As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Ohio’s sideline erupted in cheers. Players celebrated and hollered along Ohio’s bench while running backs coach Tyler Tettleton walked onto the field and waved goodbye as Miami players and staff shuffled meekly toward the visiting locker room at Peden Stadium.
The Bobcats had prevented a potentially catastrophic collapse Tuesday night. They had recovered a final onside kick and ran out the clock to secure their second win of the season with a 35-33 win over the RedHawks.
The win had been in jeopardy for much of the second half. Miami scored 20 points in the last six minutes of the game and surged to threaten a four-touchdown lead Ohio had built up since its second possession.
But the Bobcats held on.
“With that lead, you don't go quick,“ Albin said. “And so we started playing some of the two-high stuff, and the game clock got in our favor, and we were able to make enough plays ... We had chances to get to put them away and didn't, but we won.”
For the first two-and-a-half quarters, the Bobcats (2-7, 2-3 Mid-American Conference) whipped the RedHawks like an old blanket. Quarterback Kurtis Rourke, fresh off the best game of his career 10 days prior against Kent State, sidestepped the best defense in the MAC East Division and dominated through the air. The redshirt sophomore passed for 288 yards and three touchdowns on 23 completions.
Miami, on the other hand, gained just 119 total yards before halftime. Its only opportunity to score in the first quarter — a field goal attempt — was shut down after defensive tackle Kai Caesar deflected the ball with his right arm. Its rushing corps, which averaged over 140 yards per game, was held to just 77 yards Tuesday.
Miami was forced to rely on the arm of quarterback Brett Gabbert, who was just 7-of-15 by halftime.
“That's one of the things we emphasized all week — stopping the run, making them one-dimensional,” safety Tariq Drake said. “I would say in the first half we did a pretty good job of doing that. Obviously, throughout the rest of the game, we got to do a better job and making plays.”
But Ohio’s perennial cold streak kicked in once again. It’s been plagued with inconsistency that’s cost it multiple games this season, and it almost cost Ohio again.
Mistakes from previous losses cropped up. Ohio struck the iron while it was hot, but its offense fell quiet soon after halftime. Isiah Cox hauled in his second touchdown reception of the night midway through the third quarter, but Ohio didn’t find the end zone again for another 24 minutes of game time.
Ohio spent those 24 minutes playing damage control while Miami chipped away at its lead. Miami scored 26 unanswered points and outgained Ohio by 278 total yards in the second half.
Ohio was handed chances to pad its lead and dropped them. Cox completed a 21-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter that was later offset due to a pass interference call on fellow wide receiver Cam Odom. Ohio led by four touchdowns midway through the third quarter but had to fight off Miami until its final drive.
The defense did notch key stops, however. It forced the RedHawks to turn the ball over on downs three times and even intercepted a pass attempt by Gabbert.
“I would say that’s just us trying to play big in the moment, knowing that we got to make big plays, especially on fourth down to get the offense the ball back,“ Drake said. “I mean, you got to give it to whoever made those plays on those fourth downs because, shoot, they did a very good job.”
The Bobcats broke their losing streak in the MAC by the skin of their teeth. What might’ve been a blowout win heading into its most difficult stretch of the season fizzled out into a two-point margin of a victory.
Tuesday’s victory wasn’t clean by any stretch. Ohio’s defense folded under pressure and turned a potential major victory into a lesson to learn from. One win isn’t going to turn its season around.
A win is a win, but Ohio is still a long way from where it wants to be.