MUNCIE, Ind. -- The Ohio football team (4-4, 3-1 MAC) piled up a season-high 316 rushing yards to beat Ball State (4-4, 3-1 MAC), 34-21, in a battle of Mid-American Conference Division leaders that was played in a driving rain today at Scheumann Stadium.
The Bobcats handed the Cardinals their first conference loss of the 2019 season and claimed a victory in Muncie for the first time since 2009. Ohio maintained its hold on first place in the MAC East Division with the win.
"We've all along prided ourselves on no excuses, no limits, regardless of what the weather is. We're going to play football," said 15th-year head coach Frank Solich. "Our guys know that. They take pride in that. They came out, and I thought, executed at a high level for as wet as the ball was. Our line dominated. They played really well. We were able to move the ball on the ground consistently to get first downs and go on long drives, which was a huge help to us."
Solich earned his 110th win as head coach at Ohio, matching former Central Michigan head coach Herb Deromedi (1978-93) for the most by a MAC head coach in the history of the conference.
Ohio boasted a pair of 100-yard rushers, with senior quarterback Nathan Rourke (Oakville, Ontario, Canada) leading the way with a season-high 127 and two rushing touchdowns. He recorded his eighth career 100-yard rushing game and has now scored 44 career rushing touchdowns, which is good for third-most in program history. Redshirt freshman running back O'Shaan Allison (Norristown, Pa.) rushed for a career-high 104 yards while junior running back De'Montre Tuggle (Channelview, Texas) ran for 50 yards and scored two rushing touchdowns, marking his third outing of the season with multiple rushing touchdowns and second in a row.
"Our o-line today really asserted themselves as the dominant o-line of this league," said Rourke. "We had so many long drives. We were able to run the ball on them. In these kind of conditions, that's necessary. They did a fantastic job. We rode them all the way throughout this game, and I can't say enough about that group."
On a tough day for passing the football, Rourke completed eight of his 16 attempts for 131 yards. His top target was redshirt sophomore wide receiver Isiah Cox (Jasper, Ala.) who caught five passes for 92 yards.
Defensively, the Bobcats limited Ball State redshirt junior quarterback Drew Plitt to just 11 completions on 20 attempts for 109 yards and one touchdown. Plitt did not complete a pass until the third quarter, starting the game 0-for-5. The Cardinals did not convert on third down until the third quarter, going 0-for-5 over the first 30 minutes.
Ball State received the opening kickoff but turned the ball over on the first play from scrimmage. Redshirt freshman linebacker Keye Thompson (Barberton, Ohio) forced Ball State junior running back Caleb Huntley to cough up the ball, and junior cornerback Marlin Brooks (Miami, Fla.) was there to recover for the Bobcats at the Cardinals' 36-yard line.
Ohio took over possession, and Rourke completed an eight-yard pass to redshirt junior wide receiver Cameron Odom (Bedford, Ohio) on 3rd-and-10, and the Bobcats moved the chains when Allison picked up three yards on fourth down. Ohio went for it again on 4th-and-1, with Rourke keeping it himself and gaining 12 yards to set up a 1st-and-goal from the four. Two plays later, Rourke scored on a read option to give the Bobcats the lead with 9:10 left in the first quarter.
After forcing Ball State to punt, the Bobcats gave the ball back to the Cardinals when Rourke was picked off by junior cornerback Antonio Phillips, giving the home team possession at its own 38. Graduate running back Walter Fletcher then ripped off runs of 24, 15 and 20 yards to give Ball State a 1st-and-goal at the Ohio three. Two plays, later redshirt junior quarterback Drew Plitt kept it himself and scored from one yard out to help Ball State tie the score with just over three minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Oho picked up a first down on its next drive but was forced to punt, but the Bobcats then forced the Cardinals to go three-and-out. The ensuing punt by Ball State junior Nathan Snyder went just nine yards as Ohio redshirt sophomore safety Alvin Floyd (North Miami Beach, Fla.) applied pressure, giving the Bobcats a 1st-and-10 from the Cardinals' 22. Ohio moved the chains on 3rd-and-2 when Rourke gained 10 yards on the ground to give the Bobcats a 1st-and-goal from the four. The drive stalled, though, and the Bobcats settled for a 20-yard field goal by redshirt senior placekicker Louie Zervos (Tarpon Springs, Fla.) to take a 10-7 lead with 10:20 remaining in the first half.
