After playing one of the season's worst halves of football, Ohio (9-3, 7-2 Mid-American Conference) faced a 14-3 halftime deficit against Akron (2-10). The Bobcats responded with complete dominance on both sides of the ball, outscoring the Zips 22-0 in the second half. Ohio's third straight win puts the team at 9-3 to end the regular season for the second year in a row.
Ohio's first-half deficit was almost entirely due to the team's own miscues. The first of which came on Ohio's first offensive drive on third and 7 when Chase Hendricks dropped a pass from Kurtis Rourke that may have given the team a fresh set of downs. Ohio scored its only 3 points in the first half with a Gianni Spetic 30-yard field goal one play later.
Ohio's struggles to score had nothing to do with its running game. The team ran for 90 yards in the first half but committed penalties that prevented it from cashing in on productive drives. In Ohio's first drive of the second quarter, the team committed a holding penalty to bring up a second and long situation which eventually forced a long field goal. Spetic missed his 52-yard attempt that would've shattered his previous season-long of 40 yards.
Akron struggled to move the ball in the first quarter, but a change to a two-quarterback system with Jeff Undercuffler and Tahj Bullock led to the game's first touchdown. Bullock ran for 11 yards on his first carry and on the next play he connected with running back Lorenzo Lingard on a screen pass that went for a 43-yard touchdown.
Negative plays led Ohio to attempt its second long field goal attempt in as many drives. Once again Spetic missed an attempt to put 3 points on the board.
On Akron's next drive, Ohio committed two costly penalties. Torrie Cox Jr. had an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty which gave Akron a free 15 yards while Keye Thompson had a personal foul that gave Akron another 15 yards. The Zips went on to score a touchdown on the drive, which enabled the team to take a 14-3 lead into halftime.
Ohio Coach Tim Albin wasn't happy with how the team played in the first half.
"I challenged them (at halftime)," Albin said. "I probably can't repeat some of the things that I said, but I'm not going to apologize for it."
Whatever Albin told the Bobcats at halftime worked. Ohio forced a stop almost immediately out of halftime and started moving the ball effectively on its first offensive drive.
Rourke, who previously passed his brother Nathan Rourke as the second leading passer in Ohio history on the team's opening drive, scored the team's first touchdown on a four-yard run. Rourke then found Tyler Walton on the two-point conversion to cut Akron's lead to three. When asked about the accomplishment of passing his brother, Kurtis couldn't have been happier.
"It's awesome, whenever you can get an achievement like that, especially against your brother," Rourke said. "I mean he's done so much for this program, so to be able to pass on one of his records is one of the things I'll cherish for the rest of my life."
A sack from Shane Bonner helped Ohio get the ball back in just three plays. Rourke and the offense went to work immediately. Rourke found Miles Cross deep into Akron's territory and Cross broke multiple tackles to move down to Akron's 32-yard line. A facemask penalty allowed Ohio to advance 57 yards in one play. Ohio's running game, led by Sieh Bangura, allowed the team to advance to the 1-yard line where Rourke threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Miles Cross.
Rourke finished the game 19/30 with 208 yards passing and two total touchdowns.
A solid kick return gave Akron the slightest bit of momentum, but it was completely taken away on third down when senior linebacker Bryce Houston came up with an interception.
"I saw the quarterback scrambling around ... and I thought I could get into the window and I was happy to get into the window," Houston said.
With the ball and the lead, Ohio emptied its entire playbook to score a game-sealing touchdown. Appearing to have been stopped with the punt team out on fourth down, Ohio employed a fake punt where the ball was snapped directly to Tristan Cox who picked up 7 yards on fourth and 4.
Ohio picked up another fourth-down conversion, this time on fourth and 2 when Rourke found Cross for an 8-yard gain. Ohio then used its rushing attack to pick up the last 35 yards of the drive and score a touchdown. Bangura picked up 27 of his 122 yards on the drive, including a 1-yard touchdown run that put Ohio up 25-14.
Ohio's elite defense was able to keep Akron off the board and cement Ohio's 11-point win in the final 10 minutes.
Albin's message to his seniors after Ohio's nine-win regular season: win one more game
"Let's get to 10," Albin said. "Let's do something that's never been done in school history. Back-to-back 10-win seasons have never been done. They've been playing football at this university for a long time, and that's going to be our focus."