Note: This recap appears in the Sunday, Sept. 1 newspaper on Page B1.
There was no comeback needed, no early quarterback change, and no real drama.
In other words, the Bobcats got back to handling business against an FCS opponent.
Ohio dumped visiting Rhode Island, 41-20, inside sun-splashed Peden Stadium on Saturday afternoon in the 2019 season opener. Senior quarterback Nathan Rourke was razor-sharp, and completed 16 of 22 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns.
Rourke also rushed for a team-high 75 yards and added a third touchdown on the ground for the Bobcats (1-0). OU never trailed, and led 41-13 with nearly a full quarter left to go.
Rourke, with the first team offense, was on the field for seven full possessions. OU scored points on each of the seven possessions.
“This was our expectation. Our expectation is to end every drive with a kick, take care of the ball and end it with points like we did today,” said Rourke. “We know what we’re capable of.
“The bar that we set for ourselves is high and we came out and did what we expected to do.”
The win was the 10th in a row at home for Ohio, which matches the longest such home win streak for the program since 1947. The Bobcats, 6-0 at home in 2018, are 15-1 in their last 16 home games.
Rourke, now with 80 career touchdowns accounted for, made sure Ohio had no trouble with Rhode Island (0-1). The Bobcats’ first possession of the season was a 94-yard drive that ate more than half of the first-quarter clock and took 12 plays.
“If we get the ball, we’re pretty good at getting points on the board,” said Ohio head coach Frank Solich.
Ohio lost nearly every impact wide receiver and running back from last season. But the Bobcats showed off some capable potential replacements on Saturday.
Junior running back De’Montre Tuggle had 65 yards and two touchdown on just three carries. Sophomore back Julian Ross had 68 yards on just 14 carries.
Among the new wideouts, junior Tyler Tupa led the way with three catches for 49 yards and a touchdown. Jerome Buckner, a redshirt freshman, had three catches for 48 yards. Shane Hooks, another redshirt freshman, had a dazzling 30-yard grab on a jump ball down the sideline.
“I know we lost some great guys, but we have a lot of depth,” said Tupa, who career before Saturday had consisted of one injury setback after another. “We can all do our job and have confidence in each other.”
Rhode Island Vito Priore threw for 291 yards and a pair of touchdowns for the Rams in his first start. Flanker Aaron Parker had a huge day with nine catches for 144 yards.
But the Rams couldn’t get stops. Ohio opened the second half with Ryan Luehrman’s first career touchdown catch — a four-yard fade from Rourke.
After Parker’s 34-yard touchdown from Priore cut the deficit to 24-13, Louie Zervos hit the second of his two field goals — from 43-yards out. After a bad punt snap exchange, Tuggle scored on a 6-yard option pitch to make it 34-13 late in the third quarter
When Tuggle exploded through the left side for a 55-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, Ohio led 41-13 with more than 11 minutes remaining.
“That’s just my line,” Tuggle said. “They do all the hard work.”
Ohio settled for a 17-6 lead at the half as the Rams did enough to keep the Bobcats’ offense on the sideline for big stretches.
URI had a nearly four-minute edge in time of possession in the first half, and limited OU to just three first-half possessions. The Bobcats’ fourth-possession was a one-play kneel down to end the half.
“It was frustrating at times,” Solich said. “But as the game went on, we got better.”
Ohio made the most of the limited opportunities. The Bobcats’ first possession of 2019 was a beauty, a 94-yard drive that covered 12 plays and took more than half the first-quarter clock to complete. Rourke finished off the march with a five-yard touchdown to the left side and Ohio led 7-0 late in the first quarter.
URI responded with a 14-play scoring drive, capped by C.J. Carrick’s 35-yard field goal. The drive was kept alive by a pair of third-and-long conversions.
Ohio added a 37-yard field goal from Louie Zervos on possession No. 2, and then made it 17-3 with three minutes left in the half after Rourke fired a 22-yard touchdown to Tupa.
The Rams got another Carrick field goal, this one from 19 yards out, and trailed 17-6 at the break.
