An aerial assault by the Eagles . . .
Roback's favorite target on the day was junior Sergio Bailey, who finished with a career-high 143 yards on eight receptions and a score. It was the first 100-yard receiver of the season for EMU. Also catching TDs on the afternoon were fellow juniors Antoine Porter and Johnnie Niupalau, with Porter totaling a career-best 74 yards, while Niupalau picked up 16.
As a team, EMU out-gained the Bobcats by a final tally of 435-415, including a 347-291 advantage through the air. The Eagles converted 7-of-15 first downs, compared to Ohio's 3-of-11. EMU also won the turnover battle 2-1.
Defensively, junior Jason Beck led the charge with a team-high 10 stops. Senior DaQuan Pace had the first interception of his season to go along with four tackles and a breakup, while redshirt senior Pat O'Connor finished with two tackles for loss, and a strip sack, which was his 5.5 of the season and 17th of his career. That places him just a half sack away from being the all-time EMU leader since 1998.
The Eagles were the first on the board after shutting down the Ohio offense on their first possession. Led by the passing attack of Roback, the Eagles raced down the field in 12 plays. Roback began the drive completing passes of 12 yards to Bailey II, followed by a 32 yarder to A. Porter, and then a 17-yard strike again to Bailey II to quickly get Eastern down to the Ohio 35.
After a pair of first downs to get into the red zone, the Bobcat defense stepped up, forcing the 22-yard field goal. Redshirt freshman Paul Fricano split the uprights, giving EMU the early 3-0 lead.
The next four drives were three and outs for both teams, quickly moving the clock to under four minutes in the first quarter. The field position was in EMU's favor though, as two of the OU drives started within their own 10.
Ohio's fourth drive of the game, though, got them out of the shadow of their own goalposts, getting to EMU's side of the field at the 38. Eastern's defense stood tall this time, stopping the Bobcats on fourth down, and getting the ball back right before the end of the first quarter.
On the ensuing EMU drive, senior tight end Sam Browning was stripped near midfield, and Ohio recovered for the first turnover of the game.
Nine plays later, Ohio turned the fumble into points on a 22-yard field goal of their own, knotting the score at 3-3 with 10:46 until the half.
Following another three-and-out by EMU, Ohio began driving again, looking to take its first lead of the game. Three first downs got the Bobcats to midfield, but the drive was halted on a long strike downfield, which was undercut and picked off by Pace, He then returned it 35 yards to the OU 44 yard line. It was the second INT of Pace's career. Despite the turnover, Ohio's defense continued to lock down the Eagle attack, forcing yet another three-and-out.
A defensive struggle continued as Ohio forced another EMU field goal try, which was off the left post this time, keeping the score 3-3 with 2:54 to go.
Eastern received the ball in the second half, and found some of the offensive rhythm it lacked in the first half. Beginning at the 14, a 17-yard run and then a 17-yard pass from Roback quickly got EMU into Ohio territory. A 17-yard screen pass to redshirt sophomore Iak Eriksen moved the Eagles deeper, and a nine-yard pass to Bailey II put the Eagles into the red zone.
Ohio's defense kept EMU out of the end zone, though, as a 13-yard sack killed the momentum. However, the Eagles came away with points on a 34-yard Fricano field goal, giving EMU the lead back 6-3.
The Bobcats had an immediate response on their first drive of the second half, engineering a 10-play, 71-yard drive for the first touchdown of the game. It was capped off by an eight-yard run, giving Ohio its first lead of the game at 10-6 with just under four minutes left in the third quarter.
Eastern found the big play it needed on the first play of the very next drive. After starting at its own 34, Roback found Bailey II for about 20 yards, but the shifty receiver shook the only defender nearby, and proceeded to sprint down to the OU nine yard line.
Two plays later, Roback found Niupalau in the end zone for the Eagles' first touchdown of the game. Niupalau's third TD catch of the season gave Eastern the lead back at 13-10 with just under three minutes until the final frame.
This time the Bobcats could not respond, going three-and-out and giving Eastern the ball back at their 37 just before the end of the quarter. The Eagles used the defensive stand to extend their lead on the next drive.
Going 11 plays and 63 yards, EMU pushed its lead to 10, 20-10, to begin the fourth quarter. EMU quickly got to midfield after a rush from Eriksen, and a 10-yard pass to redshirt freshman Isaac Holder. After back-to-back incompletions, Roback found Bailey II for a 13-yard gain, putting him over 100-yards receiving in the game and giving Eastern a fresh set of downs at the OU 35.
Redshirt freshman Breck Turner picked up the next 21 yards on two rushes and a dump-off pass, but a rush for no gain in the middle of the sequence set up a third and three. Coming out of a timeout, Roback floated a pass to the corner, which Bailey II wrestled away from the defender, coming down with his third touchdown pass of the season. The strike made the tally 20-10 with 11:03 to go.
With their backs up against the wall, the Bobcats were able to respond with an eight-play, 90-yard touchdown drive to cut the score back down to 20-17 with 8:07 left in the contest.
The Eagle offense responded one more time on the next drive with a huge, eight-play, 70-yard drive for a touchdown. Roback hit two completions to Bailey II and Porter, before Turner broke free for a 24-yard gain to advance to the Ohio 27. Another first down came after a 2-yard run from Turner and an 8-yard pass to A. Porter, giving EMU first down at the 17.
Three plays later on a third and four, Roback threw for his third TD pass of the game, this time to A. Porter on an 11-yard strike, giving Eastern the 10-point lead back at 27-17 with 3:47 to go.
Needing two quick scores, Ohio got one on the next drive with a 47-yard field goal with just over two minutes left to play. Ohio attempted the onside kick, but it was secured by the Eagles at the 39.
Still needing one more first down to seal the deal, Turner carried the load with three straight rushes for 12 yards, giving EMU the fresh set of downs, and burning the remaining two OU timeouts. With the game in hand, EMU kneeled out the game, securing the 27-20 victory.
Eastern remains on the road next week for an in-state showdown with nationally ranked Western Michigan University. Kickoff from Waldo Stadium is set for 3:30 p.m.
Ohio travels to Kent State (Saturday, 1 p.m. ET).