Note: This recap appears in the Friday, Nov. 8 newspaper on Page B1.
At every opportunity when a play was to be made, with the game and perhaps the season hanging in the balance, it was the RedHawks who capitalized.
It happened early with a momentum-killing turnover. And it happened late with a kick, and then a sack.
The sum total of Ohio’s three hours in a national spotlight game on Wednesday night was cold, hard truth. The Bobcats likely won’t see the Mid-American Conference East Division title in 2019.
Miami senior kicker Sam Sloman converted a career-long 53-yard field goal with 3:46 remaining to deliver the RedHawks a 24-21 win over Ohio inside Peden Stadium. The RedHawks (5-4, 4-1 MAC) won in Athens for the first time since 2005, and took a huge step toward locking up the MAC East for a trip to Detroit for the conference title game.
Ohio (4-5, 3-2 MAC) lost a third home game in five tries this season. And now the Bobcats have one scenario left to pursue the division crown. OU has to win its final three games, and Miami must lose two of its final three.
The Bobcats know where they stand now, and it’s not where they envisioned they’d be back in August when they were tabbed the MAC favorites.
“There’s not a scale. This one hurts and the implications are what they are,” Ohio senior quarterback Nathan Rourke said.
The Bobcats won on the stat sheet, but the RedHawks made the biggest plays when they mattered most.
After Sloman’s late field goal, Ohio’s final drive of note stumbled after getting an initial first down. Rourke missed on a throw to the outside. On second second, Rourke was sacked for an eight yard loss. A false start preceded another Rourke incompletion, under duress, on third down.
Ohio faced fourth-and-24, down 24-21, with 2:00 left. After a time out, Ohio went for it and Rourke’s deep throw down the right sideline was incomplete.
The time out left Ohio with one left. Miami ran three plays and punted from the OU 36. The Bobcats got the ball back on their own 20 with seven seconds left. Rourke’s final throw, short to the left flat, was incomplete.
“We wanted to talk through the options we had with play choices,” Solich “It had nothing to do with punting the ball or not punting the ball. It had to do with play choice.”
Rourke ran for a team-high 89 yards and two touchdowns, and added 133 yards passing with a third touchdown. The Bobcats out gained Miami 374 yards to 278, and ran 73 offensive plays to the RedHawks’ 47.
But it wasn’t enough.
“We just didn’t execute the way we could have and that’s not just on the front line, that’s myself and the rest of the offense as well,” Rourke said.
Jaylon Bester rushed for 84 yards and two touchdowns for Miami while freshman quarterback Brett Gabbert threw for 149 yards and a touchdown. The RedHawks amassed 129 yards on three plays, and managed just 159 on their other 44 snaps.
“They made plays and we didn’t. They executed well,” said Ohio senior linebacker Eric Popp.
Ohio moved the ball up and down the field in the first half, but managed only a 7-7 tie at the break. The Bobcats owned a 238-104 edge in total yards, and ran 42 plays to Miami’s 20, but was locked in a tie thanks to a series of mistakes and giveaways.
The RedHawks forced two fumbles in the first half, and both takeaways were huge momentum swings. Ohio’s first drive seemed destined for points, but RB O’Shaan Allison lost the ball inside the Miami 5-yard line and the RedHawks recovered it in the end zone for a touchback.
Allison didn’t play again the rest of the night due to a coach’s decision, Solich said.
“We had emphasized that so much,” Solich said. “We couldn’t afford to get into that. And we had driven that home to the guys.
“That was just not a good start. He had some good runs. He’s a good player. He’ll come back. He’ll play for us obviously. He’ll do a lot of really good things for us,” he continued.
“But we ended up going with our other backs.”
In the second quarter, Rourke was hit in the back for a sack and lost the football. On Miami’s next offensive snap, Bester ripped through the middle en route to a 45-yard touchdown run and the RedHawks led 7-0.
Ohio answered on its next drive. De’Montre Tuggle broke free for a 50-yard run — between the tackles — and three plays later Rourke fired a four-yard touchdown on a slant to Ty Walton to knot it 7-7.
But Ohio left way more on the field in the first half. A 65-yard drive late in the first quarter ended when RB Julian Ross was stuffed on third-and-short and Louie Zervos followed with a missed 50-yard field goal.
