Without a doubt, it was the worst afternoon of Nathan Rourke’s career as the quarterback for the Bobcats.
You can imagine how the day turned out for Ohio.
Rourke threw a career-high three interceptions, had a career-high four total turnovers and the Ragin’ Cajuns steamed out of Athens with a 45-25 win inside Peden Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Ohio (1-3) saw its program-best 10-game home winning streak come to a crashing halt. The Bobcats have lost three straight for the first time since 2015, and end the non-conference portion of the schedule without a win over an FBS team for the first time since 2008.
“It was a rough one,” Rourke said.
Louisiana (3-1) never trailed, and finally locked up the game with a 35-point second half. The Cajuns rushed for 285 yards, averaged 6.2 yards per carry and posted a pair of 100-yard rushers with both Elijah Mitchell (17-143) and Trey Ragas (15-129) both breaking the century mark.
Mitchell scored on a trio of two-yard touchdown runs, and quarterback Levi Lewis threw for 188 yards and two touchdowns. The Cajuns scored touchdowns on five of 10 second-half possessions, after scoring just twice on seven possessions in the first half.
“We’ve definitely been a second-half team (defensively),” said Ohio senior safety Javon Hagan, referring to the nine second-half points allowed in three games by the Bobcats this season.
“But we weren’t playing as a unit, and we didn’t finish plays.”
Rourke rushed for a team-high 37 yards, but completed just 18 of 38 passes for 277 yards and three second-half interceptions. He also lost a fumble on his lone sack of the day.
“We’re just not finishing, and a lot of that falls on me,” Rourke said. “I take responsibility for all of them (turnovers).”
But there was plenty of blame to go around. Rourke was victimized by a handful of drops in the first half. And OU gifted the Cajuns a touchdown in the first half when freshman Jerome Buckner’s fumble on a punt return set up Mitchell’s first TD run late in the first quarter.
“There were three or four momentum shifts in the game, but that was certainly one of them,” Ohio head coach Frank Solich said.
Louisiana came in ranked third nationally by scoring more than 46 points per game, and the Bobcats held them to just 10 in the first half. But Ohio trailed at the break, 10-6, as all it got in the first two quarters were Louie Zervos’ field goals from 48 and 49 yards.
Then in the second half, everything flipped. Ohio found some offense, but couldn’t get stops. Rourke hit some deep throws, but also hit a glut of turnovers.
Louisiana appeared well on its way to the win in the third quarter after Mitchell added his second TD run, and Nick Ralston caught a two-yard touchdown from Lewis for a 24-6 lead.
Ohio got its first touchdown late in the third on the first career score from junior running back Ja’Vahri Portis — a one-yard run to the pylon off an option pitch.
But the try for two failed, and the Cajuns extended their lead to 31-12 with 13:45 left after Ragas plowed to pay dirt on a 15-yard scoring run.
Incredibly, Ohio staged a fourth-quarter comeback…and then faded again.
Portis scored again, this time from three yards out after a Louisiana turnover. After the Cajuns missed a field goal, Ohio needed just three snaps to strike again. Rourke fired a 21-yard touchdown to Shane Hooks and the deficit was just 31-25 with 7:54 remaining.
But the Cajuns iced it with the running game, and defense. Ragas exploded through the right side for 32 yards on third-and-3 on the next series, and Mitchell finished the drive off with his third two-yard touchdown run.
Rourke was sacked, and fumbled on the first play of the next drive, and Louisiana added Ja’Mar Bradley’s 3-yard touchdown two plays later for a 45-25 lead with 3:36 left.
Rourke limped to the finish with interceptions on his final two possessions, including one in the end zone. All of three of his interceptions came inside the Louisiana 40-yard line.
The Bobcats ran for just 103 yards, 3.7 per carry, and faced a two-score deficit most of the second half. It put a lot of pressure on Rourke to make things happen, and he couldn’t deliver.
“I know what the stats say, but it was worse than that,” Rourke said.
Solich defended his QB.
“I don’t think that’s all on him,” Solich said. “We had a lot of breakdowns in a lot of places.
“It’s just not him.”
Ohio will have a bye next weekend, then opens Mid-American Conference play on Saturday, Oct. 5 at defending MAC East champion Buffalo.
With a defense unable to get consistent stops, and an offense clearly not in a rhythm, the Bobcats will welcome the off week.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, that’s clear,” Solich said.
“We’ll find a way to put it together.”
Louisiana 45, Ohio 25
Louisiana 7 3 14 21 — 45
Ohio 0 6 6 13 — 25
Louisiana — Elijah Mitchell, 2-yard run (Steve Artigue kick), 2:19, 1Q
Ohio — Louie Zervos, 48-yard field goal, 10:12, 2Q
Ohio — Louie Zervos, 49-yard field goal, 1:58, 2Q
Louisiana — Stevie Artigue, 27-yard field goal, 0:00, 2Q
Louisiana — Elijah Mitchell, 2-yard run (Artigue kick), 10:19, 3Q
Louisiana — Nick Ralston, 2-yard pass from Levi Lewis (Artigue kick), 4:13, 3Q
Ohio — Ja’Vahri Portis, 1-yard run (run failed), 0:18, 3Q
Louisiana — Trey Ragas, 15-yard run (Artigue kick), 13:45, 4Q
Ohio — Ja’Vahri Portis, 3-yard run (pass intercepted), 11:04, 4Q
Ohio — Shane Hooks, 21-yard pass from Nathan Rourke (Louie Zervos kick), 7:54, 4Q
Louisiana — Elijah Mitchell, 2-yard run (Artique kick), 4:30, 4Q
Louisiana — Ja’Mar Bradley, 3-yard pass from Levi Lewis (Artigue kick), 3:36 4Q
First downs 25 23
Total Plays 76 66
(plys-yds) 46-285 28-103
Passing yards 204 277
Total yards 489 380
(cmp-att-int) 20-30-0 18-38-3
Fumbles (no-lost) 3-1 2-2
Penalties (no-yds) 16-161 5-44
Punts (no-avg) 6-49.0 6-41.8
Louisiana — Elijah Mitchell 17-143 3 TDs, Trey Ragas 15-129 TD, Raymond Calais 6-17, T.J. Wish 1-10, Chris Smith 1-2, Levi Lewis 5-(-5), TEAM 1-(-11); Ohio — Nathan Rourke 9-37, Ja’Vahri Portis 9-35 2 TDs, De’Montre Tuggle 10-31.
Louisiana — Levi Lewis 19-29-0 188 2 TDs, Jalen Williams 1-1-0 16; Ohio — Nathan Rourke 18-38-3 277 TD.
Louisiana — Ja’Mar Bradley 5-75 TD, Jamal Bell 5-59, Peter LaBlanc 2-18, Jalen Williams 2-13, Calif Gossett 2-8, Brian Smith Jr. 1-16, Trey Ragas 1-8, Jarrod Jackson 1-5, Nick Ralston 1-2 TD; Ohio — Ryan Luehrman 4-69, Shane Hooks 3-96 TD, Tyler Tupa 3-31, Cameron Odom 3-26, Isiah Cox 2-36, Alex Burton 1-10, De’Montre Tuggle 1-5, Jerome Buckner 1-4.