By JASON ARKLEY
In a lot of ways it was a picture-perfect day. A full stadium on a beautiful fall afternoon to watch an undefeated football team on Homecoming is an opportunity that the Bobcats have had precious few times during the decades.
Ohio was well on its way to crafting a masterpiece on such a canvas, but then screwed up the final brushstroke. It wasn't enough to throw away the whole the piece, but it was enough to leave Bobcats yearning for more.
Yes, Ohio knocked off visiting Akron 34-28 in front of 25,542 inside sun-splashed Peden Stadium afternoon. And yes, the Bobcats completely botched the final 10 minutes.
The Bobcats (7-0, 3-0 Mid-American Conference) still have an unblemished record, but Ohio is far from perfect.
"We're pleased to be 7-0. I congratulate our players and coaching staff, that's not an easy thing to do," Ohio head coach Frank Solich. "We know that every game will be a challenge and will have to find a way to finish things off better than what we did today."
Ohio spent the game alternating between phases of complete dominance, and apparent complete indifference. Akron (1-6, 0-3 MAC) lost for the 17th straight time against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent and trailed by 20 with less than nine minutes to go, but still had a chance to win late.
The Zips pulled to within 34-28 with 1:55 to go after quarterback Dalton Williams hit Jerrod Dillard with a 5-yard touchdown pass. Out of timeouts, Akron tried an onside kick. Luckily for the Bobcats, the kick bounced and rolled out of bounds before Akron could pounce on it.
It was a close call in a game that had no business being that close. Ohio piled up 441 yards with 252 yards rushing, but came up short of a complete, four-quarter effort.
"We got an early start, which is something we had not done all year long, so that was pleasing," said Ohio coach Frank Solich. "But then we couldn't finish it off.
"We were in position to really take charge of the football game and we let that slip away from us. That was disappointing," he added.
Running back Beau Blankenship had 108 yards on 17 carries and backup Ryan Boykin added 96 yards on 17 carries for Ohio. Quarterback Tyler Tettleton rushed for 65 yards and caught a 39-yard touchdown pass, but hit just 13 of 27 passes for 150 yards with another two scores.
Blankenship and Boykin came to the forefront in the third quarter, after Akron had cut a once 20-0 deficit to 20-14. Over the next 11 minutes, Ohio reeled off 20 plays on 96- and 56-yard scoring drives. All told, 17 of the 20 plays were rushes and 141 of the 152 combined yards came on the ground.
Tettleton capped the first march with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Troy Hill that made it 27-14. After Akron was intercepted by Octavius Leftwich on the first play of the next series, Boykin finished the second drive with a 5-yard driving run to the end zone that made it 34-14 with 37 seconds left in the quarter.
But the Zips weren't finished. Led by RB Jawon Chisholm (177 rushing yards on 28 carries) and QB Williams (32 of 53, 298 yards, 4 TDs, 2 interceptions), Akron eventually chipped its way back into it.
While Ohio had three three-and-out series to start the fourth quarter, the Zips put together 70- and 43-yard scoring drives.
Williams hit Dillard with a 6-yard score with 8:48 left to cut the margin to 13. After a low punt snap resulted in a big fourth-down loss for Ohio, Akron cut the deficit to six (34-28) when Williams hit Dillard for the 5-yard touchdown.
But Ohio recovered the onside kick, and got one first down to grind out the final seconds on the clock.
"We played conservative. It's something we probably shouldn't do but obviously we don't have any control over that," Tettleton said. "Hopefully the next time we're up like that, we'll just continue playing like we have been."
The Bobcats enjoyed a tailor-made start. Ohio took the game's opening possession 65 yards for a touchdown, and used a little trickery to get to the end zone. Slot receiver Landon Smith got the ball on a double reverse, then fired a 39-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Tettleton down the right sideline. It was the first career TD pass for Smith, and Tettleton's first career scoring catch.
Ohio's struggling defense came up with a stop on Akron's first series, and Ohio got the ball on its own 47. Four plays later, Tettleton lofted a 13-yard touchdown pass to Donte Foster in the back left corner of the end zone, and the Bobcats led 14-0 with the game less than seven minutes old.
The touchdown pass was the 39th in Tettleton's career, and made him Ohio's career leader.
"I'm glad it's over with," said Tettleton, who has tried not to get caught up in the notoriety of individual records this season. "Now we can stop talking about it."
Matt Weller added field goals of 44 and 29 yards in the second quarter, and the Bobcats led 20-0 with less than a minute to go in the first half.
But Akron scored on a 19-yard touchdown throw from Williams to L.T. Smith just before halftime to stunt that early momentum. The Zips followed up with a 75-yard scoring drive early in the third, capped by Williams' 10-yard pass to Tyler Williams, and suddenly Ohio's easy afternoon became more difficult.
Ohio will now enter its bye week. The players are expected to be off until Wednesday, and then will have next weekend off as well.
It's a chance for the Bobcats to get healthy before a potentially history-making run. And they could use the break. Ohio played without defensive starters Tremayne Scott (DE) and Gerald Moore (SS), and key backups Mike McQueen (OL) and Xavier Hughes (FS) on Saturday.