Story and photo courtesy of Ohio Dominican Athletics
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio Dominican's football team closed its season in style, rolling to a 56-7 victory over visiting Malone Saturday in GLIAC action at Panther Field.
The victory, ODU's fifth consecutive win, wrapped up an 8-3 season overall, 7-3 in GLIAC play. The Panthers close the 2012 campaign in a tie for second place in the overall GLIAC standings and second place in the South Division standings as well.
ODU, which has sponsored football since 2004, has won seven or more games in six seasons, and the Panthers improved upon their 7-4 (6-4 GLIAC) record from 2011.
The Panthers, who scored on their first seven possessions, outgained Malone (1-9, 1-9 GLIAC) 468-157 as ODU racked up 321 yards rushing, the fourth-best total in school history. Senior Mark Nichols (Pataskala, Ohio) ran for 174 yards and three touchdowns in just over two quarters of action, freshman Brandon Schoen (Olentangy, Ohio) had 65 yards and two scores and junior Ronnel Spates (Cleveland, Ohio) ran for 43 yards and a touchdown.
The defense, meanwhile, limited Malone to just 2.5 yards per play, forced four turnovers, had three sacks and 13.0 tackles for loss, the fourth-most in a game in school history. Junior Justin Bell (Groveport, Ohio) had nine tackles and an interception, freshman Brad McCurdy (Columbus, Ohio) picked off two passes and senior Eli Kovach (Eastlake, Ohio) had 3.0 tackles for loss in his final game to help lead the unit.
ODU jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter, moving 56 yards on five plays – all on the ground – capped by a 19-yard run by Nichols. After a Pioneer punt, ODU went 69 yards in 11 plays, highlighted by a 27-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Mark Miller (Cincinnati, Ohio) to freshman Jerad Butler (Nevada, Ohio) into Pioneer territory. Facing third-and-goal from the 10, Miller rolled to his right and found sophomore Abe Johnson (Cincinnati, Ohio) in the back corner of the end zone for the touchdown and a 14-0 lead at the 4:48 mark.
ODU's defense forced a turnover on downs, and Nichols had a 33-yard run deep into Malone territory. Three carries later, he broke free through the line and scored his second TD of the quarter from 10 yards out to give the Panthers a 21-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. Nichols had 123 of his 174 yards in the first period alone.
The Panther defense came up with another big play as freshman Di'Andre Harrison (Columbus, Ohio) sacked Malone quarterback Will Szpor, knocking the ball free on the play as Kovach fell on it. That gave the Panthers possession on the Pioneer 19, and two plays later Nichols scored his third touchdown of the day to make it 28-0.
Malone's next drive ended on an interception by Bell, who bounced off several would-be tacklers while dodging numerous others for a 49-yard return to the Pioneer 26. It took the Panthers five plays to find the end zone again, with Schoen plunging in from six yards out, giving ODU a 35-0 lead with 8:26 to play in the second.
McCurdy ended Malone's next possession with another interception, and Schoen closed the drive with an 11-yard TD run that gave the Panthers a 42-0 lead at the half.
Miller and Johnson connected on another TD early in the third quarter, this one an 18-yard screen pass that Johnson took to paydirt to put ODU on top 49-0. The Panthers' final TD came in the fourth when sophomore Cameron Lewis (Delray Beach, Fla.) took a screen pass 69 yards to the Malone six, and Spates scored on the next play to give ODU a 56-7 lead.
Overall, the Panthers finished with 24 first downs to Malone's 11, held the Pioneers to 56 passing yards, and did not allow Malone to convert a third down (0-for-15). ODU also was a perfect 8-for-8 in the red zone.
Schoen (1,007 yards) became just the second Panther back to rush for 1,000 yards in a season after Mike Noffsinger did so last year. Nichols' 174 rushing yards today was tied for fourth-most in a game in school history, and he was just the fifth Panther to have three or more rushing TDs in a game in school history.
ODU established new school records in rushing yards (2,694), rushing touchdowns (34) and yards per rush (5.5). The Panthers scored 449 points and averaged 452.4 yards per game, both second-best in school history, and the Panthers' 5-1 home record this season was also the second-best tally in school history, each behind the 2007 campaign.
The Panther defense played lights out in the final four contests, holding the opposition to 10.5 points per game and 264.8 yards per game to close out the year.