After three seasons anchored to a wall in the Kent State locker room, the Wagon Wheel trophy didn’t make the short trip home to Kent with the Golden Flashes Saturday evening as they departed Akron’s InfoCision Stadium.
Moments after host Akron notched a16-7 defensive-minded victory, Zips players stormed the field goal base on the north end of the stadium where the wheel had been strategically placed – for the winner of the annual rivalry game to grab.
At the beginning of the game, who knew the Zips only touchdown would come on the game’s opening possession and then the host would have to ride the leg of embattled kicker Robert Stein the rest of the way?
But that’s all it took on the chilly and rainy late afternoon, as the Zips first drive was capped by a trick play that handed the host an early 7-0 lead. Akron needed just four plays to march 78 yards in 1:05 after hitting on a big third-down play.
Kent State’s Achilles' heel all season has been the defense’s inability to get off the field on third and long, and it came back to haunt the Flashes again just over minute into the action. With Akron facing 3rd-and-22 on the opening drive, quarterback Kyle Pohl hit freshman receiver Fransohn Bickley for a 45-yard pickup.
Kent State freshman Elcee Refuge was on Bickley on single coverage, and failed to turn his head to look to see where the ball was going. On the next play, Pohl lateraled the ball to Zach D'Orazio, who in turn tossed a 33-yard touchdown pass to L.T. Smith. With the extra point, Akron took a 7-0 lead.
The first quarter dragged on for 50 minutes as the Flashes rolled up 40 penalty yards, suffered a lost fumble when Dri Archer was hit from behind by a teammate and finished the opening quarter with zero passing yards.
The second quarter opened with much of the same, as Flashes running back Trayion Durham lost another fumble. But on the Zips ensuing possession, Pohl coughed up the ball to give it right back to Kent State.
After swapping fumbles, the Flashes pieced together an 11-play, 42-yard drive that ended with a 3-yard scoring run by Durham. Kent State's bulldozer waltzed into the endzone untouched, knotting the score at 7-7 with 8:34 to go until the half.
With just 29 seconds remaining in the first half, Stein booted a 29-yard field goal to give the Zips a 10-7 halftime lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
After a scoreless third quarter, Akron pushed its lead to 13-7 at the start of the fourth on another field goal by Stein, this one a 27-yarder. A huge defensive play on the previous down kept Akron out of the endzone as Flashes freshman cornerback Nate Holley (who was making his first career start) knocked the ball away from D’Orazio in the right-hand corner of the endzone at the last second to break up a touchdown reception.
But on Kent State’s ensuing drive, the Flashes offense couldn’t come up with a score. Facing 4th and 9 at the 31-yard line, Reardon tossed up an underthrown pass that Zips safety Johnny Robinson plucked out of the air with 8:33 to go in the game.
After the interception, Akron responded with a scoring drive that ended in another 29-yard boot by Stein, increasing Akron's lead to 16-7 with 4:25 to go.
But just to make sure KSU’s offense couldn’t come back in the closing minutes, Zips cornerbacks Malachi Freeman and Martel Durant each picked off Reardon passes on back-to-back Kent State possessions to seal the victory for the Zips.