ATHENS, Ohio -- Senior quarterback Nathan Rourke (Oakville, Ontario, Canada) threw two touchdown passes, hauled in a touchdown reception and ran for another score, but the Ohio football team (2-4, 1-1 MAC) suffered a heartbreaking 39-36 Homecoming loss to Mid-American Conference West Division foe Northern Illinois (2-4, 1-1 MAC) today at Peden Stadium.
The game featured a combined 75 points and 948 yards of total offense, with each drive in the fourth quarter ending in points.
The Bobcats trailed the Huskies after three quarters of play, 22-21, but rallied to tie the game twice in the fourth quarter. The Huskies got the ball back with 3:38 to play, though, and drove 56 yards in nine plays, setting up redshirt freshman placekicker John Richardson to knock down a 37-yard game-winning field goal to seal the win for Northern Illinois.
"We played two good first quarters of football. We played poorly the third quarter on both sides of the ball and that continued in the fourth quarter on the defensive side of it," said 15th-year head coach Frank Solich. "I thought offensively in the fourth quarter we started to show our ability again, but we gave them a lot of life. It's tough when a team gets momentum like they got, but on the other side of it, we were able to come back and put points on the board to keep the game within reach and then tie it up. But that last quarter in terms of drives by them, we just did not do a very good job of controlling that. We'll look at it from a coaching standpoint. Could we have blitzed them more? Could we have used different blitzes? Could we have tackled better? There's a lot of things to look at. I certainly give those guys credit. They played hard. They had a disappointing loss the previous week, but they showed a lot of courage in bouncing back."
Rourke led the way for an Ohio offense that generated 438 total yards. He completed 19-of-31 passes for 258 yards and added a team-high 80 yards on 12 carries. Redshirt freshman wide receiver Shane Hooks (Orlando, Fla.) hauled in a career-high seven receptions for a career-high 131 yards to lead all receivers and snagged the game-tying 47-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Redshirt junior tight end Ryan Luehrman (Athens, Ohio) matched his career high four receptions and totaled 53 receiving yards, including an eight-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. Redshirt freshman running back O'Shaan Allison (Norristown, Pa.) finished with 79 rushing yards on 11 carries.
"We walked out thinking that we're the better team, we just didn't play up to our potential, and that was what's most frustrating, that we know what we are all about, and we know how talented we are and how good of a team we are," said Rourke following the loss. "We just haven't be able to show it the way we have wanted to, so that has been the most frustrating thing."
Northern Illinois compiled 510 yards of total offense, with 372 coming in the second half. Redshirt junior tailback Tre Harbison leading the way with 113 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns on 25 carries. Redshirt senior quarterback Ross Bowers completed 23 of his 39 passing attempts for 338 yards and a touchdown. The Huskies had a pair of receivers put together 100-yard efforts, with redshirt sophomore Cole Tucker snagging eight catches for 118 yards while redshirt junior tight end Mitchell Brinkman finished with five receptions for 100 yards.
Ohio went three-and-out on the game's opening drive, with Northern Illinois forcing the Bobcats to punt from their own 28-yard line. The Huskies brought pressure, and the punt was blocked by redshirt junior tight end/fullback Corey Lersch and recovered by redshirt senior safety Adam Buirge at the three and returned for a touchdown to give Northern Illinois the early lead.
The Bobcats answered with a nine-play, 75-yard drive that took nearly five minutes off of the clock. The drive began with Rourke hitting redshirt sophomore wide receiver Isiah Cox (Jasper, Ala.) for a gain of 22 yards and featured completions of 10 yards to redshirt junior tight end Adam Luehrman (Athens, Ohio) and 21 yards to Ryan Luehrman as well as runs of nine, 10 and five yards by Allison. The drive end when Rourke kept it and scored from eight yards out on 2nd-and-goal to help Ohio pull even.
Northern Illinois responded with a nine play, 42-yard scoring drive that was capped off by a successful 51-yard field goal try by Richardson, giving the Huskies a 10-7 advantage with just under six minutes to play in the first quarter.
