Moral victories don’t count in sports.

The University of Akron football team left Ames, Iowa, on Saturday knowing it gave another Power 5 Conference team a good game. But the Zips also left with a loss.

Iowa State bottled up Akron quarterback Kato Nelson and prevented the Zips from getting much going on offense en route to a 26-13 victory.

Nelson, who has been developing at a nice clip, couldn’t get his offense in a consistent rhythm as he struggled in the passing game in the face of a consistent Cyclones pass rush. He finished 12-of-28 passing for 153 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

"I told my boys [not to] hang their heads," Zips coach Terry Bowden said. "We've played with the big boys."

A stubborn, forceful Cyclones defense — which allowed 244 total yards and stayed in Nelson’s face much of the afternoon — deserves much of the credit for the Zips offensive woes. But until the Zips develop a consistent running game, the going could be tough. UA ran the ball 31 times for 91 yards against Iowa State with 56 of those yards coming from Nelson.

"We won because we stayed the course and ran the football and stopped the run. Those things really allowed us to mitigate some of those mistakes," Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said. "I know it wasn't perfect."

The Zips drew first blood after free safety Alvin Davis Jr. recovered a fumble in Cyclones territory. Three plays later, on third-and-10, Nelson found wide receiver Andre Williams for a 26-yard score and a 7-0 lead at the 6:23 mark of the first quarter. It was the last time the Zips had a lead.

The Cyclones (1-2) answered with touchdown on the very next drive after a 47-yard kickoff return set them up with a short field. They tied the game at 7-7 on a 24-yard scoring pass from quarterback Zeb Noland to wide receiver Hakeem Butler.

The Zips forged a 10-10 tie on a 45-yard field goal by Nick Gasser with 5:21 left in the second quarter, but the Cyclones went 74 yards on 11 plays and scored on a 1-yard touchdown run by running back David Montgomery with 30 seconds to go to take a 17-10 halftime lead.

The second half turned into a battle of field goals, with the Cyclones padding their lead with four in the fourth quarter after Gasser connected from 49 yards midway through the third quarter to narrow the gap to 17-13.

"I think we've just got to keep sustaining drives, keep the defense off the field. It's great we're kicking field goals and getting three points. But we've got to score touchdowns," Noland said.

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.