Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Back To The Bricks

A lot can happen in seven years.

A long time passed between visits to the alma mater

When I last visited Athens, Ohio in 2004, I was still very much a kid in some aspects. My on-air broadcasting career had not gotten off the ground yet, I was still living at home while struggling to make ends meet, and I was still naive to some of the challenges that life would present.

As I made my way out to Ohio University last weekend for Homecoming, a number of things had changed. I've been lucky enough to carve out a decent career in radio news, I'm now self-sufficient, and I have gained wisdom over the years.

Homecoming isn't solely about reflection, however. It's a chance to feel like a kid again.

Homecoming Week featured a collection of events for students and alumni

The morning of Saturday, October 15th, 2011 began with Ohio's Homecoming parade and a tour of the campus that I called home for four years.

With more-than a thousand people lining Court Street to watch the "Beyond the Bricks" parade, I took great pride in my alma mater. Both current students and alumni were gathered together, with many decked out in green-and-white to support the Bobcats.

The Homecoming parade attracted quite a crowd along Court Street

The parade featured a mish-mosh of displays -- including school spirit, political activism and community outreach programs. While Athens occasionally suffers from a disconnect between the university and the city itself, it was uplifting to see everyone rally behind a common purpose.

Many groups marched with signs in-hand

Following the parade's was time to walk around the old stomping grounds, reflect on four years of memories and experience the beauty of Ohio's campus once again.

The Class Gateway on College Green

If you enjoy brick-based architecture and design, then Ohio University is one of your ideal destinations. Throughout the campus, just about every building incorporates some brick into the structure. Many of the streets and walkways even feature a brick theme.

One of my old dorms, Gamertsfelder Hall

After wandering past some old dorm buildings and classrooms, I came upon Scripps Hall, home of the School of Journalism. The things I learned as a student there have proven to be extremely valuable as I embarked upon my radio career. Although it's been ten years since my last class, some of the teachings are still applied today.

I learned some important journalism lessons in Scripps Hall

With Ohio's Homecoming football game against the Ball State Cardinals rapidly approaching, it was time to head back to Uptown Athens for some Bobcats' apparel.

It was a joyous atmosphere, as the stores were packed with Ohio fans. Cash registers continually rang as music from the Marching 110 band played over the store's audio speakers.

Stores were buzzing with activity in Uptown Athens

In other spots along Court Street, many fans gathered at one of the local bars for a pre-game beverage. For them, tailgating was simple -- a bar burger or buffalo wings and beer on-tap.

The Cat's Eye Saloon was among the many Uptown bars serving pre-game patrons

Near Peden Stadium, other fans tailgated in the traditional manner. Lavish spreads, grills, canopy tents and Ohio flags dotted the nearby parking lots.

Ohio fans were partying it up near Peden Stadium

Across the street from the stadium was "Tail-Great Park," a fair-like setup that includes inflatable games, band performances, cornhole games and tents for group outings. Nearby, a makeshift football game broke out among some kids.

Some kids couldn't wait for the actual football game

Ohio entered the Homecoming contest with a 4-2 record, and 1-1 mark in the Mid-American Conference. After winning their first three games, the Bobcats struggled during the next three...culminating in a 38-37 loss at lowly Buffalo on October 8th.

Ball State came to Athens with a 3-3 record, and a MAC record of 1-1. After starting the season at 3-1 -- including a win over Big Ten opponent Indiana -- the Cardinals were blown out of their last two games, with humiliating losses to #2 Oklahoma and Temple.

A MAC tilt for Ohio and Ball State

It was a beautiful and windy afternoon...with rich, blue skies above the near-sellout crowd of 23,146 at Peden Stadium. After watching the beginning of the game on "Victory Hill" behind the south end zone, I moved to my ticketed spot in Section 102 and settled in there.

View from "Victory Hill"

The defenses dictated play in the 1st quarter, with neither team getting on the scoreboard. The Bobcats and Cardinals each punted three times, preventing the partisan Ohio crowd from generating any sustained noise.

After the 1st quarter ended, Ohio took time to honor its Homecoming Court. Standing in the south end zone, the king and queen from each graduating class received warm applause upon being introduced.

The 2011 Homecoming Court is introduced at the football game

Ball State finally broke through early in the 2nd quarter, with a 38-yard field goal by Steven Schott giving the Cardinals a 3-0 lead.

Three minutes later, Ohio would score its first points of the game by using a trick play. After driving to the BSU 37-yard-line, the Bobcats faked an option to the left...pitching it to wide receiver Phil Bates as he ran in the opposite direction. From there, Bates -- Ohio's backup quarterback -- uncorked a deep pass to LaVon Brazill, who caught the ball at the goal line and danced through the end zone for a touchdown!

