ATHENS, Ohio — The Bobcats scored in a variety of ways, they just couldn’t score enough.
The Ohio football team got four touchdowns from senior quarterback Nathan Rourke — two passing, one rushing and one receiving — as well as a rushing score from senior left tackle Austen Pleasants, but the Bobcat effort wasn’t enough, as the Green and White fell to Mid-American Conference guest Northern Illinois by a 39-36 count on Saturday afternoon inside Peden Stadium.
Ohio (2-4, 1-1 MAC) — celebrating Homecoming — went three-and-out on the game’s opening drive, and to make matters worse, the Huskies (2-4, 1-1) blocked the punt and Adam Buirge returned it three yards for the game’s first touchdown. John Richardson made his first of three point-after kicks to make the NIU lead 7-0 2:07 into play.
The Bobcats answered on their ensuing drive, going 75 yards in nine plays, with Rourke finding the end zone on an eight-yard run at the 8:06 mark. Louie Zervos connected on his first of four extra-point kicks to tie the game at 7-7.
The game wasn’t tied for long, as Richardson made a 51-yard field goal for the guests with 5:49 to go in the opening period.
After a punt by each side, the Bobcats took their first lead of the game, at 14-10, with a 13-play, 59-yard drive, punctuated by a two-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver DL Knock to Rourke.
After an Ilyaas Motley interception, Ohio added seven more points with 3:36 left in the half, with senior left tackle Austen Pleasants taking the pitch on a designed run and rumbling into the end zone from two yards out.
Next, the Huskies missed their second field goal of the quarter and headed into the half down 21-10.
Both teams were forced to punt on their first possession of the second half, but NIU ended a five-drive drought with 9:44 left in the third, as Tre Harbison ran into the end zone from four yards out. The guests failed the two-point conversion try, however, and trailed 21-16.
After a Bobcat three-and-out, the Huskies regained the lead with a 13-play, 76-yard drive, capped off by a one-yard touchdown run by Harbison. Northern Illinois failed another two-point try and settled for the 22-21 edge with 3:13 left in the third.
Ohio turned the ball over on downs on its first play of the fourth quarter, and the Huskies took over at their own 37. The guests needed six plays to cover the 63 yards, with Ross Bowers throwing a 30-yard touchdown pass to Tyrice Richie to make the NIU lead 29-21 with 12:08 left in regulation.
The Bobcat offense ended its dry spell with 8:25 to go, as Rourke found Ryan Luehrman for an eight-yard touchdown pass at the end of an eight-play, 73-yard drive. Julian Ross punched in the two-point conversion for the hosts, tying the game at 29.
The Huskies immediately responded, however, marching 75 yards in nine plays, with Harbison’s third rushing score coming at the 5:15 mark and giving the guests a 36-29 lead.
Ohio needed just four plays to answer the score, tying the game at 36 with a 47-yard touchdown pass from Rourke to Shane Hooks with 3:38 left in regulation.
Northern Illinois ran the remaining time off the clock, and Richardson made a 37-yard field goal as time expired, giving the guests a 39-36 victory.
Following the setback, Ohio head coach Frank Solich talked about the Bobcats’ 2-4 start.
“It is frustrating, but it’s where we’re at,” Solich said. “We’ve got to dig ourselves out of the hole that we’re in and just continue to stay together, continue to move forward and practice hard the way they’ve been practicing. We’ll try to make some corrections and they’ll have a good attitude. They’ll want to move forward. This is not a football team that will just back away now and crawl into a hole, they will want to move forward and play great football, so we have that on our side.”
Ohio held a 24-to-22 edge in first downs in the setback, while NIU earned a 510-to-438 advantage in total offense. The Bobcat rushing attack accounted for 178 of the team’s total yards, while the Huskies had 169 of their yards on the ground. The guests committed the game’s lone turnover, but were only penalized three times for 11 yards, while OU was sent back 70 yards on six flags.
Rourke — who was 19-of-31 passing for 258 yards and two scores — ran for 80 yards and one score on a dozen attempts, while catching one two-yard touchdown pass.
O’Shaan Allison picked up 79 yards on 11 carries, Ross added 26 yards on nine totes, while Pleasants’ only run went for two yards and six points.
Knock — who completed his only pass attempt for a two-yard touchdown — also caught one pass for one yard. Hooks led the Bobcat receiving unit with seven grabs for 131 yards and one score.
Ryan Luehrman grabbed four passes for 53 yards and one score, Cameron Odom caught three passes for 30 yards, while Isiah Cox hauled in two passes for 27 yards. Adam Luehrman and Ty Walton caught a pass apiece, gaining 10 and six yards respectively.
Jared Dorsa led the Ohio defense with 10 tackles, including 1.5 for a loss. Javon Hagan and Eric Popp had eight tackles apiece in the setback, while Will Evans picked up one sack and a team-best three tackles for a loss. Amos Ogun-Semore also had a sack for the hosts, while Ilyaas Motley picked off a pass.
Harbison led the guests on the ground with 113 yards and three touchdowns on 25 tries. Marcus Childers — who was 1-of-1 passing for three yards — gained 75 yards on two rushing attempts.
Bowers was 23-of-39 through the air, picking up 338 yards and one touchdown. Cole Tucker hauled in a game-high eight passes for 118 yards, while Mitch Brinkman and Dante Crawford caught five passes each, gaining 100 and 21 yards respectively.
Mykel Williams had a game-high 14 tackles to lead the Northern Illinois defense. Antonio Jones-Davis and Jalen McKie claimed a sack apiece for NIU.
Next, the Bobcats host 3-3 Kent State at noon on Saturday, with the Golden Flashes looking to move to 3-0 in MAC play.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.