The final pass of Tyler Tettleton’s dizzying early-game onslaught was beautiful – a 68-yard touchdown heave to Chase Cochran over two defenders.
Ohio coach Frank Solich couldn’t have designed a better beginning to a football game. And the end result – a dominant 45-14 victory over Louisiana-Monroe in the Independence Bowl on Friday – wasn’t too bad either.
”It was probably as complete of ballgame as we’ve played in some time,” Solich said. ”I think our guys played with great intensity and a great deal of heart. We showed we can play a great game against a really good team like Louisiana-Monroe.”
Tettleton’s early heroics staked the Bobcats (9-4) to an early 14-0 lead and Louisiana-Monroe was never really able to gain its footing. During the two early touchdown drives, Tettleton completed all five of his passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns.
He finished 14 of 22 passing for 331 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
”We knew we were going up against a great front seven, so our game plan was to take some shots down field and let our playmakers make plays,” Tettleton said.
They certainly did. Cochran caught three passes for 162 yards while Tyler Futrell had five receptions for 133 yards. With Tettleton softening the Louisiana-Monroe defense early, running back Beau Blankenship provided the power offense to seal the game, rushing for 104 yards and an Independence Bowl record four touchdowns.
Tettleton was especially sharp in the first half, completing 9 of 14 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns as Ohio built a 24-7 lead.
Louisiana-Monroe (8-5) struggled in its first bowl game after 19 seasons in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Kolton Browning completed 21 of 39 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns, but also threw three first-half interceptions.
Ohio broke several Independence Bowl records, including the 31-point margin of victory and 556 total yards.
Ohio lost four of five games to end the regular season – including the last three – but looked crisp in a complete performance against the Warhawks.
Tettleton’s 2012 season had been a slight disappointment considering the huge numbers he put up the year before as a sophomore, but his performance against Louisiana-Monroe was a reminder of how good he can be. He averaged more than 23 yards per completion.
Blankenship finished with a school record 1,604 yards rushing yards this season and topped the 100-yard mark for the 10th time. All four of his touchdown runs came from 2 yards out or less.
Louisiana-Monroe came into Friday’s game with the better storyline and basically a home-field advantage. The Warhawks were playing in their first bowl game after joining college football’s highest level in 1994 and secured a bid in Shreveport, which is only about 100 miles from their campus.
But that emotional lift didn’t help ULM’s defense, which was torched by Tettleton’s deep ball accuracy early and Blankenship’s hard running late.
Tettleton needed just three passes to lead Ohio to its first touchdown. He hit Futrell on a 26-yard gain and Cochran on a 51-yard strike before finding Donte Foster for the 3-yard score.
A few minutes later, Tettleton hit Cochran perfectly in stride for the 68-yarder that gave the Bobcats a 14-0 lead.
Louisiana-Monroe briefly showed some life early in the second quarter when Browning’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Tavarese Maye cut the margin to 14-7.
But Ohio came right back, using Matt Weller’s 38-yard field goal and Blankenship’s 2-yard touchdown run to push ahead 24-7 with 4:50 left in the second quarter. Blankenship’s touchdown run was set up by Browning’s third interception of the first half.
Louisiana-Monroe had a chance to cut into the deficit just before halftime, but coach Todd Berry’s gamble to go for a touchdown instead of a short field goal backfired when Browning’s final pass of the half sailed harmlessly out the back of the end zone.
Berry’s gamble wasn’t a surprise – the Warhawks had gained a reputation for unorthodox play-calling during their record-setting season. But nothing seemed to work against the Bobcats, and the large ULM fan contingent had mostly disappeared from the stands by the end of the third quarter.
It was a disappointing ending for the Warhawks, who started the season with a stunning overtime victory over Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark., and still finished with the best season in school history since moving up to the Football Bowl Subdivision.
”This will get us back to work,” Berry said. ”I would have liked it to have been a little cleaner. But I also recognize the opportunities for this football team next year. This will add fuel to the fire. We will have a great offseason because of what happened today and that’s what we’re going to use. This group will rally.”