While Bobcat offensive lineman were dropping left and right, a reminder to purchase MAC Championship tickets flashed on the scoreboard; a proverbial slap in the face to the Bobcat faithful who had high hopes of finally finishing business in DetroitA season riddled with key injuries from the onset and, as of late, poor offensive execution persisted in the ‘Cats’ regular season finale with MAC East rival KSU. The Kent State Golden Flashes rushed out to a 21-3 lead over the Ohio Bobcats, fueled by a defensive effort that helped contribute to two of Kent State’s three first quarter scores. Kent State would win 28-6.
“The early part of the game was disastrous for us,” head coach Frank Solich said. “The turnovers, getting points on the board for them off of those, were tough, so it was a poor start.”
Through the first four Ohio offensive drives, sacks, turnovers and injuries doomed the Bobcats early on. Kent safety Luke Wollet and linebacker C.J. Malauulu set the tone for the Golden Flashes from the start when Malauulu forced a Blankenship turnover with Wollet there to turn the mistake into a 50-yard score. Two sacks, for a combined loss of 22 yards, shut down any production that Ohio tried to get rolling on their next two possessions.
The Bobcat defense kept a total meltdown from occurring, however, and held the potent Golden Flash offense to just 28 yards on their first drive. The wheels started to get somewhat shaky on their second drive, though, as a Keith Spencer 44-yard pass to wide out Eric Adeyemi put Kent in the Ohio red zone. Two plays later the second prong to KSU’s rushing attack, running back Trayion Durham, pummeled through weak Bobcat tackling for the 15-yard score, putting the Golden Flashes up 14-0 with 7:24 left in the first frame.
Then things got extremely ugly. On the first play after the Kent touchdown, Tettleton had an errant pass intercepted by Malauulu and returned for a 33-yard score. The Golden Flashes were up 21-0 with 5:59 to go in the first quarter, and it wasn’t the offensive machine that is Kent State that buried the ‘Cats early on.
“We just killed ourselves on the turnovers and we got ourselves going, but we couldn’t finish, couldn’t get in the end zone,” Blankenship said.
The scoreboard then became almost inactive for the remaining final 21 minutes of the second half. Ohio kicker Matt Weller was able to knock in two field goals of 33 and 41 yards respectively.
Blankenship did most of the workload to get the ‘Cats on the board first, rushing his way into the Ohio record book along the way. His 54 yards help put Weller in position to score, and also solidified him as the team’s all-time single season rushing leader.
The next Weller field goal was set up by a Jelani Woseley interception, which was deflected by defensive back Larenzo Fisher. Tettleton then accounted for 57 yards all-purpose yards down the field, but then in a microcosm of his day, was sacked for a 10-yard loss with Ohio in the red zone.
“(Tettleton) was under a fair amount of pressure today, and there were times where maybe he shouldn’t have run or maybe he should’ve thrown away the ball a couple of times,” Solich said.
Ohio went into the half trailing 21-6, and the play of the defense kept a shimmering hope of victory. Having lost three starting linemen; Vince Carlotta, Eric Herman and Ryan McGrath to season-ending injuries in the matter of minutes didn’t help the fact that Tettleton was scrambling for his life at times. Tettleton lost 80 yards from sacks and six of the eight sacks allowed came on crucial third-down plays, contributing to Ohio’s 3-of-10 effort on converting in those situations.
Once the second half began, the Bobcat defense went into overdrive. On Kent State’s second drive of the third quarter, Dri Archer fumbled after Ohio safety Thad Ingol made a nice play, allowing defensive back Ian Wells to come up with the ball. The Ohio defense kept the elusive Archer in check, keeping the speedy junior out of the end zone in a game for his first time this season as well as keeping him under 100 yards of total offense.
“We prepared for him all week and we realized that when we had a chance to make a tackle, we had to make the tackle or he’s going to take it to the house,” defensive lineman Corey Hasting said. “I think we did a great job on that today.”
That’s when the fourth quarter rolled along and Kent State offense quickly found the end zone for the second time on the day. Starting at the 50-yard line, the Golden Flashes chopped away at an exhausted defense. A 24-yard strike from Spencer to Adeyemi for 24 yards put the game out of reach for the ‘Cats with just 11:44 to go in the game.
Ohio’s final offense play of the regular season ended on a fourth-down play in which Tettleton ran out of bounds instead of taking a shot at the end zone. It was ironic enough that the redshirt junior, who is known for leading his team in come-from-behind situations, didn’t take one last throw.
With that the Bobcats finished with a disappointing 8-4 mark, and the hopes of making it to a bowl game are still up in the air. The fate of Ohio’s postseason is now in the hands of the bowl committee.
“We’ve got eight wins, we’re a banged up football team, but we’ll go with what the bowl committee sees and how they feel, and we’ll go from there,” Solich said.