AKRON, OHIO – The Akron Zips opened Mid-American Conference play Saturday afternoon with a dominating 31-6 victory over the Eastern Michigan Eagles at InfoCision Stadium.
The win made Akron (3-2, 1-0 MAC) 7-3 over its last 10 games dating back to last season. It also marked the Zips first win in a MAC opener since 2007 when they defeated Kent State at the Rubber Bowl 27-20.
“I am very pleased with a victory in our opening conference game.” Zips head coach Terry Bowden said after the contest. “Football is a game of emotion. You have to have that emotion right from the opening snap, I thought we were slow to start before getting into gear in the second half.”
Eastern Michigan (1-4, 0-1 MAC) suffered its fourth consecutive loss and has been outscored 186-23 in those games.
Many observers wondered if there might be a let down from UA after its big win last week at Pittsburgh, but the Zips executed on a chilly day that saw rain mixed in with a hint of snow.
On EMU’s first possession of the game after a Zips punt, senior quarterback Rob Bolden engineered an 11-play, 78-yard drive that ended with an 18-yard touchdown pass to senior WR Tyler Allen in the back left corner of the end zone for a 6-0 lead. The extra point, however, failed after a bad snap. Holder David Gibson tried to run for the two-point conversion, but he was tackled, leaving the Eagles with just a six-point advantage.
Bolden, a transfer from LSU who also saw time at Penn State in his collegiate career, was 17-of-30 through the air for 185 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Allen had five catches for 52 yards and the score.
After an exchange of punts, UA gained possession on its own nine-yard line. From there, Pohl put together a 10-play drive to give the Zips the lead for good. The biggest play of the drive was a 31-yard completion over the middle to senior WR LT Smith. Pohl capped the drive scrambled to the end zone corner for a 7-6 lead.
Pohl would finish the game with a career best 326 yards through the air. His previous best was 321 in a narrow home loss to Louisiana-Lafayette last season. He completed 27-of-40 passes with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
In the second quarter, the game turned into a battle of punts and field position before the Eagles Jaleel Canty took a Zach Paul on his own 24 and returned it 50 yards to the UA 23. When the Zips refused to yield ground, Mulder came on to attempt a 40-yard field goal. The try fell well short, ending what would be the Eagles final scoring chance of the afternoon.
Just before halftime, UA’s defense caused the first of four turnovers in the contest. Pinned at his own one yard line, Bolden threw an ill-advised pass into the right flat that was intercepted by junior CB Kris Givens on the Eagles 18.
EMU’s defense did not allow a first down, so the Zips settled for a 32-yard field goal from junior PK Robert Stein to give the home team a 10-6 advantage at halftime.
In the first 30 minutes, UA held a 180-122 edge in yards, but EMU’s botched extra point and missed field goal attempt were the margin of difference.
The Zips seized command in the third quarter. In those 15 minutes, they outgained EMU 229-32 while outscoring them 14-0.
After the defense held the Eagles to a three-and-out on the opening possession of the period, UA gained possession at its own 30. From there, it took the offense just seven plays to score a touchdown. Junior RB Conor Hundley took a handoff, blasted through the middle of the line, then saw nothing but turf in front of him as the dashed 28 yards for a touchdown. That extended the Zips lead to 17-6.
Hundley, who gained a career high 148 yards last week in the win over the Panthers, gained 61 yards on the day, along with the score.
Again the defense held EMU, forcing a punt. Pohl and the offense had the ball at their own 24-yard line. From there, mixing a short passing game with the run, the Zips reached the Eagles 24 and Pohl found Smith for the touchdown to make the score 24-6.
Smith led all receivers in the game with a career-best 10 catches for 117 yards and the score.
Akron held EMU to minimal yardage on the next series and got the ball back to the offense on a punt to their own 12.
The Zips scored their final touchdown of the afternoon on the first play of the final stanza as Pohl completed an eight-play 88 yard drive by finding senior TE Anthony Ritossa over the middle from 15 yards out to make the score 31-6. It was Ritossa’s first collegiate touchdown, and for Pohl his second multi-touchdown game of the season. He threw for a pair in the season opening win over Howard as he found 11 different receivers onafternoon.
The score could have been a lot worse for the visitors as they turned the ball over on their next two possessions. Bolden fumbled on the third play after the touchdown. It was recovered by junior LB Dylan Evans on the Eagles 34. The other turnover came when Bolden completed a pass to Dustin Cree,l who then fumbled. Devonte Morgan recovered for UA at its own 12.
The defense was led by junior LB Jatavis Brown, who had 14 total tackles in the contest (12 solo) with two sacks and a QB hit. This coming after he was named MAC East Player of the Week in the win over Pitt. Overall the defense recorded three sacks, eight tackles for losses, two forced fumbles, and four turnovers.
“We came out a little slow (starting the game). When we got started, we got after them.” Brown said.
When asked about the minus-4 turnover ratio, Creighton said, “You are not going to win many football games when you turn the ball over like that.”
After the touchdown pass to Ritossa, Pohl was lifted for redshirt freshman Tommy Woodson, who also saw action in the second quarter. After the first fumble the offense got the ball to the Eagles seven, but it could not punch it into the end zone. Then on the second EMU bobble, Akron moved the ball to the 18, with the key play being a 40-yard run by Woodson down the sideline. Again however, UA could not get points on the scoreboard.
EMU’s defense was led by freshman safety Jason Beck who had 10 total stops in the game (eight solo). Junior LB Great Ibe, the Eagles leading tackler coming into the contest, had eight tackles (all of them solos).
In the end, the Zips who wore a black and gold uniform scheme to honor their late coach Tank Arrington, who passed away in an automobile accident last December, celebrated a victory that put them at 3-2.
The second half proved to be the difference as UA outscored EMU 21-0 and outgaining them 372-157. It was 552-279 for the game, a season best in yards offensively for the Zips.
When asked about the second half dominance by his team, Bowden said “We just wore them down. We just kept pounding them, finally those small holes (in the defense) became larger ones and eventually we made plays.”
Next week, UA completes a stretch of three of four at home when the Zips face Miami. Eastern Michigan begins a three-game home stand as Buffalo comes to Rynearson Stadium.