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Rufus the Bobcat prepares to lead the Ohio University football team onto the field before their game against Iowa State, in Athens, Ohio.

Myrtle Beach Bowl: Ohio prevails 41-21 to secure back-to-back 10 win seasons

Ohio's 41-21 win over Georgia Southern in the Myrtle Beach Bowl not only secured back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in program history but also saw a record-breaking performance from running-back Rickey Hunt and a five takeaway day from its defense.

After losing star players like Kurtis Rourke, O'Shaan Allison, Sieh Bangura, Keye Thompson and Miles Cross to the transfer portal, Ohio looked as motivated as it had all season in the first half. Ohio Safety Jeremiah Wood came up with the first interception of his career from a deflection from Adonis Williams.

"I honestly didn't see it at first," Wood said. "I was kind of slowing down and then I caught it out of the side of my eye and I dived down and grabbed it."

Questions about how Ohio's offense would run without multiple key starters were answered on the first drive. Ohio used the running ability of quarterback Parker Navarro and an up-tempo approach to drive the ball down to Georgia Southern's two-yard line.

After a couple of negative plays, Ohio was forced to settle for a field goal, but Ohio proved it could move the ball.

A six-man pressure call on third down allowed Ohio linebacker Shay Taylor to come up with the first sack of his career to give Oh io the ball at its own 41-yard line.

Navarro used his arm and legs to set Ohio in perfect position to score its first touchdown. In addition to a 16-yard run, Navarro found Chase Hendricks and Wiglusz on consecutive third and long situations to move the chains. 

Hunt then had his first of five touchdowns on a two-yard rush to give Ohio a 10-0 lead.

Two plays from scrimmage later, Williams gave Ohio its second interception in three drives. A poorly thrown pass from Georgia Southern quarterback Brin Davis allowed Williams to make a diving grab, giving Ohio the ball just outside the red zone.

Ohio had offensive issues. Although Navarro had his tight end wide open on a successfully executed route, Navarro's pass was under-thrown. Instead of a touchdown, Ohio was forced to go for it on fourth down. Navarro attempted to find Wiglusz for a touchdown. Although Wiglusz may have been contacted before the ball got to him, it wasn't deemed severe enough to garner a flag.

Ohio's defense didn't get discouraged. The unit came together to force three straight tackles for loss to force a second Georgia Southern punt.

Ohio's efficiency on the ground and some indiscipline from Georgia Southern gave the team its third straight trip to the red zone. Ohio capped this trip with a touchdown after a jump pass from Navarro found a wide-open Hunt, who made a one-handed grab on his way to the end zone.

The Eagles finally had some solid offense with a fourth down conversion, but any momentum was abruptly halted by a sack and forced fumble from defensive end Bradley Weaver.

Ohio had yet another possession starting on Georgia Southern's side of the field and might have had another touchdown if it had more time to play with. Instead, Gianni Spetic converted a 26-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to give Ohio a 20-0 lead.

There was more of the same from Ohio's defense in the second half. A well-executed blitz flustered Georgia Southern's Davis, who threw the ball right to Ohio defensive back Walter Reynolds. Reynolds intercepted the ball with a full head of steam and managed to return it to the five-yard line. From there, Ohio's lone touchdown scorer, Hunt, punched it in to put Ohio up 27-0.

Ohio's defense looked ready to force another stop on 3rd and 22 until Davis connected with Jijay McAfee for a 20-yard gain. On 4th and 2, the Eagles finally gave Davis enough time and he found Dalen Cobb for a 39-yard completion.

Three plays later, the Eagles' David Mbadinga got the team on the board with a three-yard touchdown.

Ohio's defense was put under pressure shortly thereafter, but this time, the unit came up with another big play. Davis found Derwin Burgess Jr. for a 20-yard completion when Wood forced a fumble right after Burgess maintained possession. Ohio Cornerback Roman Parodie scooped up the loose ball and returned it for 20 yards.

When asked about the explosive plays Ohio made, Wood himself had a hard time believing what had transpired.

"I'm not going to lie; that might have been one of the best defensive games we've played in my time here for sure," Wood said. 

Ohio made good use of the turnover with its run game. Hunt, who finished the game with 133 yards and five touchdowns, had his best drive of the game. Hunt had gains of five, five, six and then an impressive 40-yard touchdown run that saw Hunt hurdle over a defender at the line of scrimmage and take it the rest of the way.

Ohio's 34-7 lead with just two minutes to go in the third quarter seemed untouchable until Georgia Southern went 68 yards in just two plays. The Eagles' drive, or explosive play, came on a 65-yard pass from Davis to Burgess, where Burgess caught the ball one-handed, shoved off a defender and scored.

The Eagles then surprised the Bobcats with an onside kick to regain the ball. Ohio brought up fourth down, but Georgia Southern picked it up when Davis found Cobb for a 17-yard pickup. Georgia Southern put seven points on the board on a perfectly executed screen pass as Davis found McAfee for a 15-yard touchdown.

Ohio was facing its first real form of adversity as Georgia Southern forced a stop and threatened to get within one score of Ohio's lead for the first time since the first quarter.

The Eagles managed to gain over 40 yards to get inside Ohio's territory but on 4th and 2, Wood continued his legendary performance with a pass breakup.

Ohio took over with only six minutes to go needing only a couple of first downs to all but seal the win. Ohio got exactly what it was looking for as Hunt and Navarro combined for 15 yards on the ground in two plays. Then Hunt scored his fifth and final touchdown to score the most touchdowns in a single game by a non-quarterback in Ohio history.

Although not asked to do much with his arm, Navarro performed admirably for a player making his first career start.

Navarro finished the game 11-16 with 120 yards through the air and had an additional 71 rushing yards on 15 attempts.

Ohio held off Georgia Southern's late second-half run to win 41-21, cementing the 2022 and 2023 teams as the first to win 10 games in back-to-back seasons in Ohio's history. 

Ohio Coach Tim Albin was naturally surprised by the immediate emergence of young stars like Ricky Hunt, but the urgency Ohio played with was something the coaching staff had planned.

"I didn't anticipate five touchdowns from (Rickey Hunt) or five turnovers but I did anticipate a very good outstanding effort from our football team today." Albin said.

In the end, as remarkable as Ohio's performance was, perhaps the most encouraging sign for Ohio's fans is what is to come. Ohio may not have had Rourke, Cross, Thompson, or even Jacoby Jones, but the team still played with the same energy and resiliency it had all year to prevail 41-21. According to Hunt, there are bright days ahead for Ohio.

"This one shows that we can go through anything with perseverance, we can get through that," Hunt said. "As long as we stay together we can get through anything. So it'll be a real great season next year."  


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