AKRON, Ohio — Back to .500 and bowl eligible.
The Ohio University football team never trailed en route to a 52-3 victory over Mid-American Conference host Akron on Tuesday at InfoCision Stadium, making the Bobcats bowl eligible for the 11th consecutive season.
The Zips (0-12, 0-8 MAC) — finishing the season winless for the fourth time in program history and first time since 1942 — punted after five plays on the game’s first drive, but forced Ohio (6-6, 5-3) into a three-and-out to get the ball back.
The Bobcats forced the Zips into three-and-out of their own, and then Ohio took the lead on its next play from scrimmage. Senior quarterback Nathan Rourke found DL Knock for a 53-yard scoring pass, and Louie Zervos made his first of seven point-after kicks to make the Bobcat lead 7-0 lead with 9:55 left in the first quarter.
Ohio forced another three-and-out, but a strip-sack and fumble recovery by Davon’te Jest gave Akron the ball back at the OU 17. Five plays later, Cory Smigel made a 25-yard field goal for the Zips, cutting Ohio’s lead to 7-3 at the 7:20 mark of the first.
The Bobcats answered in 2:15, going 73 yards in five plays, with Shane Hooks hauling in a 39-yard touchdown pass from Rourke to make the margin 14-3.
The Green and White got the ball back after another three-and-out, but gave the ball away three plays into their next drive, with Dylan Meeks forcing the fumble and A.J. Watts recovering for the hosts. The Zips, however, punted back to Ohio after three straight incomplete passes.
Ohio made its lead 17-3 on the first play of the second quarter, as Zervos connected on a 40-yard field goal.
A third down sack by Dylan Conner on the ensuing Zip drive forced the hosts to punt back to Ohio with 13:26 left in the half.
The guests needed nine plays and 4:11 to cover the 70 yards in front of it, with Rourke’s third passing score of the game going to Ryan Luehrman from nine yards out.
After three punts in a row — two by UA and one by OU — the Bobcats went up 31-3 headed into halftime with a five-play, 69-yard drive, capped off by a 11-yard scoring pass from Rourke to Hooks.
Out of the break, Ohio went 80 yards in seven plays, with O’Shaan Allison giving the Bobcats a 38-3 lead with consecutive runs of 46, six and seven yards to finish the drive.
Xavior Motley and Jack McCrory combined for a third down sack to force Akron to punt back to Ohio after just three plays.
After a punt by each side, the Bobcats took the game into the fourth quarter and went up 45-3 with a 14-play, 80-yard drive, punctuated by a one-yard run by Rourke.
Two plays into the ensuing Akron possession, Tyler Tupa intercepted a pass for the Green and White on the OU 45.
The Bobcats needed eight plays to cover the 55 yards in front of them, with Ja’Vahri Portis finding paydirt from three yards out with 6:41 left in regulation.
Isaac Gill intercepted a pass on the Zips’ final drive, sealing Ohio’s 52-3 victory.
The Bobcats enjoyed a 25-to-7 edge in first downs in the win, with advantages of 251-to-41 in rushing yards and 352-to-33 in passing yards. Akron was responsible for 10 of the game’s 13 punts, with each team committing a pair of turnovers. Ohio — which held an advantage of over 15 minutes in possession time — was penalized six times for 51 yards, while UA was sent back four times for 39 yards.
Rourke — who was 20-of-28 passing for 308 yards and four touchdowns — ran 10 times for a net gain of 37 yards with one score.
De’Montre Tuggle led the Bobcat ground attack with 78 yards on nine carries, to go with 12 yards on two catches. Allison was next with 71 yards and a score on seven carries, while Portis finished with 28 yards and a score on five tries.
Julian Ross had 27 yards on eight carries, while Jake Neatherton added three yards on four totes. Joe Mischler — who was 1-of-2 passing for 23 yards — ran once for four yards, while Drew Keszei was 1-for-1 passing for 21 yards and ran once for two yards.
Ty Walton — who ran once for one yard — had a team-best 82 yards on five receptions. Hooks ended with 81 yards and two scores on five grabs of his own, Isiah Cox caught three passes for 28 yards, while Camryn Snow and K.J. Minter caught two passes apiece for 44 and 22 yards respectively.
Knock’s only catch went for 53 yards and a touchdown, Ryan Luehrman’s only grab was his nine-yard score, while Bingo Long added a 21-yard reception.
Conner led the Ohio defense with six tackles, including a sack. Amos Ogun-Semore also had a sack for the Green and White.
For Akron, Zach Gibson was 3-of-11 passing for 23 yards, Kato Nelson was 1-of-14 for 10 yards, while Robbie Kelly was 0-for-2.
Peter Hayes-Patrick led hosts on the ground with 42 yards on 14 tries. Jeremiah Knight and Michiah Burton caught two passes apiece for 22 and 11 yards respectively in the loss. Adetutu Daranijo and Bubba Arslanian led the Zip defense with 10 tackles apiece.
This marks the 13th time in the 15-year tenure of Ohio head coach Frank Solich that the Bobcats are bowl eligible.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.