ATHENS, OH -- In their first home game of the season, the Ohio Bobcats (2-2, 1-0) held off the Idaho Vandals (0-3, 0-1) 36-24 on Saturday night thanks in large part the defensive play of freshman linebacker Quentin Poling and an impressive rushing performance by freshman running back A.J. Ouellette.
After failing to have a running back gain at least 50 yards rushing in the past two weeks, the Bobcats found an unlikely answer in Ouellette. Against the Vandals, Ouellette scored two touchdowns and picked up 130 yards rushing on 27 carries.
“If you make a mistake, coach doesn’t have any leeway. It’s next back in—just do your job,” Ouellette said.
The freshman tail back wasted no time making an impact when he sped 45 yards down the field on his second carry of the game, followed by a 12-yard run.
On the very next play, quarterback Derrius Vick found wide receiver Sebastian Smith in the corner of the end zone to give Ohio a 7-0 lead with 10:12 remaining in the first quarter.
Ohio would go on to add a 32-yard field goal by Josiah Yazdani and tack on another touchdown, this time by Ouellette, who took a direct snap from the one-yard line on third and goal to put the Bobcats up 17-0 with just over 10 minutes remaining before the half.
“I don’t know how to put words to it. It’s just one of the best feelings in the world seeing everybody there cheering for us,” Ouellette said.
His touchdown was set up by a 54-yard run from Vick, who was taken off the field on the next play after suffering a knee injury on a late hit by an Idaho defender. The severity of Vick’s injury is unknown at this time but he did not return in the second half.
His replacement, J.D. Sprague, already received a significant amount of playing time two weeks ago against Kentucky and was ready to fill the void after the junior captain went down.
Sprague finished the game completing 8-of-13 passes for 167 yards, as well as a rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Idaho was finally able to find its way into the end zone with an impressive 15 play, 76-yard drive that took nearly five minutes.
However, the Vandals effort to add another touchdown before halftime was squandered by the ‘Cats defense that stopped Idaho running back Elijhaa Penny on fourth and goal from the one-yard line, giving Ohio a 17-7 lead heading into the half.
A back-and-forth offensive showdown highlighted the second half and the Vandals were able to fight their way back, shrinking Ohio’s lead to three points going into the fourth quarter.
In the final stanza, Ohio middle linebacker Quentin Poling took control of the game by picking off Idaho quarterback Matt Linehan and returning it to the Vandals 5-yard line to set up Sprague’s rushing touchdown and give Ohio a 29-17 lead.
The interception was his second of the game but not his last, as he would pick off Linehan once again late in the fourth quarter to ice the game and give Ohio a much needed win.
“We really needed to bounce back after last week against Marshall,” Poling said. “It was sort of embarrassing for us. We didn’t feel like that was our identity so we had something to prove tonight.”
Despite his three interceptions, Linehan threw for 353 yards on 55 passing attempts. Last week, Linehan became the first freshman quarterback in school history to throw for back-to-back 300-plus yards and he was able to extend that streak against the Bobcats.
Linehan’s main target on the night was wide receiver Joshua McCain who corralled five catches for 149 yards and two touchdowns, including a one-handed 34-yard touchdown grab midway through the third quarter.
On Ohio’s side, no receiver had more than three receptions, but they were able to bail out Sprague and Vick on multiple occasions and had four pass plays of 20 or more yards.
The 36 points scored by Ohio is the most the Bobcats have scored in a single game this season and was also the first time they scored more than 17 points in a game.
Next week the Bobcats look to continue their offensive success at home and move into a winning record as they take on Eastern Illinois at 2 p.m.