Ohio took a 14-10 lead with 12:14 to play in the half thanks to a bit of trickery. Rourke completed passes of 14 yards to redshirt junior wide receiver Cameron Odom (Bedford, Ohio), 10 yards and 23 yards to Hooks and 13 yards to Ryan Luehrman, helping to give the Bobcats a 1st-and-10 at the Northern Illinois 16. Three-straight runs by redshirt sophomore running back Julian Ross (Kansas City, Mo.) netted 12 yards and moved the chains again to give Ohio a 1st-and-goal. That set the stage for Ohio to successfully execute the "Philly Special" play for the second time in three years, with the direct snap going to Ross, who rolled to his left and pitched the ball to redshirt senior wide receiver DL Knock (Springboro, Ohio), who threw a two-yard touchdown to Rourke. The touchdown pass was the first of Knock's career, while the touchdown reception marked the second of Rourke's career.
Richardson then missed a 44-yard field goal attempt for Northern Illinois. Ohio was forced to punt on the ensuing drive but got the ball back when Bowers threw an interception to redshirt junior cornerback Ilyaas Motley (Centerville, Ohio) at the Northern Illinois 39. Motley returned the ball to the 25, and the Bobcats retained possession despite Motley throwing an illegal forward pass on the play.
The Bobcats took over at the Northern Illinois 30. A 14-yard run by Allison on 3rd-and-2 kept the drive alive and set the stage for more trickery by Ohio. On 3rd-and-goal from the two, redshirt senior left tackle Austen Pleasants (Ironton, Ohio) slipped away from the pass rush from the Huskies, drifted back, received a lateral from Rourke and scored the first rushing touchdown of his career.
Northern Illinois got the ball back with 3:36 to play in the half and drove to the Ohio 31, but Richardson missed his second field goal of the quarter – this one short and from 49 yards away as time expired.
Northern Illinois and Ohio exchanged punts on the first two drives of the second half. On the Huskies' second drive, the Bobcats were flagged for roughing the passer, then Northern Illinois redshirt junior backup quarterback Marcus Childers entered the game, took the shotgun snap and tucked it and ran 70 yards up the middle to give the visitors a 1st-and-goal at the Ohio seven. Two plays later, Harbison took the handoff and scored from four yards out, cutting Ohio's lead to five. The Huskies opted to attempt a two-point conversion, but the try failed, preserving a 21-16 lead for the Bobcats with just over nine minutes left in the third quarter.
Ohio went three-and-out on the ensuing drive, and the Huskies countered with a 13-play, 76-yard scoring drive. Northern Illinois kept the drive alive with two third-down conversions and one fourth-down conversion, then punctuated it with a one-yard touchdown plunge by Harbison. Northern Illinois once again opted to attempt a two-point conversion. The try failed, but the Huskies had the lead again, 22-21, with just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The Bobcats picked up a pair of first downs on the next drive before facing a 4th-and-2 from the Northern Illinois 37. Ohio decided to go for the first down, but Rourke's pass to Cox fell incomplete, allowing the Huskies to take over on downs.
The Huskies took over at their own 37 and proceeded to march 33 yards in seven plays, extending their lead to 29-21 with just over 12 minutes to play on a 30-yard catch-and-run from Bowers to Richie. The score was set up by a 28-yard completion from Bowers to Brinkman.
Ohio retaliated with an eight-play, 73-yard scoring drive. Rourke rushed for 25 yards on the drive and completed passes of 11 yards and eight yards to Ryan Luehrman, with the latter going for a touchdown. Rourke attempted to pass for a two-point conversion and failed, but Ohio was given a second chance when Northern Illinois redshirt senior linebacker Antonio Jones-Davis was flagged for pass interference. The Bobcats then gave the ball to Ross on the second chance, who scored to even the score at 29-all.
Northern Illinois answered again on the ensuing drive, with the key play coming on 3rd-and-10 from its own 49 when Bowers found Brinkman for a 48-yard completion. That set up Harbison for a three-yard touchdown run to help the Huskies take a 36-29 lead.
Ohio took over on its own 24 with 5:10 to play. Rourke rushed for 19 yards on the first play of the drive, then 10 more two plays later. That set the table for his 47-yard scoring strike to Hooks that helped tie the game again.
Unfortunately for the Bobcats, the Huskies engineered a nine-play, 56-yard game-winning drive, with Harbison picking up 42 yards on the ground, including a four-yard gain on 3rd-and-4 that set Northern Illinois up with a fresh set of downs at the Ohio 18 with less than a minute to go.
Ohio will be back at Peden Stadium next Saturday (Oct. 19) when it plays host to a MAC East Division matchup against Kent State (3-3, 2-0 MAC). Kickoff is scheduled for noon ET. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network in addition to being broadcast live on the Ohio Sports Network from Learfield IMG College.