A season that began with seven straight wins and national recognition is now teetering on indifference.
On a night when the Bobcats celebrated a senior class that is the winningest in program history, horrendous special teams play spoiled the night, as Bowling Green silenced Ohio's “Bobcat Blackout” with a resounding 26-14 victory.
The game will be remembered for the four miscues in the punting game that led to 19 points for the Falcons. Punter Grant Venham had two punts blocked and mishandled another, while long snapper Miles Chapman had a low snap that led to a safety.
“The punting game was a negative for us and was a huge problem in this ball game," said Ohio head coach Frank Solich. "We weren’t getting things blocked well enough up front.”
However, it wasn't all bad for Ohio. Facing the MAC's top-ranked defense, the Bobcats made a statement on their opening drive by going 72 yards in 11 plays, culminating with Tyler Tettleton's five-yard touchdown run off the right side for an early 7-0 lead.
But the Falcons came up with their first of many special teams plays that swung the momentum of the game. Brian Sutton blocked Venham's punt, and Bowling Green took over at Ohio's 20. Three plays later, Anthon Samuel, who rushed for 181 yards on 29 attempts, carried Ohio defenders into the end zone for an emphatic 15-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-7, just eight seconds into the second quarter.
BG took the lead for good on their next possession. Falcons quarterback Matt Schilz fooled the defense with a fake delayed handoff and found Chris Gallon alone for an easy 55-yard touchdown.
Schilz initially faked a quick throw to his receiver before sticking the ball in the belly of John Pettigrew for what looked to be a running play. But Schilz held onto the ball and fired a strike to Gallon at the 30-yard line, who galloped into the end zone for the score. The play was so well executed that even the media in the press box and television announcers were duped into thinking it was a run.
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From there the Bobcats self-inflicted.
Later in the quarter, Venham, punting for the fourth straight time, dropped the snap and was tackled at the Ohio 35, giving the ball back to the Falcons. The Ohio defense was able to hold BG to a field goal with 1:46 remaining in the half and looked like they would head into the locker room down 10 at the very least.
However, the offense went three-and-out, and Solich elected to bring in kicker Matt Weller to punt with 23 seconds left in the half. The move backfired when Chapman’s low snap went through Weller’s hands and scooted into the end zone, where Weller recovered for a BG safety.
“Matt has practiced punting his whole time here,” said Solich. “Whenever you’re having the kind of problems we were having, it made sense to me to give Matt a try, a veteran player who has been in pressure situations before.”
Ohio’s faced a 19-7 deficit at halftime, thanks in large part to the offensive's anemic first half. Ohio could not get anything going after their first drive and heard scattered boos because of it. The Bobcats totaled just 79 yards on 37 plays and ended with a season-low 244 yards for the game.
Ohio put together their only scoring drive of the second half on their first possession of the third quarter. After Devin Bass recovered teammate Ryan Clark’s muffed punt at the Bobcats five-yard line, Ohio marched 95 yards on 14 plays and climbed within five points on Tettleton’s 3-yard touchdown toss to Chase Cochran. Beau Blankenship rushed for 45 yards on the drive, but ran for just 53 during the rest of the game.
Yet somehow, disaster struck for a fourth time after the Bobcats next drive. Solich brought out Venham to punt, but the freshman’s attempt was blocked by Jude Adjei-Barimah at the Ohio 29, giving the Falcons fantastic field position once again.
"It's very discouraging when you give up field position like we were giving up, that's disheartening for everybody on the sideline. But in this game, you're going to have those things happen to you, you hope they don't happen quite as much as they did tonight," said Solich.
BG capitalized on the short field, as Samuel punched in his second touchdown of the game, this one from four yards out, to give BG a commanding 26-14 lead with 14:50 to play.
From there, the Falcons relied on their defense and strong running game to chew time off the clock and grind to their sixth straight victory.
Solich wasn't pleased with his team's performance in any area of the game and said the team must revert back to how they were playing at the start of the season.
"I don't think we're executing at a real high level. We need to get back to sharpening up to make ourselves the team that we were or can be."
Senior safety Gerald Moore said the team must put this loss behind them quickly. "We just got to keep playing. It's football, it's life. Got to learn from our mistakes this game and move on."
Ohio faces an uphill climb in the race for the MAC East title. They must win their final two regular season games and receive help if they want a shot at revenging last year's heartbreaking MAC Championship loss.
The Bobcats will look to right the ship when they head to Muncie, Indiana, Wednesday night to face Ball State. The Cardinals (7-3 overall, 4-2 in MAC play) are riding high after defeating 25th-ranked Toledo on the road Tuesday evening and will try to extend their four-game win streak.
History for Tettleton: The redshirt junior became Ohio’s all-time career leader with 5,475 passing yards, overtaking former Bobcat Sammy Shon. Tettleton, who has accounted for 60 touchdowns in his collegiate career (15 rushing, 44 passing and one receiving), will have one season of eligibility remaining after this year.
Marlowe Alter is a contributor for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.