Ball State went three-and-out on the ensuing drive, and Ohio proceeded to engineer a seven-play, 67-yard scoring march that was highlighted by Rourke competing passes of 25 yards and 29 yards to Cox. Ohio's drive stalled out at the Ball State five, though, and the Bobcats elected to have Zervos kick a 23-yard field goal that extended their lead to 13-7 with five minutes to play in the half.
The Bobcats received the second-half kickoff and moved 75 yards in nine plays. Rourke completed passes of 24 yards to Odom and 17 yards to Cox. Tuggle gained 21 yards on four rushes, with his last carry going for 11 yards and a touchdown and helping to push the Ohio lead to 20-7.
Ball State answered right back, though, as Fletcher ripped off a 73-yard touchdown run on its first play of the ensuing drive, cutting Ohio's advantage to 20-14 with 9:29 left in the third quarter.
Ohio responded with an eight-play, 65-yard drive in which Rourke gained 38 yards on the ground to set up a one-yard rushing touchdown by Tuggle, making it a 27-14 lead for the Bobcats with just over four minutes left in the third quarter.
The Cardinals got the ball back and moved 72 yards in 12 plays thanks in large part to a 36-yard run by senior wide receiver Malik Dunner. A 10-yard touchdown run by Fletcher was negated by a Ball State holding penalty. The Cardinals were forced to settle for a 24-yard field goal attempt by senior kicker Ryan Rimmler, but the try was blocked by Ohio redshirt sophomore Kai Caesar (Cache, Okla.), preserving the 13-point lead for the Bobcats with just over 14 minutes to play.
"That was a good play, and it made a big difference in the game," said Caesar of his blocked field goal.
After trading punts, Ohio got the ball back with 8:50 to play and went 64 yards in nine plays. Redshirt junior running back Ja'Vahri Portis (Cincinnati, Ohio) carried the ball five times on the drive, picking up 36 yards and setting up Rourke for a 12-yard touchdown run that pushed Ohio's lead to 34-14 with just over four minutes to go.
Ball State cut into the Ohio lead again when Plitt threw a 14-yard touchdown to redshirt senior wide receiver Riley Miller with 2:45 to play to cap off a seven-play, 88-yard drive. Rimmler then attempted an onside kick, but redshirt sophomore Tariq Drake (Leavittsburg, Ohio) was there to recover for the Bobcats. Ohio then ran the clock down to 1:43 before punting the ball back to the Cardinals. Redshirt junior linebacker Dylan Conner (Fort Wayne, Ind.) and redshirt freshman linebacker Jack McCrory (Springfield, Ohio) teamed up for a sack, and Drake recorded another to seal the road win for Ohio.
Redshirt senior free safety Javon Hagan (Jacksonville, Fla.) led the Ohio defense with eight total tackles, including a team-high five solo stops. Thompson added seven total tackles and accounted for a team-high 1.5 tackles for loss. The Bobcats finished the contest with a season-high four sacks and recorded six tackles for loss, marking the third game in a row Ohio has tallied at least six.
Ball State finished the game with 242 rushing yards, with Fletcher accounting for 156 of them. Defensively, two Cardinals recorded double-digit tackles, with redshirt junior inside linebacker Jaylin Thomas tallying a game-high 13 while senior defensive tackle Chris Crumb added 11, including one for loss.
Ohio begins midweek MACtion on Wednesday, Nov. 6, when it welcomes MAC East Division archrival Miami to Peden Stadium for a nationally televised showdown on ESPN2. Kickoff for the 'Battle of the Bricks' is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET. The game can also be heard on the Ohio Sports Network from Learfield IMG College and online through TuneIn.com/OhioBobcats and on the TuneIn app.
Ohio will be joining the MAC, the NCAA and ESPN in celebrating the 150th anniversary of college football in 2019, as the contest against the RedHawks is being played on the 150th anniversary of the first-ever college football game. Ohio will look to make history that day with a call to students and fans to create the first-ever sellout of a MAC midweek game. The celebration will include one enrolled Ohio University student in attendance winning free tuition for the spring 2020 semester as well as a pregame student tailgate inside Walter Fieldhouse. Click here for details on Ohio's plans for the celebration.