Cam Odom sprinted along the left sideline while Ohio quarterback Kurtis Rourke lobbed a pass to him from 66 yards away. Without slowing down, Odom let the ball fall into his arms at the 38-yard line and made a break for the end zone.
The redshirt fifth year never stopped. Odom cruised into the end zone while Eastern Michigan’s Jarrett Paul grasped with desperation at Odom’s back to try and take him down.
Odom’s reception capped off Ohio’s fourth touchdown drive of the night, and all but solidified Ohio’s third win of the season. In a game few expected them to win, the Bobcats (3-7, 3-3 Mid-American Conference) upset Eastern Michigan 34-26 at Rynearson Stadium.
For the second week in a row, Ohio never trailed for the entire game. Unlike its game against Miami the week before, however, it didn’t burn its lead. Eastern Michigan kept pace, but it never caught up. The cold snaps on offense that resulted in blown losses and shrunken leads went out the window Tuesday. Ohio started hot and finished on its feet.
The dual-quarterback system, largely scaled back since the Bobcats entered their conference slate, was brought back. Rourke and Armani Rogers shared time under center and fell into their usual roles. Rourke led the passing game with 230 yards and three touchdowns while Rogers only attempted two passes in the third quarter. Rogers instead stuck to running the ball and picked up 61 yards on 10 attempts.
Ohio gambled on Rourke’s arm. Coach Tim Albin believes a vertical offense fits more comfortably with Ohio’s playstyle, and so the offense shifted toward making longer passes on fewer attempts. It paid off. All three of Rourke’s touchdown passes were longer than 30 yards.
"I think the vertical passing game, as far as our offense, it fits our personnel and we're good at it,“ Albin said. “Scheme-wise, we're protecting better. I think the last three weeks we've protected pretty well. I know Miami had the four sacks, but if you look at where we were in the Akron game in the first half to where we are today, I think we're protecting better and the quarterbacks are having time."
The Bobcats beat the Eagles at their own game. Before Tuesday, the Eagles averaged 34.9 points per game and were ranked first in the MAC for scoring offense. They scored over 50 points in their games against Toledo and Bowling Green and were on track to do so again.
Ohio had other plans.
The defense locked down on one of the best offenses in the MAC. Eastern Michigan scored on its opening drive of the third quarter, but was shutout for almost 24 minutes afterward. Its quarterback — Ben Bryant — passed for 354 yards, and Ohio put those yards to waste. Bryant was sacked twice in the second half, both of which forced a punt, and was picked off by safety Tariq Drake midway through the third quarter.
“I would just say our consistency,“ linebacker Bryce Houston said. “We weren’t too up, too down. We just kind of played the next play every single time. We knew that they were a very big firepower offense so we just tried to focus on the next play, do everything we do, focus on our jobs individually and the details. I’m just proud of the way we ended up on the defense.”
Ohio wasn’t expected to win on Tuesday. Six of its games have been decided by one possession, and it barely escaped with a win last week after allowing 26 unanswered points. Eastern Michigan had scored a combined 107 points in its previous two wins.
The Eagles boast the best scoring offense in the conference, but the Bobcats battened down and kept that offense out of the end zone for all but three drives.
“I think coming in, no one gave us much of a chance,“ Albin said. “I could not be prouder of a bunch of guys coming on the road against a quality opponent and finding a way to get it done.”
After two months of struggle, Ohio seems to have lit a fire in its gut. Its past two consecutive wins have shown there is more to it than what is on the stat sheet. The pieces have been there all season, and Ohio seems to have finally started to connect them.
Now it needs a way to keep its streak alive in the final two weeks of the season.