TUSCON — The ones blaring into the sky during the national anthem weren’t the only fireworks we saw in Tucson on Friday.
With three combined touchdowns in the first 12 minutes of the game, a last second field goal to send the game to overtime and a walk-off touchdown, Ohio defeated Wyoming 30-27 to grab win No. 10 on the season.
“Our defense made improvements every week. Offense was kind of hot and kept us in games early [in the season],” Tim Albin, the head coach of the Bobcats said when discussing how proud he is of the team and what they’ve done throughout the season. “We got all three phases going and we had a great run to get to 10.”
Coming into the day, it’s doubtful that anyone expected this to become a shootout. The Bobcats were coming off an ugly, disappointing offensive performance in the Mid-American Conference championship where they only scored seven while the Cowboys barely scratched over 20 points-per-game this year and were starting a running back who’s never played a snap before.
Being that it’s bowl season and the last game of the year, everything expected from this contest was wrong.
Wyoming took the initial kickoff and proceeded to immediately march down the field. The Cowboys went on a nine-play, 70-yard drive that culminated with Jordon Vaughn, said running back who has never played in a game before, scampering through a wide open hole in the middle of the field for a 17-yard score to get things going.
Ohio responded quickly though, being immediately set up with good field position after Keegan Wilburn, the All-MAC first teamer, returned the kick 42 yards.
The Bobcats offense seemingly stalled until a late flag went flying through the air. Kolbey Taylor, well after the incomplete pass intended for Sam Wiglusz, went helmet-to-helmet on the receiver and was subsequently flagged for targeting.
Ohio took immediate advantage of the penalty. One play later, CJ Harris hit Jacoby Jones down the sideline for a 34-yard score. A little trickery on a two-point conversion gave the Bobcats an 8-7 lead minutes into the contest. Harris ended up finishing the day with 184 yards on 20-33 throwing while gaining 52 yards on the ground.
“I’m so thankful for this staff… and our players as well. My teammates, they had faith in me since Bowling Green, they showed faith in me during the Toledo game and then today they showed me faith. So, I’m very proud to go out there and do it for this team.” The quarterback said about the emotional ride he has taken ever since taking over the starting spot.
The Bobcat defense stood up strong after taking the lead for the first time. Trying to maintain momentum and keep Ohio in control, they forced Wyoming into the first punt of the game.
Wiglusz made the decision to commit to trying to catch that punt inside his own redzone, no matter how difficult it would be.
That backfired. The star receiver muffed the punt, giving the Cowboys the ball once again in the red zone.
One play later, Andrew Peasley connected with Treyton Welch in the corner of the end zone as Wyoming regained the lead.
The pace of scoring eventually settled down to what was to be expected originally. Nathaniel Vakos went 1-2 in the second quarter on field goal attempts, connecting from 43 while missing from 53.
Wyoming’s John Hoyland hit from 53 yards out with under 10 seconds left in the first half, sending the Cowboys into the break with a 17-11 lead.
With the Bobcats starting to play stout defense, it was only a matter of time before Ohio took advantage.
Clearly, Albin and his staff wanted to make an effort to find success on the ground in the second half.
They found that success midway through the third. They ended up taking the lead on a three-yard sweep that Sieh Bangura punched in. On a four-play, 56-yard scoring drive, the MAC Freshman of the Year carried the ball every play and totaled every yard. Bangura finished with 138 yards on the ground and a score
“I thought he ran his best game between the tackles,” Albin said about his running back. “He was physical… we really worked hard to establish that in the third quarter and it paid dividends.”
Now looking to sustain the lead they were given, Ohio’s defensive unit stepped up even more. Torrie Cox Jr. picked off Peasley on a deep route at the start of the fourth quarter.
Vakos hit from 45 yards out to make it a four point game with just over four minutes left in the contest.
Much like their season as a whole, the fun and optimism ran dry late and fast. After flying high for the second half, controlling every aspect of the game. They allowed the Cowboys to rip off a 75-yard touchdown drive in just over two minutes with under three minutes remaining.
Ohio then did enough to set themselves up with a game-tying field goal opportunity with just under 10 seconds remaining. Vakos missed the first attempt but Wyoming called a timeout trying to ice him.
He stepped up and hit the next one, sending the game to overtime.
In OT, the Bobcat defense held Wyoming to a field goal, giving them the chance for the walk-off touchdown. CJ Harris hit Tyler Foster in the back corner of the end zone for the winner. The team then mobbed Foster as they got to celebrate only the fourth 10-win season in Ohio history.
“This is going to springboard us into an unbelievable offseason,” Albin said. “We’re going to be going from being the hunter to the hunted this offseason. We’re going to accept the challenge and go to work. But right now we’re going to celebrate 10.”
Eric Decker is sports editor for the Athens Messenger.