The Bobcats nearly lost another fumble later in the second when Rourke and Tuggle lost the ball on a ill-fitting mesh in the backfield.
And OU missed on a chance for points late in the half when Ross stepped out of bounds on third-and-seven near midfield. Ross had a lane to get a first down, but went out of bounds to stop the clock. There were 27 seconds left in the half and Ohio had two time outs. Instead, after Ross’ run, Ohio punted from the Miami 45 with 24 seconds left.
In the second half, the teams traded touchdowns until late in the fourth. Miami opened the second half with Gabbert finding Jack Sorenson for a one-handed, tipped, touchdown pass of 21 yards down the left side.
Ohio answered early in the fourth with Rourke’s one-yard sneak and a 14-14 tie.
Miami needed just two plays to break back on top. Gabbert hit a wide open James Maye for 63-yard gain down the middle of the field, and Bester scored on the next snap from the seven for a 21-14 lead with 12:52 to go.
OU tied it 21-21 with 8:58 left after Rourke scored on a nine-yard read keeper to the right side.
But Miami had one more scoring drive left. A nine-play drive that took more than five minutes off the clock set up Sloman’s game winner.
“Plain and simple, it’s a game that we knew we needed to win and we didn’t go out there and get the job done,” Popp said.
Playing on the 150th anniversary of college football’s birth, the Bobcats set a program record with an announced attendance of 20,589 — the most ever to watch Ohio play at Peden in a midweek game.
Rourke knows as well anyone what faces Ohio over the last three weeks. The Bobcats have been in similar situations in each of the two previous seasons. He made a ton of plays throughout — to escape pressure, to move the chains, to keep Ohio in it — but it appears he won’t be able to get the Bobcats to Detroit.
Afterward, Rourke made an effort — unprompted — to acknowledge the crowd, fan support and the experience of the night. But he wanted more.
“It was really awesome to be a part of,” he said. “That was really appreciated as a player.
“We’re grateful for that. I’m sorry we couldn’t get it done,” Rourke added his voice trailing off.
Then he got up, walked out of the second-floor meeting room and disappeared out of sight as the door closed behind him.
Miami 24, Ohio 21
Miami 0 7 7 10 — 24
Ohio 0 7 0 14 — 21
Miami — Jaylon Bester, 45-yard run (Sam Sloman kick), 9:59, 2Q
Ohio — Ty Walton, 4-yard pass from Nathan Rourke (Louie Zervos kick), 6:29, 2Q
Miami — Jack Sorenson, 21-yard pass from Brett Gabbert (Sloman kick), 9:43, 3Q
Ohio — Nathan Rourke, 1-yard run (Zervos kick), 13:39, 4Q
Miami — Jaylon Bester, 7-yard run (Sloman kick), 12:52, 4Q
Ohio — Nathan Rourke, 9-yard run (Zervos kick), 8:58, 4Q
Miami — Sam Sloman, 53-yard field goal, 3:48, 4Q
First downs 14 25
Total Plays 47 73
Rushing (plys-yds) 29-129 46-241
Passing yards 149 133
Total yards 278 374
Passes (cmp-att-int) 10-18-0 15-27-0
Fumbles (no-lost) 1-0 2-2
Penalties (no-yds) 6-60 6-40
Punts (no-avg) 6-34.3 3-45.0
Miami — Jaylon Bester 15-84 2 TDs, Tyre Shelton 8-41, Maurice Thomas 2-12, TEAM 1-(-1), Brett Gabbert 3-(-7); Ohio — Nathan Rourke 16-89 2 TDs, De’Montre Tuggle 12-74, O’Shaan Allison 7-43, Julian Ross 10-34, Ty Walton 1-1.
Miami — Brett Gabbert 10-18-0 149 TD; Ohio — Nathan Rourke 15-27-0 133 TD
Miami — Jack Sorenson 3-44 TD, Maurice Thomas 2-7, James Maye 1-63, Quentin Hardy 1-12, Luke Mayock 1-12, Jaylon Bester 1-6, Andrew Homer 1-5; Ohio — De’Montre Tuggle 4-19, Cameron Odom 3-34, Isiah Cox 2-35, Jerome Buckner 2-18, Tyler Tupa 1-12, Ryan Luehrman 1-8, Ty Walton 1-4 TD, Shane Hooks 1-3.