program record holder for most touchdowns ever scored by a player. He is arguably the best quarterback to ever pass through the program, but defensive inconsistencies have spoiled his final season.
“(The loss) last week was pretty tough,“ Rourke said. “But losing is losing.”
The quarterback didn’t take the Bobcats to the end zone in their lone overtime possession Tuesday, but he pushed Ohio to overtime with 225 passing yards, 93 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
He did all he could to give the Bobcats a win in his final home game.
Instead, the defense took four plays to fall apart at a crucial time.
It wasn’t the first time its happened this season. With two games left and not a whole lot left to play for, it might not be the last.