Akron will keep the Wagon Wheel. That's because the Akron Zips defended their home turf and their coveted trophy, and beat Kent State 28-20 on Saturday at InfoCision Stadium.
Freshman quarterback Spencer Keith's career-high 377 yards passing was not quite enough as Kent State (5-5, 4-2 MAC) fell to Akron 28-20 Saturday in front of over 20,000 fans at InfoCision Stadium. Trailing 28-13 in the fourth quarter, Keith led the Golden Flashes on a valiant comeback attempt, but the Zips (2-7, 1-4) made the big plays on both sides of the ball every time they needed to.
With 8:12 remaining in the game, the Flashes took over at their own 20 trailing by 15. Keith went on to complete five passes on the drive for 83 yards, including a nine-yard touchdown to Kendrick Pressley with 5:36 left. After an Akron punt was downed at the KSU one yard line, the Flashes were left with 2:29 to go 99 yards. Keith converted three first down passes to bring KSU to midfield, but it was as far as the Flashes would go on the drive.
For most of the game the Flashes were without the services of sophomore running back Jacquise Terry, who was injured in the opening quarter. On the first offensive play of the game, Terry ran off right tackle for 25 yards, but it would be the Flashes' only big running play of the day. The drive resulted in a 37-yard field goal from freshman Freddy Cortez.
On the ensuing possession, Akron took advantage of 20 yards in penalties and a short field to take the lead (7-3) with a nine-play scoring drive. A fumble recovered by the Flashes on the drive was overturned by replay.
The Zips needed just one play on its first drive of the second quarter when Patrick Nicely hit Jeremy LaFrance on a slant over the middle that turned into a 51-yard touchdown. Trailing 14-3, it looked like things would get worse when a Keith pass was intercepted and returned 24 yards to put the Zips in excellent field position again. However, on a first-and-10 at the KSU 18-yard line, Danny Sadler returned the favor with an interception in the end zone.
An offensive dry spell came to an end when Dri Archer made three catches for 53 yards on a 72-yard second quarter scoring drive. Archer found the end zone on the third catch from 22 yards out on an over-the-middle pass from Keith.
Late in the half, the Flashes took the ball down to the Akron two, before settling for a field goal as time expired to make it 14-13 at the break.
Akron took the opening drive of the second half down to the KSU five, but came up empty as a bad snap spoiled a short field goal attempt.
Midway through the third quarter, the Zips completed an 11-play scoring drive to make it a 21-13 game. On their next drive, Sadler forced a fumble that was returned 77 yards for a touchdown by Dan Hartman. Once again, a replay ruled in the favor of the Zips, nullifying the fumble.
With 12 minutes to play in the game on a third-and-goal, Nicely found LaFrance in the end zone from six yards out to give the Zips a 28-13 lead.
Freshman receiver Tyshon Goode made eight catches for 132 yards, including four grabs on the Flashes' last two drives.
Junior safety Dan Hartman led KSU's defense with eight tackles, but Akron finished with 429 yards of total offense.
Kent State will get an extra week to prepare for its next contest Sept. 21 against Temple (7-2, 5-0) at Lincoln Financial Field.
AKRON WINS BATTLE AT LINE OF SCRIMMAGE - Akron's offensive and defensive lines controlled the line of scrimmage all day. Kent State's pass rush, who was 1st in the MAC with 30 sacks, was held without one all day. Akron did a good job of keeping the line off balance with screens, jet sweeps, three step drops, etc. Offensively, Kent State was only able to muster 38 yards rushing on 21 attempts. "I thought Akron won the game in the trenches all night," KSU coach Doug Martin said.
ONE DIMENSIONAL OFFENSE - One of the keys to the game we said in our preview was not having a one dimensional offense, and making Akron have to throw the football to be able to move it at all. Well, unfortunately for Kent State, Akron executed Kent State's game plan perfectly. They were the ones able to run and pass, and they were the ones who shut down the rushing attack and forced Spencer Keith to throw a whopping 59 times. If someone would have told me Keith would attempt 59 passes in the game, I would have said Kent State might be in trouble. Losing Jacquise Terry to injury definitely hurt, but Kent State has proven that running back is a unit of depth and had Dri Archer and Andre Flowers stepping in. Knowing Kent State had to pass, especially late in the game to make a comeback, Akron was really able to dial up the pressure on Keith. Keith was hit several times by the Akron defense, and had to throw several passes early just so he didn't get sacked. "Their ability to run the ball was a huge key for them, and our inability to run the ball hurt us; making us a one dimensional team," Martin said. "I am really disappointed in the way we ran the ball. We really need to be better than that in the running game. That was the real difference in the game. We are not at a place offensively where we can ask our freshman quarterback and receivers to throw the ball 60 some times a game. We didn't get a push up front and failed to run the ball well."
REPLAYS WORK AGAINST KENT STATE - All three replay reviews on Saturday went against Kent State. All three calls appeared to be the correct one as they were reviewed. A ball that was ruled a fumble was overturned to an incomplete pass, maintaining Akron possession in the first quarter. The Zips cashed it in with a touchdown to take a 7-3 lead. In the third quarter, Akron's Jeremy Bruce was ruled that his elbow hit the ground, thus making him down. This reverse took away a Kent State touchdown, as Dan Hartman rumbled the other way with an apparent touchdown. Bruce's elbow was down, and it was the correct call. As a Kent State fan, it is frustrating to watch these calls get reversed, but they all appeared correct. That's why they have instant replay in sports, to get it right. Replays didn't beat Kent State, the Akron Zips did.
REFLECTION - I am not going to over analyze this one too much. Akron may have played their best game of the season, Kent State didn't. Akron deserves the credit for winning the game. The difference between teams in most MAC games isn't that much. If Kent State plays their best, they could beat anyone in the MAC. If they play poorly, they could lose to any team. The same could be said for every football team in the conference. For Kent State fans, it hurts. It hurts because we wanted that Wagon Wheel, we needed the win to stay in title contention. I am still very excited about the future of the program. Watch the game, look at all the underclassmen playing big roles. I don't believe this Kent State team will run away and hide in these next two games. It is not that far fetched for Kent State to still sneak in and win the MAC East. Kent State still has a lot to play for, with a chance to go 7-5, and possibly a bowl game.