ATHENS, OH -- The Ohio Bobcats started walk-on quarterback J.D Sprague and walk-on running back A.J. Ouellette on Saturday afternoon as they defeated the Eastern Illinois Panthers (1-4, 1-0) 34-19 at home. This win marks Ohio’s first-ever victory over the Panthers.
Ohio (3-2, 1-0) was able score at least 10 points in each of the first three quarters of action as its ground game rolled up 229 yards and produced all four Bobcat touchdowns.
By the time the game entered its final stanza, the ‘Cats had all but wrapped up their fourth straight victory at Peden Stadium and even decided to rest their offensive and defensive starters for the entire fourth quarter.
“I was really concerned about this ball game,” Solich said. “We had a quarterback starting that hasn’t started a game; we got a running back that hasn’t started a game and just a few months ago was a walk-on. We got three freshman linemen playing. We got all young receivers, and we got a young tight end. Whether or not we were going to move the ball and put points on the board I didn’t really know, but we were able to do just that.”
Solich’s decision to start Ouellette came on the heels of the freshman’s impressive game last week against Idaho, where he picked up 132 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
Ouellette did not disappoint this week with his 87 yards rushing and two scores, including a 65-yard touchdown run on Ohio’s first play of the second quarter.
“We’re starting to pick it up on offense,” Ouellette said. “Big plays are starting to happen. We left a couple of plays out there, but we’ll fix that.”
Quellette was not alone in Ohio’s rushing attack as Sprague added 69 yards on 12 carries.
Sprague also had two rushing touchdowns of his own, one of which came in the third quarter when he somehow managed to break several tackles and fought his way through a pile up in the middle of the field by emerging out of the heap after juking to the left, giving him a wide-open lane to the end zone.
“I liked his [Sprague’s] poise back there and he showed ability to scramble. He keep plays alive and made plays out of plays that weren’t really there,” Solich said. “All in all I thought he did a very good job.”
Remarkably enough, the Bobcats had three freshman linemen receive significant playing time, in part because the ‘Cats were without Mike McQueen, who was suspended from the game for violating the team’s code of conduct policy.
McQueen’s absence and the presence of three freshman up front did not seem to affect the ‘Cats as they finished with 387 yards of total offense, 229 of which came on the ground.
Despite Eastern Illinois having 45 more yards on offense, the Bobcats were able to hold the Panthers to 19 points, nine of which came harmlessly in the fourth quarter.
Ohio’s defense showed its resiliency in the first drive of the game when it stopped the Panthers on third and goal from the one-yard line. Eastern Illinois was forced to settle for an 18-yard field goal, which put them up 3-0.
The early field goal would prove to be the Panthers only lead of the game and Ohio wasted no time in responding on offense.
Sprague, in the first start of his career, led his team down the field with a couple of key completions, including a 34-yard connection to Jordan Reid who made an acrobatic catch to put Ohio on Eastern Illinois’ seven-yard line.
Ouellette finished off the drive three plays later on third-and-goal with a one-yard touchdown run capping off a 10-play, 78-yard drive.
From there, Ohio went on to score 14 unanswered points with only one slip up by Sprague, who threw his first-career interception to Eastern Illinois defensive back Bradley Dewberry. That resulted in the Panthers’ first touchdown of the game.
The touchdown, however, would not be the last score of the first half as Ohio’s place kicker Josiah Yazdani was able to connect on a 20-yard field goal with nine seconds remaining before the break.
Yazdani’s field goal was made possible by Ohio’s Grant Cunningham, who blocked an Eastern Illinois punt with just over a minute left in the second quarter, putting Ohio on the Panthers’ 35-yard line.
Cunningham’s block was the first time the ‘Cats have blocked a punt since 2010.
Yazdani opened the second half for Ohio the same way he ended the first by nailing a 46-yard field goal to put the Bobcats up 27-10. The 46-yarder was a season-high for the Lou Groza Watch List Candidate.
Ohio went on to score its last touchdown in the third quarter, giving it 34 points on the day. This is the second week in a row in which the ‘Cats have scored 30 or more points.
Although Sprague threw two interceptions against the Panthers, he performed as well as the Bobcats could have hoped after they lost starting quarterback and captain Derrius Vick to a knee injury last week.
Sprague ended up with 15 completions for 143 yards compared to his counter-part Jalen Whitlow, who completed 30-of-46 passes for 289 yards and a touchdown.
Whitlow also ran for 112 yards on 15 carries after he set the Panthers’ school record for quarterback rushing yardage last week with 137 yards rushing against Austin Peay.
Next week, Ohio jumps back into MAC play when it hits the road to take on Central Michigan (2-2, 0-0) at 3:30 p.m. in Mount Pleasant, MI.