ATHENS, Ohio – Ohio scored 23 unanswered points in the first half to break a 7-7 tie held on for a 37-21 win over Gardner-Webb Saturday afternoon at Peden Stadium.
Khalil Lewis finished with 83 yards and his sixth touchdown of the season on 15 carries, but Gardner-Webb (2-2) wasn't able to keep up with the host Bobcats (2-2).
Ohio finished the afternoon with 517 total yards, including 310 through the air against a banged up Gardner-Webb secondary – which was without two starters coming into the game and lost a third in the first half.
The Runnin' Bulldogs tightened the game in the final 30 minutes, out gaining the Bobcats 234-176 in the third and fourth quarters combined.
Gardner-Webb totaled 352 offensive yards, including 196 yards on the ground, but ran just 59 plays in the game – as Ohio controlled the clock for more than 34 minutes. The Bobcats converted four times on fourth down (in four attempts) and went 7-for-14 on third down to keep the ball away from Gardner-Webb.
Ohio wasted little time getting on the board after receiving the opening kickoff, going 75 yards in 12 plays for a 7-0 lead. Sebastian Smith hauled in a 17-yard pass from Greg Windham for the opening volley.
Windham converted a key fourth down play with his legs to keep the drive alive at the Gardner-Webb 18-yard line.
Gardner-Webb (1-3) came out firing, with Tyrell Maxwell hitting on his first four pass plays – including gains of 17 yards and 34 yards to Jonathan Blackmon – to get the Runnin' Bulldogs into the red zone. He converted himself on second down from the three, bulling in for a touchdown to cap a 75-yard march.
Ohio took the lead for good on its next possession, again converting a key fourth down inside the red zone. Scat back Papi White finished the drive this time, darting 14 yards for a touchdown with 18 seconds left in the first quarter.
Back-to-back long runs by Blackmon (17 yards) and Khalil Lewis (12 yards) got the Runnin' Bulldogs on track again offensively, but the drive was halted at the Ohio 40-yard line when Lewis was stuffed by mere inches on fourth down.
Ohio went to backup quarterback Quinton Maxwell and – after a defensive holding penalty on third down put the Bobcats at midfield – Maxwell darted 15 yards on a third down play, and White converted another fourth down in the red zone. Maxwell then hit Smith on a 17-yard fade for a 21-7 lead with 8:09 to play before the half.
After forcing a quick punt, Ohio went 68 yards on just five plays to go up 28-7. Maxwell's 48-yard bomb to Smith moved the ball into the red zone for the Bobcats and he finished with a 13-yard touchdown strike to Kyle Belack. to push the lead to three scores.
Gardner-Webb found itself backed up inside the 10 on its next possession and on third down Maxwell slipped trying to scramble out of the end zone and fell down for a safety – and a 30-7 lead that would hold until halftime.
The Runnin' Bulldogs came out with some fire to start the third quarter, going 77 yards on just seven plays to pull within 30-14.
Speedster Elijah Perry – who had missed the past two games with an injury – darted 26 yards to spark the drive out near midfield and Lewis capped it by dashing 31 yards up the gut for his sixth touchdown of the season.
Both teams traded punts, then Ohio went to work through the air to get the ball in close. Windham's 28-yard slant to Andrew Meyer moved the Bobcats to the six, then Bo Hardy pushed in on a 1-yard run for a 37-14 edge with 5:24 left in the quarter.
Turnovers halted drives for both teams, with Jaylan Foster's interception in the end zone halting a deep Ohio drive early in the fourth quarter.
The Runnin' Bulldogs put together another scoring drive late in the game, with Maxwell scrambling out of trouble for a 36-yard gain to keep the 'Dogs going on third down – and hitting Willie Jackson IV for a 28-yard scoring strike with 2:42 left in the game. The extra point trimmed the Bobcats' lead to 37-21.
An onside kick was unsuccessful and Ohio ran out the clock.
In addition to Lewis' rushing, Tyrell Maxwell finished the game 13-of-20 passing for 156 yards and a score. He ran 11 times for 52 yards and another touchdown, helping Gardner-Webb average a solid 5.9 yards per play.
Perry ran five times for 40 yards and Blackmon was a dual-threat once again out of the backfield – rushing three times for 20 yards and catching three passes for 42 yards (10.3 yards per offensive touch).
With the injuries in Gardner-Webb's secondary, a pair of true freshmen stepped up with career-best performances. Devin Mines finished with nine total tackles (seven solo) and Foster had three tackles, two pass break ups and an interception in his most extensive action at corner to date.
P.J. Fuimaono finished with a pair of sacks – both in the second half – as Gardner-Webb pulled closer in the final stages of the game.
Ohio saw Windham finish 14-of-24 passing for 143 yards and a touchdown, with Quinton Maxwell going 11-of-14 for 167 yards, two scores and an interception. Windham added 56 yards rushing on 10 carries. The Bobcats' leading rusher was Hardy (65 yards, TD), a safety forced into action when the last of Ohio's running backs went down with an injury Saturday.
Smith finished with 108 yards and two scores on six catches – building on a 100-yard effort last Saturday at No. 15 Tennessee.
Defensively, Ohio had four sacks and was led by Javon Hagan's seven total hits. Six different Bobcats combined on the four sacks.
Gardner-Webb will be back in action at home on Saturday, October 1, opening a four-game homestand by hosting Benedict (S.C.) at 6:00 pm. The game will air live on the Big South Network (bigsouthsports.com), with Fabian Fuentes and Alex Guest calling the action.