KENT, OHIO – Sophomore QB Colin Reardon’s five-yard touchdown pass to senior WR Chris Humphrey with one minute remaining in the fourth quarter, gave the Kent State Golden Flashes a thrilling 27-24 victory over the Akron Zips Friday afternoon at Dix Stadium.
The victory ended a three-game losing streak for Kent State (2-10, 1-6 MAC). In addition, it was the Flashes first victory in Mid-American Conference play this season and gained possession of the Wagon Wheel Trophy for the fourth time in the last five years.
“Just an unbelievable team victory.” KSU head coach Paul Haynes said. “We had our ups and downs but still had that belief to get the victory.”
Akron (5-7, 3-5) finished the season losing five of its last six games after opening the campaign with a 4-2 mark.
The contest was originally scheduled for November 25. However, KSU’s game at Buffalo was first postponed and then cancelled. Hence, both teams began the chilly, windy afternoon coming off extended layoffs. KSU had last played Nov. 12 in a loss to Bowling Green. Akron’s last game action was a Nov. 18 win over UMass.
Kent State not only posted the game’s final score with 1:00 left, it also registered a touchdown on the game’s opening drive. Nick Holley’s one-yard blast up the middle capped an eight-play, 73-yard drive.
It was just the second time this season the Flashes scored on their initial possession.
Kent State’s next possession didn’t go so well. It did, in fact, lead to the Zips first big break of the afternoon. After stopping the Flashes on a three-and-out, junior LB Dylan Evans blocked Anthony Melchiori’s punt with his right arm. The ball rolled out of bounds and a subsequent penalty put the ball on the KSU two.
From there, RB Jawon Chisholm ran off right guard and into the end zone to tie the score 7-7. It would be the start of a big day for the senior, playing his final game in Akron Blue and Gold.
KSU responded on the next possession as Reardon engineered a seven-play, 64-yard drive with Holley scoring his second touchdown. This one was a 24-yarder as he blasted through the middle and went untouched into the end zone. On the point after, Haynes decided to use a fake and go for two points. It failed, leaving the Flashes with just a six-point lead at 13-7.
As the second quarter began, the home team had a chance to add to its lead, however Melchiori missed a pair of field goal attempts on KSU’s next two possessions. A 31-yarder went wide left and a 46-yarder into the wind fell well short.
The UA offense, throttled for most of the first half, eventually got into gear. Taking the ball on its own 36 yard line, junior QB Kyle Pohl moved the Zips to the KSU 11. From there, his pass in the right flat was intercepted by redshirt freshman DB Demetrius Monday, who returned the ball 47 yards to the UA 45.
Just 27 seconds remained. After a first down completion, Reardon’s next toss was intercepted by CB Martel Durant, and the hosts took a 13-6 lead into intermission.
Over the first 30 minutes, the Flashes had doubled the offense yardage of their opposition (203-to-98), but the two missed field goals could have made the margin greater.
Akron took the third quarter kickoff and moved the ball from its own 23 to the KSU 24. The big play was a 38-yard pass completion from Pohl to junior WR Andrew Pratt. When the Flashes defense stopped the drive, junior PK Robert Stein kicked a 41-yard field goal to narrow the deficit to three points at 13-10.
KSU responded on the next drive with a score of its own. This one, though, would be a touchdown as the Flashes went 75 yards in just four plays. Reardon, who completed 28-of-45 passes for 298 yards found senior TE Casey Pierce in the lower right corner of the end zone for the score to extend the Flashes lead to 20-10. Pierce would end the day with six catches for 81 yards and the score.
UA marched down the frozen turf on the following possession as Pohl, who finished the day with 191 yards passing on 17-of-42, hit a pair of key third down completions. One went to junior WR Imani Davis for 18 yards and the other to sophomore wide out Mykel Traylor-Bennett for 28.
When the drive stalled, Stein came in for a 25-yard field goal try, which he missed from the left hash mark, pushing his kick way to the left.
After the miss, Akron’s defense forced a three-and-out, giving the offense possession back at their UA 38.
From there, Pohl used just five plays to move the offense to a touchdown. Chisholm provided the score with his second TD of the game -- this a 41-yard burst through the middle as he reached the end zone untouched to close the gap again to three-points, 20-17.
For a while, the game became a battle of punts and field position. But after UA took over at its own 20 with 4:44 left, Chisolm turned the possession into a one-play drive with an 80-yard TD run. His third touchdown of the day gave Akron its first lead of the contest.
Along with the three scores, Chisholm rushed for 184 yards the second best day of his career. His three touchdowns were a career high, as well as the 80 yard TD run. He would finish his career at UA with 3,403 rushing yards second on the all-time list.
When KSU got the ball back, there was 4:25 remaining in regulation, Reardon completed five passes on the ensuing drive, the biggest a 23-yarder to freshman WR Kris White.
Holley, who finished the game with a career-best 95 yards and pair of scores, chipped in a 10-yard run to move the chains.
After Kent State reached the UA 20, Reardon tried to find sophomore WR Charles Chandler in the end zone. Junior CB Bryce Cheek was called for pass interference, and the 15-yard penalty moved the ball to the Zips five.
“We needed to make a stop (on defense) but KSU would not be denied” Bowden said.
After two incomplete passes in the end zone, Reardon found Humphrey along the end line for the score to give KSU the lead back at 24-20. Humphrey led all receivers in the game with nine catches for 123 yards.
“Going through my reads, I heard a check to go deeper into the end zone. I had a feeling I would get the ball and once I saw the ball in the air, I knew I had to make the play.” Humphrey said of the winning score.
There were still 60 seconds left, though, enough time for the Zips to try a field goal or maybe score a touchdown to secure a sixth win and become bowl eligible.
Those dreams ended on the second play after the kickoff as Pohl’s pass bounced off the hands of junior WR Zach D’Orazio and into the hands of junior SS Jordan Italiano, who made the interception at the KSU 45.
The last two plays of the game were run out of the victory formation. After the second one, the KSU players raced to the end zone to grab the coveted Wagon Wheel.
For the Flashes, it was sweet moment to end a difficult season, and they raised the trophy in celebration after losing it the year before to the Zips at InfoCision Stadium.
When asked about the defeat, Bowden said “I am proud of our players -- the way we fought and came from behind… They (KSU) had more drive than we did…Our program will grow from this heartbreaking loss.”
For UA, it was an offense explosion in the second half as the Zips had 296 yards while KSU had 207. There were a combined 31 points scored -- surprising numbers considering the weather conditions.
“Last night (at the team hotel), we said ‘By any means necessary.’ we talked about everyone being a playmaker and we had a lot of guys step up…It was an unbelievable team effort” Haynes said.