Updated Mon, Oct 14, 2013 10:46 am
The Ohio Bobcats took a step back on their way to capturing the Mid-American Conference East Division title in front of a packed homecoming weekend crowd at Peden Stadium on Saturday, turning the ball over four times to fall to the Central Michigan Chippewas late by a score of 26-23.
After the Ohio offense exploded a week ago against the Akron Zips, the Bobcats took a step back against Central Michigan, totaling just 173 yards of offense and three points in the first half on Saturday’s game.
“It was all about us not executing in the first half,” quarterback Tyler Tettleton said.
Ohio pieced together drives through decent gains by Beau Blankenship and successful completions to Donte Foster, but they ultimately ended abruptly by way of turnovers. Tettleton threw two interceptions in the first half, one coming after the Bobcats made their way inside the Chippewa 10-yard line early in the second quarter.
The Bobcat defense also displayed their fair share of difficulties, specifically in stopping running back Saylor Lavallii. Lavallii, a replacement for injured back Zurlon Tipton, ran rampant over the Ohio defense in the first half, gaining 131 yards on 13 carries.
“I think we just came in a little unprepared for their style of play,” senior defensive end Ty Branz said. “They’re a team that was going to pound the ball down hard on us and we didn’t do things during the week to prep for that.”
While the Bobcats had a number of miscues in the first half, they still only trailed by a single possession at the break. In the second half, Tettleton and the offense began to find a rhythm and protected the ball from costly turnovers.
Foster and Chase Cochran, Tettleton’s favorite targets in the second half, compiled eight receptions for 192 yards between the two of them. The lone touchdown from the duo came at the beginning of the third quarter, when Tettleton found Cochran on the first play of their drive for a 69-yard strike to the end zone.
“We had opportunities in the first half and we just missed them, so we stuck to the game plan,” Cochran said. “They were giving us the same looks in the second half and we hit them in the second half, but we were just a little too late.”
The Bobcats went up 23-19 midway through the fourth quarter and safety Thad Ingol delivered a crucial sack to force a Central Michigan punt to give Ohio possession to run off the remaining time and seal a homecoming victory, but the ‘Cats’ fortunes changed on that punt play.
Returner and cornerback Travis Carrie waved for a fair catch, but muffed the punt and allowed the Chippewas to fall on it and regain possession with four minutes remaining and a chance to win the game. When asked how they picked up their teammate after a mistake that likely lost the Bobcats the game, Carrie’s teammates stepped up and defended him.
“It’s not his fault whatsoever,” Tettleton said. “We shouldn’t even be mentioning Travis. It’s a collection of the whole team.”
“There were things leading up to that where we shouldn’t have even been in that situation,” Foster said. “It’s over with. He understands that it’s over and we just have to move on and correct ourselves from that.”
The Chippewas would cash in on the miscue, scoring on a five-yard touchdown from quarterback Cooper Rush to Lavallii for the score that would ultimately be the game winner.
The loss is the first for the Bobcats at Peden Stadium this season and pushes them two games back of becoming .500 in program history. The team and the coaching staff were clearly frustrated by the performance, but realize that they still aren’t out of the hunt for the MAC East title.
“We still have a chance to win the division and get to Detroit,” Tettleton said. “There’s so much more football to be played. The loss happened, but we’ll be fine.”
The Bobcats move to 4-2 on the season and 1-1 in the MAC as they travel to Ypsilanti, Mich., next Saturday for a 1 p.m. kickoff with the Eastern Michigan Eagles.