ATHENS, Ohio — Picking up right where they left off in nine months ago.
The Ohio University football team kicked off its 2019 season and won its 10th straight decision in Peden Stadium on Saturday in Athens County, as the Bobcats defeated non-conference guest Rhode Island by a 41-20 count in front of over 16,000 in attendance.
Ohio (1-0) began its first drive in the shadow of its own end zone, but traveled 94 yards in 13 plays and 6:38, with senior quarterback Nathan Rourke scoring on a five-yard run with 5:50 left in the first. Louie Zervos made his first of five extra-point kicks to give the Bobcats a 7-0 lead.
Rhode Island (0-1) — a Division I FCS school — answered with a 15-play drive, but was forced to settle for a 35-yard C.J. Carrick field goal 1:26 into the second quarter.
OU answered on its ensuing drive, as Zervos connected from 37 yards out to make the Bobcat lead 10-3 with 10:18 left in the half.
The guests punted for the second time on their next drive, and Ohio was up 17-3 six plays later, as Rourke tossed a 22-yard touchdown to Tyler Tupa with 3:00 left in the half.
The Rams had enough time to get three points back, however, with Carrick hitting a 19-yard field goal to make the OU lead 17-6 at the break.
The Green and White began the second half with a 10-play, 72-yard drive that was capped off by a four-yard touchdown pass from Rourke to Ryan Luehrman.
Rhode Island was in the end zone for the field time less than two-minutes later, as Vito Priore tossed a 34-yard scoring pass to Aaron Parker.
Ohio went up 27-13 on its next possession, as Zervos capped off the eight-play, 50-yard drive with a 42-yard field goal.
A failed punt by the Rams left the Bobcats just 15 yards to paydirt on its next possession. On the third play of the drive, Ohio junior De’Montre Tuggle ran into the left side of the end zone from six yards out to give Ohio a 34-13 advantage with 15:40 left in the game.
Following a URI punt, Ohio began its first drive of the fourth quarter on its own 22. Tuggle had a 78-yard touchdown run called back after a penalty on the second play of the drive, but six plays later, the Ohio junior found the end zone from 55 yards out to give the hosts a 41-13 lead with 11:12 to go.
The Ohio offense was stopped for the first and second times in the game on their next two possessions, with Rhode Island scoring the final touchdown of the contest on a 38-yard pass from Priore to Isaiah Coulter.
Following the game, Bobcats head coach Frank Solich was pleased with the win, but noted the Bobcats have plenty of work ahead of them.
“We won the ballgame. I think that’s great,” Solich said. “I think we played a pretty good football team, a fairly talented football team, and fought. It was a little disconcerting at first when they were able to get the running game going as early as they did, and get things done that they got done.
“We’re obviously going to have to do things better, really, on both sides of the ball and in special teams also. We have a lot of improvement to do. I’m proud of the guys for getting it done today, and even though we seemed to get off to a slow start, I thought as the game went on, we did things much better.”
For the game, Ohio held a 23-to-21 edge in first downs and a 466-to-375 advantage in total offense, including a 278-to-84 clip on the ground. The Bobcats lost the turnover battle by a 2-to-1 count, but didn’t punt in the contest.
Rourke — who was 16-of-22 passing for 188 yards and two touchdowns — carried the ball 10 times for a total of 75 yards and one score.
Julian Ross carried the ball 14 times for a total of 68 yards, with his long of 21 coming for a third-and-18 conversion. Tuggle had 65 yards and two touchdowns on three carries, O’Shaan Allison carried the ball six times for 38 yards and had two catches for nine yards, while Ja’Vahri Portis ended with four carries for 33 yards.
A total of nine Bobcats caught passes in the win, led by Tupa with 49 yards and a touchdown on three grabs. Jerome Buckner and Isiah Cox caught three passes apiece, gaining 48 and 26 yards respectively. With a one catch each, Shane Hooks had 30 yards, Cameron Odom earned 10, Adam Luehrman added seven, Ty Walton picked up five, and Ryan Luehrman came up with four yards and a touchdown.
Leading the Bobcat defense, Jared Dorsa had eight tackles, including half of a sack. Cole Baker a sack-and-a-half in the win, while Marlin Brooks came up with an interception.
Priore was 22-of-32 for 291 yards and two touchdowns for the Rams. Zoe Bryant Jr. led the Rhode Island rushing attack with 89 yards on 17 tries, while Aaron Parker hauled in a game-best nine passes for 144 yards and one score.
Ohio heads for ACC-country next, as the Green and White visit Pittsburgh on Saturday at 11 a.m.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.