ATHENS, Ohio — The home finale nearly had a story-book ending… but the Broncos turned it to a tragedy.
After just two first downs in the first half, the Ohio football team took the lead in Tuesday’s Mid-American Conference game at Peden Stadium at 34-31 in overtime, but gave up a touchdown on Western Michigan’s overtime try and fell by a 37-34 tally.
WMU (7-4, 5-2 MAC) covered 70 yards in 15 plays on the game’s opening drive, but was forced to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Thiago Kapps.
Ohio (4-6, 3-3) went three-and out on its first two drives of the game, and the Broncos were forced into a three-and-out on their second possession. Western Michigan covered 91 yards in 17 plays on its third try, but couldn’t add on to the 3-0 lead, as a fourth down false start led to a missed field goal and gave the Bobcats the ball on their own 20.
The Green and White made it to the WMU side of the field for the first time on their next drive, but were forced to punt from the 42.
The Bobcat defense came up with another three-and-out, but Ohio fumbled the punt and Drake Spears recovered for the guests at their own 48.
A dozen plays later, the Broncos scored the game’s first touchdown, as Jon Wassink found Giovanni Ricci for a two-yard touchdown pass with eight seconds left in the half. Gavin Peddie’s first of four point-after kicks gave the guests a 10-0 lead at the break.
After halftime, Ohio ended the shut out bid with a 10-play, 74-yard drive, capped off by a eight-yard touchdown pass from Nathan Rourke to Ryan Luehrman. Louie Zervos made his first of four point-after kicks to trim the deficit to 10-7 with 11:18 left in the third quarter.
After a Bronco three-and-out, Ohio took its first lead of the game at 14-10 with 7:09 to go in the third, with a 10-yard De’Montre Tuggle touchdown run at the end of a six-play, 86-yard drive.
Following a three-and-out by each side, the Broncos regained the lead at 17-14 with a four-play, 62-yard drive and a 16-yard scoring pass from Wassink to Ricci at the 3:17 mark of the third quarter.
Ohio tied the game at 17 on the first play of the fourth quarter, as Zervos nailed a 33-yard kick.
However, WMU reestablished the edge at 24-17, as Skyy Moore hauled in a 61-yard touchdown pass from Wassink with 13:20 left in regulation.
The Bobcats needed seven plays and 3:06 to tie the game at 24, with Tuggle finding paydirt from four yards out.
Western Michigan went up 31-24 with a 12-play, 72-yard drive, capped off by a two-yard run by Moore with 4:51 left in the fourth.
Ohio marched 60 yards in 11 plays, but had an incomplete pass on fourth-and-goal, giving the ball back to the Broncos at their own six-yard line with 1:10 to play.
The Bobcat defense came up with the three-and-out required to stay in the game, and the OU offense took over with 47 seconds left and 53 yards in front of it.
On the fourth play of the drive, Rourke completed a 12-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Tupa, tying the game at 31 with nine seconds to play.
The Bobcats took the ball first in overtime, and picked up five yards before Zervos made a 37-yard field goal to give the hosts a 34-31 lead.
WMU went to Levante Bellamy for three straight carries in overtime, and the Broncos senior took care of business, going 20 yards, one yard and then four yards for the game-winning touchdown.
After their second straight home setback, Ohio head coach Frank Solich admitted that the Bobcats are feeling some frustration.
“It has been frustrating for the coaches, and also the players,” said Solich. “They are very frustrated, and obviously we expected more out of this season. We’ve got two games to go, and we plan on winning those two games. We can’t take back any of the other games. I wish I could for those guys, because they’re as great a group as I’ve had in a ton of years, in terms of how they’ve responded to things, how hard they’ve practiced, and how hard they prepared in the off-season.
“I just felt like I wish I could’ve done more. They deserved more than what they’ve got accomplished this season so far. It’s what it is, and we just have to pick up from where we left off now and find a way to win our final two games.”
In the 37-34 victory, Western Michigan earned a 477-to-441 advantage in total offense, with a 322-to-225 edge in the passing game. Both teams picked up 24 first downs, neither quarterback was sacked, and Ohio committed the only turnover in the contest. OU was penalized three times for 25 yards, while WMU was flagged four times for 28.
Rourke — who led the Bobcats on the ground with 93 yards on 13 attempts — was 20-of-29 passing for 225 yards and two touchdowns.
O’Shaan Allison had 59 yards on nine carries, and 21 yards on four receptions in the setback, Tuggle totalled 39 yards and two scores on six carries, with one eight-yard reception, while Julian Ross finished with 25 yards on seven totes and seven yards on one grab.
Ryan Luehrman collected four passes for 52 yards and one touchdown, while Isiah Cox claimed three catches for 37 yards. Jerome Buckner caught two passes for 41 yards, Tupa had two grabs for 27 yards and a touchdown, while Cameron Odom finished with two catches for seven yards, and Adam Luehrman hauled in a 25-yard pass.
Javon Hagan and Jared Dorsa led the Bobcat defense with 16 tackles apiece, including a pair of tackles for a loss by Dorsa. Keye Thompson had 13 tackles and a team-best 2.5 tackles for a loss in the game.
For Western Michigan, Wassink was 23-of-34 passing for 322 yards and three touchdowns. Keith Mixon Jr. caught a game-best 10 passes for 84 yards, while Moore had four grabs for 162 yards and a touchdown. Bellamy led the WMU ground attack with 72 yards and a touchdown on 28 tries, while Treshaun Hayward paced the Bronco defense with 12 tackles, including one for a loss.
Ohio will be on the road for the remainder of 2019, starting with a trip to Bowling Green on Tuesday.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.