By EVAN MEYER
AKRON, OHIO – The Akron Zips completed their 2015 regular season in grand style with a 20-0 shutout win over the Kent State Golden Flashes Friday afternoon before 16,391 rain-soaked fans at InfoCision Stadium.
The win gave Akron (7-5, 5-3 MAC) its fourth consecutive victory and its first winning season since 2005 when they won the MAC Championship game over Northern Illinois and played Memphis in the Motor City Bowl. In addition, UA gained possession of the Wagon Wheel trophy for the second time in the last three seasons.
Kent State (3-9, 2-6) ended the season with its fifth consecutive loss and sixth in the last seven games while being shutout for the third time during the losing streak.
“It is always tough when you lose to your rival.” KSU head man Paul Haynes said. “We have small room for error, and when you turn the ball over three times, it’s tough to come out with a win. We were short-handed defensively, especially up-front and we didn’t do a good job getting them off the field. They had the ball the whole fourth quarter.”
At the start, KSU looked like it was going to score first as a 45-yard pass play from redshirt freshman QB George Bollas to freshman RB Raekwon James highlighted a drive that saw the Flashes reach the UA 14.
On third down, however, Bollas completed a pass to freshman Matt Bahr who fumbled. DB Bryce Cheek recovered for the Zips. That was as close at the Zips would get to scoring for the remainder of the game.
Akron, meanwhile, managed to work its way onto the scoreboard midway through the opening period. QB Thomas Woodson put together a 14-play, 77 yard drive with a mixture of runs and short passes.
The drive reached the KSU seven-yard line. From there senior RB Conor Hundley went up the middle for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead. Hundley, one of 21 seniors playing their last home game for UA, led all rushers in the contest with 98 yards.
There was no further scoring until the final two minutes of the half, when a turnover set Akron up at near point blank range. . KSU had the ball on third down from its own six. Bollas was flushed out of the pocket and gained five yards before he was hit. Senior LB Darryl Monroe caused a fumble that was recovered by junior DL Se’Von Pittman at the Flashes 11.
From there, Woodson and the UA offense needed just one play to score the touchdown. He rolled to the right and flipped a short pass to redshirt freshman FB Newman Williams, who took it in for his first collegiate touchdown and a 14-0 lead for the home team at intermission. Woodson would finish the day completing 11-of-20 passes for only 140 yards and the score to Williams.
An example of the Zips’ dominance, especially on the defensive side of the ball, was that they held the Flashes to 10 yards rushing and 87 yards of total offense. Take away the 45-yard pass play from Bollas to James, and the offense gained a total of 42 yards.
The third quarter saw a rarity in the game of football. One team holding the ball for the entire period.
UA got the ball to start the second half. Starting from its own 25 yard line, Akron put together a 19-play drive – its longest of the season.
The trip included a multitude of penalties on both sides of the ball. The biggest was on a third down and 29 from the KSU 33, when the Flashes were flagged for pass interference. Eventually, the drive reached the Flashes one, where the defense finally stiffened. Senior PK Robert Stein then came on for a 23 yard field goal to make the score 17-0.
On the ensuing kickoff, the ball was fielded by an up-man. sophomore LB Matt Sommers fumbled, and the Zips recovered at the Flashes 40.
As the fourth quarter began, Stein came on and kicked his second field goal. The 20-yarder ended scoring for the afternoon.
“I’ve never been a part of the game where the defense never went in in the third quarter, even two-and-a-half minutes into the fourth. Which made our defense fresh and ready to play in the fourth.” Bowden said.
After finally getting possession, Kent State had its own version of a long drive. The tip included 11 plays, but it also yielded just 29 yards before a punt. Akron then finished its victory by running out the clock.
The shutout was the Zips first since 1992, when they blanked Ohio 13-0. It was their first blanking of KSU in the series since 1985, 24-0, at the Rubber Bowl and the first home shutout in the seven year history of InfoCision Stadium.
For the Flashes, it was a game to put behind them – particularly on offense. KSU had just 135 yards of total offense, with just 10 on the ground. In addition, they had three fumbles, gave up three sacks and were just 2-of-11 on third down.
Last week, UA became bowl eligible with its 42-21 home win over Buffalo. When asked about how this team will be remembered, Bowden said “They will be the team recognized as the team that got this program back. It was a full team game, offense, defense, and special teams.”