It wasn’t pretty and when it comes to offense, some might have considered it downright ugly.
The University of Akron and its fans don’t care, because the Wagon Wheel returned to campus in the early evening Saturday after the Zips beat Kent State 16-7 behind a dominating defense, Jawon Chisholm’s running and three clutch field goals by kicker Robert Stein.
It’s the first time the coveted trophy will be at UA (3-7, 2-4 Mid-American Conference) in four seasons.
The defense held Kent State (2-8, 1-5) to 300 yards of offense and forced five turnovers, ultimately limiting the Golden Flashes to a 3-yard touchdown run by Trayion Durham. More notably, UA held KSU’s most explosive player, Dri Archer, in check.
“For both teams it was a defensive day and our defense created the turnovers that I thought were the difference in the game,” UA coach Terry Bowden said.
Indeed the Flashes did little to embarrass themselves on defense, limiting the Zips to 304 yards and keeping them out of the end zone after their first drive.
But the Zips, unable to capitalize earlier on two fumbles, used three fourth-quarter interceptions of Kent State quarterback Colin Reardon to shut the Flashes out in the second half.
“One touchdown. Critical stops,” Bowden said of his defense. “That team had to step back on that field in the second half and shut them out. … They shut them out and it was critical. It was big.”
But so was Chisholm, who rushed for 151 yards on 27 carries. In his past three games, he’s rushed for 402 yards and four touchdowns. He didn’t score against Kent State, but his running slashed through the KSU defense to give Stein the necessary field position to kick chip-shot field goals of 27, 28 and 29 yards.
“It’s the second week in a row he’s been dominant,” Bowden said of Chisholm. “Our running game and the defense were the difference-makers.”
But nowhere was he more dominant than on the Zips’ final scoring drive of the evening, which began at UA’s 28. He gained 35 of the nine-play drive’s 38 yards with UA holding on to a too-close-for-comfort 13-7 lead.
At one point, the Zips faced a third-and-11 at the Kent State 27 with 6:10 left in the game.
A field goal was a foregone conclusion at that point, Bowden said, but Stein, to date, had kicked inconsistently throughout the season.
The Zips made the call for a Chisholm run hoping for a few yards.
“It was a call that looked smarter than it was. You don’t expect to make a first down there,” Bowden said.
Except Chisholm did, barely getting the ball to the KSU 16-yard line. Initially, Bowden wasn’t aware that he made the first down.
“I was sending the field goal team on the field,” he said, “and [offensive coordinator] A.J. [Milwee] was telling me, ‘Shut up! Shut up! It’s a first down!’ It got us a little closer and that helped.”
Although they didn’t go on to score a touchdown, it turned what could have been a tenuous field-goal attempt into a much easier effort. Three plays later with 4:25 left on the clock, Stein kicked his third field goal of the afternoon to make it a two-possession game, thus sealing the Wagon Wheel for UA.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.