As the Bobcats and their fans celebrated, the Marching 110 gleefully played the Ohio fight song, "Stand Up and Cheer." OU now held a 7-3 lead, with 11:41 remaining in the 1st half.

LaVon Brazill gets the Bobcats on the board

With 4:25 left in the 2nd quarter, the Cardinals embarked on a lengthy drive. It covered 81 yards over nine plays, and ended with a 28-yard touchdown run by freshman Jahwan Edwards.

Almost immediately afterward, Ball State coaxed an interception from Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton. Junior linebacker Travis Freeman returned the pick to the Bobcats' 8-yard-line, and Schott kicked a 25-yard field goal as the 1st half expired.

The Peden Stadium crowd was in shock. Within a span of 38 seconds, the Cardinals scored 10 straight points against Ohio...and carried a 13-7 lead into the locker room.

A late surge gave the Cardinals a halftime lead

During halftime, another Homecoming tradition drew loud cheers from the Ohio faithful.

Following the Marching 110's traditional mid-game routine, some of the band's alumni joined them on the field for an additional performance. Playing in rhythm with their current counterparts, the former band members added to the sound that echoed throughout Peden Stadium. When it was over, all of the musicians received a standing ovation for their effort.

The Marching 110 and some alumni perform during halftime

As the 2nd half got underway, the Bobcats appeared determined to set the tone. Ohio drove 65 yards in 8 plays, getting into the end zone on a 13-yard pass from Tettleton to senior running back Donte Harden. The extra point was blocked, however, salvaging some momentum for Ball State. With 11:28 remaining in the 3rd quarter, the score was now 13-13.

The Ohio scoring drive resulted in push-ups for the cheerleaders

The Cardinals answered Ohio's scoring drive with one of their own, moving the ball 77 yards in five minutes. A quarterback draw by sophomore Keith Wenning resulted in a 3-yard TD Ball State the lead once again, 20-13.

Keith Wenning's QB draw put Ball State back on top

Unfazed by the Cardinals' success, the Bobcats would rally on offense once again. Brazill scored his 2nd touchdown of the game...this time a 74-yard strike from Tettleton.

As Brazill broke loose in the open field, the cheers from the Peden Stadium crowd turned into shrieks of joy. Those wearing green-and-white were brought to their feet, while the few clad in cardinal-and-black dejectedly hung their heads.

Brazill's 2nd TD of the game knotted the score at 20

Going into the 4th quarter, the evenly-matched teams were, fittingly, tied 20-20. While the defenses took charge early, the offenses established control in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. The game was setting up as a battle to the finish.

The Bobcats and Cardinals provided fans with an exciting game

With 14:19 left in regulation time, Schott kicked his 3rd field goal of the day for Ball State...a 27-yarder that gave the Cardinals a 23-20 edge.

As dusk approached, the sun was also setting on the Bobcats' hopes for a Homecoming victory. After starting a drive at its own 1-yard-line, Ohio drove across midfield...but a fumble by Harden gave Ball State possession with only 5:27 remaining.

Turnovers were thwarting Ohio's comeback hopes

Despite that setback, Ohio still had a chance. With under 4 minutes left and the ball deep in his own territory once again, Tettleton led the Bobcats on a 71-yard drive in 12 plays. Five straight completions brought the home team to the Ball State 24-yard-line.

Tyler Tettleton drove the Bobcats downfield in a last-ditch effort

Only 0:40 remained, and it was 4th down for Ohio. Junior kicker Matt Weller -- who was 12-for-15 on field goals on the season -- was asked to boot a 41-yard field goal and put the game-tying points on the board.

With the wind blowing in Weller's face, the ball was placed on the right hash mark. The entire Peden Stadium crowd was standing in anticipation. Weller lunged forward, putting all of the strength in his right leg into the kick. The ball sailed skyward toward the goal posts. Suddenly, the wind pulled the ball to the left...causing it to sail wide of its target.

The wind caused Matt Weller's game-tying attempt to hook wide left

After the missed field goal, many of those dressed in green-and-white slowly exited the seating area with sad expressions on their faces. What started as a Homecoming celebration ended with a 23-20 loss to Ball State.

Disappointment for Bobcats' fans at Homecoming

My trip to Athens, Ohio wasn't solely to attend a football game, however. While I was disappointed that my alma mater couldn't pull off a win, this Homecoming journey was an opportunity to reconnect with a place that is beloved to me.

Seven years is a long time between visits, and so much can change during that period. One thing has not, however -- my love for Ohio University. In fact, I may have more of an appreciation of it now than ever before.

Feeling at home in Ohio, even after all these years

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