ATHENS, Ohio — The halftime break certainly did the Bobcats some good.
After a trio of first half turnovers, the Mid-American Conference East Division leading Ohio football team scored on four straight drives in the second half to pull away from MAC West leader Toledo, as the Bobcats claimed a 38-10 decision on Wednesday night in Peden Stadium.
The Rockets (8-2, 5-1 MAC) came within nine yards of paydirt on the game’s opening drive, but Ohio (8-2, 5-1) had a pair of senior defenders come up with a big play, as Cody Grilliot forced a fumble and Quentin Poling recovered.
The Bobcats covered 77 yards in eight plays before fumbling the ball back to the guests. However, Toledo was forced to punt and gave the hosts the ball with just 49 yards to end zone.
The Green and White needed six plays to cover the distance with A.J. Ouellette scoring the game’s opening touchdown on a six-yard run. Louis Zervos split the uprights on his first of five successful extra-point kicks, making Ohio’s lead 7-0 with 2:10 left in the first quarter.
Ohio was intercepted on its next drive and then went three-and-out on its following possession. The Bobcats made it back into UT territory on their next try, but fumbled the ball back to Toledo with 4:31 left in the half.
On the fourth play of the Rocket drive, Logan Woodside tossed a 34-yard touchdown to Diontae Johnson. With 3:19 left in the half, Jameson Vest tied the game at seven with his extra-point kick.
Ohio went three-and-out on its next drive and punted back to Toledo with 1:58 to go in the half. The Rockets made it to the Bobcats’ side of the field before OU senior Bradd Ellis forced a fumble and sophomore captain Javon Hagan recovered.
Hagan returned the fumble to the UT 30, which set up a 44-yard field goal by Zervos, reestablishing the Ohio lead headed into halftime.
The Green and White extended their lead to 17-7 on the first drive of the second half, as Nathan Rourke capped off a nine-play, 73-yard drive with a eight-yard scoring run.
The Bobcat defense forced a three-and-out and the Ohio offense took over at its own 32. After a six-yard run on first down, OU senior Dorian Brown covered the remaining 62 yards on the next carry, crossing the goal line with 8:03 left in the third quarter.
The Rockets moved the ball 51 yards in seven plays on the ensuing drive, but settled for a 38-yard Vest field goal, which cut the Bobcat lead to 24-10.
Ohio’s next offensive possession featured 12 plays, covered 68 yards and took the game into the final period. With 13:49 left in regulation, Rourke found senior Brendan Cope for a 12-yard touchdown pass.
The Bobcats scored the final points of their 38-10 victory with 8:49 to play, when Brown capped off a five-play, 42-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run.
“I’m very proud of our guys,” Ohio head coach Frank Solich said. “It was a great effort like always tonight. They are amazing with how they prepare week in and week out for games. I thought the first half was somewhat disappointing. Certainly the turnovers looked like it could start to be a problem. You can’t give Toledo the ball and not suffer, we had to correct that at halftime. But I thought our guys came out and had a great second half.”
For the game, the Bobcats held a 23-to-14 advantage in first downs. The hosts converted on 8-of-13 third downs, while UT was 3-of-13 on third down and 1-of-3 on fourth.
Ohio outgained the Rockets by a 532-to-316 in total offense, including 393-to-53 on the ground. Both the total offense and rushing yardage marks are season-highs for the Bobcats, who held the Rockets to a season-low on the ground.
The OU offense had the ball for more than six minutes longer than Toledo’s. The Bobcats punted twice, while forcing five punts. Both teams lost 2-of-3 fumbles, with the Rockets picking off a pass to win the turnover battle. The Bobcats were penalized five times for a total of 45 yards, while Toledo was sent back six times for 48 yards. The Ohio defense was responsible for four of the game’s five sacks.
Rourke finished with 139 yards and one touchdown on 7-of-15 passing, to go with 115 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries.
Papi White hauled in a team-best three passes for 91 yards, Cope added 35 yards and a touchdown on two catches, while Andrew Meyer hauled in two passes for 13 yards
Brown led the Bobcats on the ground with 142 yards and two scores on 17 carries, while Ouellette added 70 yards and one touchdown on 18 totes.
“We’ve got two backs in A.J. (Ouellette) and Dorian (Brown) that can beat you up a little bit,” said Solich. “Dorian just got opportunities and he made the most of those opportunities while he was here.”
David Burroughs carried the ball four times and gained 61 yards for the hosts, while Dylan Wears picked up seven yards on a pair of carries.
Poling not only led the Bobcat defense with 12 tackles, including five solo tackles and three sacks, but the Bobcat senior captain moved into first place on the team’s career tackles for a loss category. Poling’s three tackles for a loss gives him 44 for his career.
“He gives football everything he’s got,” Solich said of Poling. “He loves the game and it shows in how he plays, prepares and leads. And to play your last game at home is an emotional thing for a player.”
OU senior Tony Porter also came up with a sack for the hosts, while Chad Moore and Kylan Nelson each came up with a tackle for a loss.
Woodside was 24-of-35 for 263 yards and one touchdown for the Rockets. Shakif Seymour had a team-best 77 yards on 11 carries, while Diontae Johnson hauled in a game-best nine passes for 144 yards and one score.
The Bobcats will look for their fifth straight victory on Tuesday when they visit Akron, the current second place team in the MAC East standings.
“We’re on a short week, but we’ve had some rest,” Solich said. “We give them three days off in their last break and two days off this one, and then before the Buffalo one they will get a good three days off. They’ll be rested, they’ll be ready to go, I have no question that they’ll prepare to win football games from here on out.”
A win over the Zips will secure Ohio’s trip back to the MAC title game on Dec. 2 at Ford Field in Detroit, Mich.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.