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The Ohio Bobcats football team is an intercollegiate varsity sports program of Ohio University. The team represents the university as a member of the Mid-American Conference of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, playing at the Division 1 Bowl Subdivision level. The Bobcats have played their home games in Peden Stadium since 1929.
Ohio Bobcats football began in 1894 with an 8-0 loss to Marietta College. Since that day, the Bobcats have posted a 510-521-48 record over their 117 year existence and a 202-238-11 record over their 64 years in the Mid-American Conference. The Bobcats have won 5 MAC Football championships in 1953, 1960, 1963, 1967, and 1968, and three MAC East Division championships in 2006, 2009 and 2011. Prior to joining the MAC, the Bobcats won 6 Buckeye Athletic Association championships in 1929, 1930, 1931, 1935, 1936, and 1938. In 1960, the Bobcats were crowned National Small College Champions after compiling a 10-0 record under Coach Bill Hess. The Bobcats have appeared in six bowl games, losing 15-14 to West Texas State in the 1962 Sun Bowl, losing 49-42 to Richmond in the 1968 Tangerine Bowl, falling 28-7 to Southern Mississippi in the 2007 GMAC Bowl, losing 21-17 to Marshall in the 2009 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, and a defeat at the hands of Troy University on December 18, 2010 in the New Orleans Bowl. Ohio won their first bowl game on December 17, 2011 with a 24-23 victory over the Utah State Aggies in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
In 1892, Ohio University became a member of a four-school conference—the Athletic League of Ohio Colleges—which included Otterbein College, Wittenberg University, and Marietta College. A schedule never materialized, however, and the league dissolved before even a single game was played. In preparation, though, a team was formed on Ohio's campus and H.R. Higley was elected captain. He soon began coaching the team, according to the student newspaper, the Panorama. For the first time, the football team was given space in the Athena yearbook in 1892. The entire team was listed, by position and name. The first intercollegiate football game involving an Ohio University team was played in Athens in 1894 against Marietta College. It was the only contest played that year by Ohio, with Marietta winning by a score of 8-0. The next year the Bobcats faced a five game schedule, under the leadership of coach Harvey Deme. The 1895 squad was 2-3, with wins against Parkersburg High School and Lancaster High School, and losses against Ohio Wesleyan and Marietta College (twice).
From 1896 to 1905, the football program was in a state of flux, with a new coach taking over the reins every year. Injuries and the untimely death of the Ohio University quarterback, on the field, in December 1898, was a sombering event, with severe injuries often taking place in early collegiate football as uniforms of the era provided little physical protection. The coaches during this time period included Frank Remsberg, Warwick Ford, Peter McLaren, Fred Sullivan, Karl Core, Art Jones, Henry Hart, Joseph Railsback, and Harold Monosmith, with Sullivan being coach in both 1899 and 1903. The best records of this time period were forged in 1897 and 1901 under Warwick Ford and Art Jones, respectively. The 'Cats were 7-2 in their 1897 campaign, and posted a 6-1-2 record in 1901.
The 1897 season, which produced the best record of any of the 19th Century campaigns, started with two straight losses—to Marietta College and Cincinnati. The team then reeled off seven straight with victories over Muskingum College, Dennison College, Ohio Medical University, West Virginia University, Otterbein College, and Marietta College. The home victory over WVU inspired a poem that appeared in The Athens Messenger and Herald newspaper.
Beginning in 1906, the Bobcats began to assert themselves as a more permanent entity on campus with the hiring of Arthur McFarland as head coach. The 1906 squad exploded for a 7-1 record, with wins over respected programs such as West Virginia University and the University of Cincinnati. The program tailed off considerably in 1907, however, and would not post a .500 record until 1911 under coach Arthur Hinaman. The 1911 squad outscored all opponents 88-44, but only managed to post a 3-3-2 record.
Arguably the greatest Ohio team of the early era was Mark Bank's 1915 squad. This storied club posted an 8-1 record and outscored all opponents by a combined 175-33. Beating such teams as the University of Cincinnati, Marshall University, and Transylvania University, the Bobcats' only loss was a 13-6 affair versus archrival Miami University. Following the explosion of the 1915 team, the Bobcats experienced a period of success during the late 1910s. The 1916 team posted a record of 5-2-1, and the 1918 squad went an undefeated 4-0-1, with wins over the Ohio State freshman team and Denison University. In 1920, Russ Finsterwald was hired to lead the 'Cats into a new decade. His tenure, however, was marked by relative mediocrity, with records of 4-3, 4-4-1, and 5-3 in his three years at the helm. F.B. Heldt was named coach in 1923, and posted a record of 3-5-1. His lack of success against challenging opponents lead to a quick dismissal, and ultimately forced the hiring of Bobcat legend Don Peden.