After watching the University of Akron football team play James Madison at InfoCision Stadium on Saturday night, it’s clear that if nothing else, the Zips show resilience — especially so in a 35-33 win over the Dukes.
“This is a big win,” UA coach Terry Bowden said. “You might say that this was a 1-AA team. Well, go ask James Madison how they felt about that loss. They came and they felt as if they could beat us.”
Trailing 13-0, the Zips fought back through the adversity with gutsy performances from two quarterbacks who performed equally well and some nice work from a variety of players.
Normally a defense would carry the offense in the first couple of games of the season. This time, the offense bailed out its counterpart on the other side of the ball.
The Zips took a 14-13 halftime lead after backup quarterback Nick Hirschman (6-of-10, 144 yards, two touchdowns and a rushing touchdown) replaced starter Kyle Pohl (14-of-22, 143 yards, two touchdowns). Pohl left with an injured ankle.
Hirrchman wasn’t perfect.
The offense as a whole showed that it has a long way to go before it can measure up to even last year’s, but Hirschman gave the team the lift the Zips needed in a game in which they played ineptly to start.
Hirschman arrived in the middle of a drive and completed the 13-play, 77-yard effort with a 1-yard touchdown plunge to cut the Zips’ deficit to 13-7.
“It was huge. It’s just what you expect of Nick,” Bowden said. “He’s blue collar, a gets-along-with-the-linemen-type of quarterback who doesn’t get flustered too much.”
He certainly got a little help with his next drive. In this case, from the Zips’ defense, a unit that took its lumps early but stripped the ball from the arms of running back Jainard Lambert at the Dukes’ 16.
Several plays later, Hirschman found wide receiver Zach D’Orazio for a 2-yard touchdown. D’Orazio made a nice adjustment on the ball to secure the touchdown and help the Zips take the lead.
Hirschman received plenty of help from teammates. Andrew Pratt (Green), grabbed a 68-yard touchdown pass on a fly pattern down the left side of the field where he made a tremendous adjustment to go up and get the ball.
Hirschman injured his knee celebrating that effort, necessitating that Pohl, whose mobility was limited, return with his team trailing 24-21 after a James Madison field goal.
Running back Jawon Chisholm (87 yards on 11 attempts) keyed the drive with a 55-yard run, racing to the Dukes’ 10-yard line. A couple of plays later, Pohl found D’Orazio for his second touchdown catch of the night.
Pohl struck again later in the half when he found senior wide receiver Jerrod Dillard for a 24-yard touchdown reception to provide a little breathing room with a 35-27 lead.
“I think we have a No. 1 and a No. 2 who can help each other,” Bowden said of his two quarterbacks. “We like both of those guys.”
But the problem that plagued the Zips in their season opener, giving up the big play, continued in this game.
“We can’t win football games like that,” Bowden said. “We cannot win games giving up big plays like that. We have to go figure how to keep from doing that.”
There would have been no better time for the Zips’ defense to crack down than on the next drive.
The Zips appeared prepared to do so until Dukes quarterback Michael Birdsong found receiver Daniel Brown down the right side of the field for a 56-yard completion to the UA 18-yard line. A few plays, later he connected with receiver Dominick Richards for a 5-yard touchdown.
The Dukes went for a 2-point conversion but failed and the Zips maintained a 35-33 lead.
Ultimately, time ran out on the Dukes.
“The things we did well were never give up and we continued to fight to win a football game,” Bowden said.
Wide receiver Keith Sconiers is done for the season because of an injury to his knee and subsequent surgery. … Right guard Henry Orelus sat out the second half with a left knee injury.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. 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.