The University of Akron showed a mix of guts, guile and speed Saturday night before a crowd of 18,809 fans at InfoCision Stadium.
However, the legs and arm of Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Terrance Broadway and some trickery on the part of Ragin’ Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth beat the Zips 35-30 in a game they should have won, UA coach Terry Bowden said.
“I told our players before the game that if you’re going to be a bowl team, you have to beat teams that go to bowls,” he said. “We have to go out and take those games.”
Zips quarterback Kyle Pohl completed 27-of-43 passes for 321 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, and wide receivers Fransohn Bickley and Zach D’Orazio combined for nine receptions, 190 yards and three touchdowns in the loss.
Broadway completed 25-of-37 passes for 305 yards, and accounted for five Cajun touchdowns — three in the air and two rushing.
The Zips showed signs of a Michigan hangover with a sputtering start on offense that included two interceptions in the first quarter.
“It’s something we’ve tried to preach this week in practice,” D’Orazio said. “We’ve got to come out and get a fast start. Obviously we have to keep working at it. It’s not the start we wanted. We dug ourselves in a hole. Thankfully the defense stepped up early and made some big stops for us.”
The Zips gathered themselves enough to give fans something to cheer. Unfortunately, it didn’t end with a victory.
It took a gutsy call on a fourth-and-three at the 14-minute mark and the team trailing 21-17 to keep the Zips in the game.
After a timeout to discuss strategy, Pohl took three steps back and found freshman Bickley, a former St. Vincent-St. Mary standout, virtually alone on the sideline.
Bickley did what he used to do for the Fighting Irish. He grabbed Pohl’s pass and raced down the sideline 37 yards for a score and the 24-21 lead with 13:51 left in the game.
“I was just asking for good blocks, and I got great blocks,” Bickley said. “Then the safety took a bad angle. Then I just outran him.”
The game evolved into a battle of wills with the Zips holding on to a slim lead, hoping the defense could continue to be effective.
The Cajuns went three-and-out and watched their defense hold UA on the next possession.
UA’s defense gave up chunks of yardage on the Cajuns’ next possession as Louisiana-Lafayette completed a 61-yard drive with Broadway leading the way on the final, pivotal play. On third-and-7, he dropped back for a second and then followed his blockers to the end zone after dashing 13 yards on a draw for a touchdown that put them ahead 28-24 with 8:07 left in the game.
That’s when Cajuns coach Hudspeth, who preceded Bowden at North Alabama, reached into his bag of tricks and dialed up an onside kick, catching the Zips off guard.
Cajuns kicker Hunter Stover recovered the ball and set Louisiana-Lafayette up at its own 46-yard line.
The Cajuns capped off the six-play, 54-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Broadway to wide receiver Daryl Surgent with 6:10 left in the game, putting the Zips into a 35-24 hole and seemingly buried for the night.
But just as he did last week in Ann Arbor against the Michigan Wolverines, Zips linebacker Justin March gave his team another chance to get back in the game with 3:05 left.
Dropping back in short coverage, Broadway made an ill-advised pass toward the running back, but March intercepted, setting up the Akron offense at the 32. March said he feels a responsibility to make such plays.
“I just try to come out and be the leader,” March said. “If you’re actually not making plays and doing anything, you can’t lead team. Talking can only do so much.”
His effort went for naught.
For Bowden, it sounds as if there are no more excuses for losing. He ran off a litany of mistakes from two missed field goals to dropped passes.
“Now we have to go win football games,” he said.
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.