ATHENS, Oh -- With just over two minutes to go in Ohio’s game against MAC West leader Northern Illinois, the ‘Cats trailed 21-14 and were driving effectively down the field.
The Bobcats were able to move into Northern Illinois territory after quarterback Derrius Vick completed what appeared to be a 10-yard pass to wide receiver Landon Smith, who bobbled the pass and corralled it in for the catch.
As Ohio head coach Frank Solich gave the next play to Vick, officials intervened to review the play after Northern Illinois strong safety Marlon Moore pounced on the ball claiming Smith had fumbled the reception.
After several minutes of review, the officials sealed the fate of Ohio’s upset bid by ruling in favor of the Huskies. Northern Illinois then proceeded to run out the clock, giving the visitors a 21-14 victory.
Coming into the game, the Huskies (9-2, 6-1 MAC) were averaging over 250 yards rushing per game. But Ohio (5-6, 3-4 MAC) held them to under 150 yards on the ground, the seventh time this year OU has been able to accomplish the feat.
The run defense for Ohio was not enough, however, with the Bobcats missing several chances to steal away the win from Northern Illinois.
Perhaps the biggest sequence of plays in the game, aside from Smith’s fumble, came on the Huskies’ first possession of the second half.
With Northern Illinois driving, cornerback Ian Wells forced running back Cameron Stingily to fumble on third-and-one inside his team’s territory. Defensive end Casey Sales recovered the ball on the 47-yard line.
On Ohio’s very next play, Vick made his biggest mistake of the night by trying to force an out route pass that was read perfectly by sophomore Anthony Brooks, who picked off Vick.
“I should’ve just either ran or thrown the ball away and just accepted that the defense won on that play,” Vick said.
Brooks’ interception would eventually lead to Northern Illinois’ second touchdown of the game, putting it ahead 14-7 with 9:25 remaining in the third quarter.
The touchdown, a 32-yard screen pass from Huskie quarterback Drew Hare to Akeem Daniels, came two plays after Ohio linebacker Blair Brown was ejected for targeting a defenseless Northern Illinois receiver.
On Ohio’s next drive, Vick was able to move his team into field goal territory, where Josiah Yazdani missed his second 46-yard field goal try of the game.
“I was second-guessing myself when I called for the field goal,” Solich said. “We’re in four-down territory and maybe it’s the time to go for it, so that’s where I second-guess myself.”
After a quick three and out by Northern Illinois, Ohio put together another promising drive. That, however, stalled when the Bobcats were unable to pick up the first down on three consecutive run plays, turning the ball over on downs at the Huskies’ 28-yard line.
A quick punt by Northern Illinois gave Ohio plenty of time to put together a seven play, 78-yard drive that ended with A.J. Ouellette snatching a nine-yard slant pass across the middle to tie the game at 14-14 with just under nine minutes left in the game. The touchdown was Ouellette’s second of the night, as he also performed well on the ground with 25 carries for 127 yards.
From there, Northern Illinois’ offense wasted no time answering Ohio’s touchdown with a score on its own on -- an 18-yard pass from Hare to Chad Beebe.
The next drive for the ‘Cats ended with Smith’s fumble which left a bitter taste of disappointment for Ohio on its senior night.
“It definitely hurts,” Ouellette said. “I got to know the seniors quite a bit this year, and I wanted to win this one for them.”
With the loss, Ohio must now defeat the rival Miami RedHawks (2-9, 2-5) in Oxford to gain bowl eligibility for the sixth consecutive year. Northern Illinois closes out its regular season against a tough Western Michigan (7-3, 5-1 MAC) squad on Nov. 28. That contest could well determine the MAC West title.