ATHENS, Ohio — A white picket fence runs above the north end zone of Peden Stadium, positioned above an angled banner that reads “Bobcats Football.”
That’s the welcome mat for longtime coach Frank Solich’s house at Ohio University, which he has occupied since 2005 and still isn’t done renovating. The latest addition might be his best yet: That showed in a 38-10 victory against Toledo (8-2, 5-1) in Mid-American Conference play — #MACtion, that is — on Wednesday night. Ohio (8-2, 5-1), a consistent winner since Solich’s arrival, took another step toward its first MAC championship since 1968.
Inside that house, a sign lists six program values top to bottom. “Respect. Integrity. Service. Effort. Unity. Perseverance.” It spells out “RISE UP.” It’s a simple, effective message, and this team did that against the Rockets.
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Center Jake Pruehs walked into the interview room afterward and asked, “How many rushing yards did we have?” Pruehs then looked over those stats with quarterback Nathan Rourke, a true sophomore who has the look of the conference’s next star quarterback. Senior linebacker Quentin Poling fought tears on the podium and had to exit through the doors when asked about how these Bobcats live in that house.
None of this surprises Solich, of course, who even choked up when talking about Poling. For a coach known for stoicism, he has let some of that emotion in. It’s working for this team.
“This is a special team in that regard,” Solich said. “They’ve been amazing to coach. No matter what you ask of them, they come forward. They’ve never whined. They’ve never complained. They never griped about anything. They just move on.”
The same could be said for Solich. He is the fifth-longest tenured coach in the FBS and the dean of Group of 5 coaches. He has molded a consistent winner that has piled up bowl appearances over a 13-year tenure in an unlikely place in the Appalachian foothills of Southeast Ohio, where he’s 96-68 with eight bowl appearances. Now Solich — who turned 73 in September — might have his best team at Ohio, the one capable of bringing home that coveted conference championship.
To answer Pruehs’ question, Ohio rolled up 393 yards on 56 rushing attempts, part of an offensive outing that saw the Bobcats put up 532 yards of total offense.
Does this look familiar? It should, for anybody who knows Solich’s makeup as an assistant under Tom Osborne at Nebraska and later as the head coach from 1998-2003. It’s the same old approach in big games.
“He’s a little more tight right before game time compared to someone like me who likes to stay loose and make sure I’m having fun always,” Poling said of his coach. “He’s just worried about us playing to our top potential.”
That unfurled at the outset against the Rockets. Poling unleashed a sack and a fumble recovery on the game’s first possession. Ohio’s all-time leader in solo tackles finished with 2.5 sacks. Poling and safety Javon Hagan, a safety whose next stop will be the NFL, added a fumble recovery. The Bobcats limited the Rockets’ high-powered offense to 316 total yards.
“I wanted a big senior night,” Poling said. “I wanted to crush these guys.”
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The offense, meanwhile, fought through three first-half turnovers and had a 10-7 lead heading into the locker room.
“There was a little bit of frustration because the only one stopping us was us,” Rourke said.
Ohio scored touchdowns on four straight possessions in the second half. Rourke, a native of Ontario, Canada, notched his 17th rushing touchdown on the first possession with a run up the middle. Rourke is the conference’s next big star. He is the perfect person to continue building this program, and is the one running up and down the hill in the south end zone when nobody’s watching. He’s making the unselfish read in the red zone.
“He’s right up there in the country in terms of rushing TDs,” Solich said. “He handed the ball off on the last touchdown, and he could have walked it in.”
Solich hammered his finger on the table to drive that home.
“That’s the kind of guy he is.”
It’s an old-school offense with new-school formations. There’s a workhorse walk-on back in A.J. Ouellette, who had 18 carries for 70 yards up the middle,. There’s a flashy tailback in Dorian Brown, who rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns. It’s one of those nights where those rushing yards piled up, and Pruehs wanted the game in the offensive line’s hands. Toledo knew what was coming.
“Everyone knows it’s coming,” Pruehs said.
It didn’t matter. Solich has made that work for years. That was enough to tattoo Toledo, a Group of 5 buster run through star quarterback Logan Woodside and up-and-coming coach Jason Candle. It’s a game that could be a rematch in the MAC Championship on Dec. 2 if the Bobcats take care of business against Akron and Buffalo. It’s one in which the Rockets will need a different plan of attack, too.
If we learned anything this year, it’s that Solich can still flat-out coach in a profession where instability is the norm. Sometimes long view is the best view. In that regard, Ohio hit the jackpot when it hired him in 2005. Just look at the program now.
Outside, there’s the white picket fence and a football field and new additions coming. The 25,000-square-foot Sook Academic Center is under construction at Peden Stadium, and that’s scheduled to be done in fall of 2018.
Inside, there’s a coach who never whines, never gripes, never complains.
He just moves on, and his team follows.
“We’re not going to be satisfied until we play our best football against everyone we play from here on out,” Solich said. “That’s been what this team has been all about. … We’ve done some decent things, but if we don’t end it well, then some of that gets tarnished. That’s not what this group is after.”