WESTERVILLE, Ohio – The Otterbein football team struck early and often in its home opener Saturday at Memorial Stadium, flying past Muskingum University for an eventual 41-27 triumph in the Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC) opener for both teams.
The Cardinals, now 2-0 on the young season, opened a lopsided 41-6 cushion early in the fourth quarter before Muskingum strung together a few late touchdowns to significantly shrink the final margin.
Otterbein ignited its home crowd on the first play from scrimmage, with quarterback Logan Stepp finding classmate Hunter Joseph on a 55-yard TD pass over the top. Muskingum appeared to have also scored on its first possession, but an ineligible-man downfield brought the play back and the visitors were later forced to punt.
The Cardinals began adding to their lead from there, with Stepp hitting Joseph on ensuing touchdown passes of eight and 14 yards that ran the lead to 20-0 by the beginning stages of the second quarter.
Otterbein's defense bent but didn't break as Muskingum moved into the red zone on two other occasions before committing turnovers. Cardinal safety Chris Bivins hustled to push a ball carrier out of bounds at the 1-yard line, and defensive end Kyle Blust would recover a fumble on the very next play.
Freshman defensive back Brandon Paschal then helped the defense escape once again later in the period, jumping a slant route for his second interception in as many games. Stepp put a punctuation mark on the first half, busting a 76-yard TD run up the gut and pushing the lead to 27-0 entering halftime.
Otterbein quickly moved the margin to 34-0 in the third frame, culminating a 10-play, 66-yard drive with a six-yard aerial strike from Stepp to wide receiver Julian Lowe. Muskingum later got on the board with a short TD run, but the Cards answered right back with another lengthy possession that ended on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Stepp to Payton Vanderkooi for the 41-6 lead.
Muskingum strung together those late scoring drives, but it wouldn't be enough as Otterbein would go on to its sixth-straight conference opener. The Cards finished with 499 yards of total offense after a kneel down on the final play brought them under the 500 mark.
Stepp had a hand in all six of Otterbein's touchdowns, completing 16 of 25 passes for 307 yards and five TD's and then scampering for another 121 yards and a score on the ground. Joseph finished with seven catches for 181 yards and his three touchdowns, most of that damage coming in the first half, while Lowe posted a game-high eight grabs for 97 yards.
Safety Fred Hardgrove spearheaded the defense throughout, making a career-high 16 tackles throughout plays all over the field. Linebacker Jake Harper had 11 stops while running mate Austin Jones tallied eight.
Muskingum freshman quarterback Brody Hahn's final numbers ended up at 23 of 37 for 364 yards and three TD's, and running back Bernard Johnson went for 91 yards. Tight end Granger Long had a team-best seven grabs while Darius Hayes-Carruth posted 104 receiving yards.
Drew Lowery had 11 stops to pace the Muskie defense, which had posted a shutout in its season opener against Waynesburg.
Otterbein will stay at home throughout next week and ultimately play host to Wilmington College (1-0) as part of Homecoming weekend.