It was Tupa’s first game at Ohio as a full-time contributor after several seasons of injury issues.
“This has been a long time coming,” Tupa said. “I can’t say anything really. They believed in me.
“It’s nice to go out there and show I can still play,” he added. “It felt like my first time playing football again.”
Ohio improved to 14-0 under Solich against FCS teams, and OU has won 16 straight games overall against FCS programs.
But Ohio had its issues, too. A collision on a punt return set up URI’s final touchdown with just over nine minutes left. Solich was miffed at some of the penalties, and third-down conversions allowed.
Still, it was a far cry from Ohio’s opener last season against an FCS foe — the 2018 six-point victory over Howard.
“It was an okay first game. Not a great one, and we have a lot of areas to improve in,” Solich said.
Ohio will hit the road next Saturday for an 11 a.m. start at Pitt. Rourke, in control of every facet of the offense in the opener, has been saying for weeks he expects the Bobcats to remain potent offensively despite a substantial number of changes on that side of the ball.
“It’s exactly what I’ve been seeing in practice,” Rourke said. “We’ll just take it one game at a time, watch the film and get ready for Pitt.”
Ohio 41, Rhode Island 20
Rhode Island 0 6 7 7 — 20
Ohio 7 10 17 7 — 41
Ohio — Nathan Rourke, 5-yard run (Louie Zervos kick), 5:50, 1Q
Rhode Island — C.J. Carrick, 35-yard field goal, 13:34, 2Q
Ohio — Louie Zervos, 37-yard field goal, 10:18, 2Q
Ohio — Tyler Tupa, 22-yard pass from Nathan Rourke (Zervos kick), 3:00, 2Q
Rhode Island — C.J. Carrick, 19-yard field goal, 0:12, 2Q
Ohio — Ryan Luehrman, 4-yard pass from Nathan Rourke (Zervos kick), 10:01, 3Q
Rhode Island — Aaron Parker, 34-yard pass from Vito Priore (Carrick kick), 8:09, 3Q
Ohio — Louie Zervos, 43-yard field goal, 4:16, 3Q
Ohio — De’Montre Tuggle, 6-yard run (Zervos kick), 0:40, 3Q
Ohio — De’Montre Tuggle, 55-yard run (Zervos kick), 11:12, 4Q
Rhode Island — Isaiah Coulter, 38-yard pass from Vito Priore (Carrick kick), 9:24, 4Q
First downs 21 23
Total Plays 65 61
Rushing (plys-yds) 23-84 38-278
Passing yards 291 188
Total yards 375 466
Passes (cmp-att-int) 22-42-1 16-23-1
Fumbles (no-lost) 0-0 0-0
Penalties (no-yds) 4-37 7-70
Punts (no-avg) 4-37.8 0-0
Rhode Island — Zoe Bryant 17-89, Ahmere Dorsey 1-9, Matt Pires 1-4, Vito Priore 3-1, TEAM 1-(-19); Ohio — Nathan Rourke 10-75 TD, Julian Ross 14-68, De’Montre Tuggle 3-65 2 TDs, O’Shaan Allison 6-38, Ja’Vahri Portis 4-33, Team 1-(-1).
Rhode Island — Vito Priore 22-42-1 291 2 TDs; Ohio — Nathan Rourke 16-22-0 188 2 TDs, Joe Mischler 0-1-1 0.
Rhode Island — Aaron Parker 9-144 TD, Ahmere Dorsey 4-59, Isaiah Coulter 4-59 TD, Matt Pires 2-13, Zoe Bryant 2-2, Caleb Warren 1-9, Ivory Frimpong 1-9, Joey Kenny 1-5; Ohio — Tyler Tupa 3-49 TD, Jerome Buckner 3-48, Isiah Cox 3-26, O’Shaan Allison 2-9, Shane Hooks 1-30, Cam Odom 1-10, Adam Luehrman 1-7, Ty Walton 1-5, Ryan Luehrman 1-4 TD.