Call it ugly or call it lucky, but neither of those things can take away from the fact that the Ohio Bobcats (4-4, 2-2 MAC) managed to knock off Akron, 23-20, Saturday at Peden Stadium.
The hard fought MAC East battle, which gave Ohio its eighth straight victory over the Zips (4-3, 2-1 MAC), was part of a wild Saturday of MAC action – and results.
With just under four minutes left in the game and the ball on its own 42-yard line, Akron looked poised to stay unbeaten in the MAC.
“That was an exciting moment, because we haven’t had many turnovers this whole season, so it was exciting to get that turnover and try to get our offense in a good situation to put us up,” Johnson said.
The forced fumble by Bass was his second turnover of the day. He recorded his first interception of the season in the very first quarter on a fourth-and-six attempt by the Zips.
With the ball just outside of the red zone, Ohio picked up a first down on an 11-yard run by Sprague. However, when OU was held out of the end zone, it forced the Bobcats to bring on the field goal unit.
Luckily for the ‘Cats, Josiah Yazdani could draw confidence from two fields earlier in the game (42 and 38 yards). He made it three straight by connecting on the 22-yard field goal to put Ohio up 23-20 with 1:55 left in the game.
Although they had no timeouts remaining, the Zips were left with plenty of time to put up a last minute score to tie or take the lead.
Ohio safety Josh Kristoff, however, had other plans as the senior captain picked off Tommy Woodson four plays later to seal the victory for the ‘Cats, snapping their two-game losing streak.
“This one’s special. We’ve been struggling the past couple of weeks,” Kristoff said. “We really knew we had to win this game, and for us to battle and pull it out it was a great feeling.”
Woodson, who has played on multiple occasions this season, was filling in for the injured Kyle Pohl and had a solid game for Akron with 55 yards rushing and 268 yards passing.
The key for Ohio this week was not allowing itself to get down early. After trailing by 14 points to start its last two games, the Bobcats were finally able to strike first on a 49-yard touchdown pass from J.D. Sprague to Ian Dixon.
“We’ve been playing from behind, usually by 14 points early on,” head coach Frank Solich said. “We did decide to take the ball if we won the toss and go on offense first, which fell into play for us.”
Against the number two-ranked defense in the MAC, Sprague performed well, completing 17 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 68 yards.
The 23 points scored by Ohio is the second most that Akron has allowed all season. The Bobcats also scored points both times they were in the red zone, which is hard to do against an Akron defense that entered the game ranked eighth in the country in red zone defense.
Among the plays that stand out in the game was Akron’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-three at the Ohio 29-yard line with 52 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Head coach Terry Bowden’s decision to go for it did not go as planned when Woodson was tackled for a loss to turn the ball over on downs.
Ohio made the Zips pay by nailing a 38-yard field goal to end the first half and those three points proved critical.
For Akron’s offense, yards were hard to come by on the ground as no running back for the Zips had more than 25 yards rushing.
The passing game was a different story, and wide receiver Zach D’Orazio had a career-best 117 yards receiving on nine catches, including one touchdown.
Both Ohio and Akron struggled when it came to penalties combining for 21 flags thrown for 203 yards.
In the first five games of the year, Ohio ranked toward the top of the MAC when it came to fewest penalties but in the last two weeks alone, Ohio has committed a jaw-dropping 26 penalties for 273 yards.
“They get so caught up in the game I think that before they know it, they’ll make a mistake, but we can’t win if we continue to do that,” Solich said. “We’ve got to clean that part of the game up, and we got to do it in a hurry.”
The Bobcats hit the road next week for a matchup against Western Michigan (4-3, 2-1 MAC). Akron takes a trip to Muncie, IN to take on Ball State (2-5, 1-2 MAC).