By EVAN MERYER
AKRON, OHIO – Sophomore quarterback Thomas Woodson tied a career high with four touchdown passes -- all in the first half -- as the Akron Zips defeated the Buffalo Bulls 42-21 on a rainy, chilly late Saturday afternoon at InfoCision Stadium.
With the victory, Akron (6-5, 4-3 MAC) becomes bowl eligible -- the sixth Mid-American Conference team in 2015 to reach that plateau. In addition, the victory marked the most by a UA team since 2005, when the Zips defeated Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game and played Memphis in the Motor City Bowl in Detroit.
Buffalo (5-6, 3-4 MAC) suffered its second consecutive defeat after a streak of three consecutive victories.
“A simple statement about today, they (UA) came to play and we didn’t” Bulls head man Lance Leopold said.
Neither team moved the ball on its initial possessions. However UA got the offense into gear on the second possession as it put together a seven-play 80-yard drive. The key plays were a 30-yard pass completion, along with a conversion on fourth down. From the UB 29, Woodson found sophomore WR Jerome Lane all alone down the right sideline for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
On the Bulls next possession, fifth year senior DE Rodney Coe forced RB Jordan Johnson to fumble. It was recovered by junior DB DeAndre Scot at the UB 36.
One play later, the Zips were back in the end zone as Woodson hit sophomore WR Austin Wolf on a go route down the left sideline for the score to double UA’s lead to 14-0.
As the second quarter began, rain started to come down and the Bulls offense, led by senior QB Joe Licata, found its rhythm. For the game, Licata completed 32-of-51 passes for 262 yards.
The visitors from Western New York got back into the game using the no-huddle offense as they put together a 13-play 80 yard drive. Three completions to WR Ron Willoughby were the key plays in the drive. Willoughby, a native of Northeast Ohio had 11 receptions for 105 yards.
The drive ended with a five-yard completion to WR Marcus McGill on the right side of the end zone to make the score 14-7.
Midway through the second stanza, Akron took advantage of a short Bulls punt, gaining possession on the UB 38. From there, Woodson threw his third touchdown pass of the game -- an 11-yarder to senior WR Imani Davis on a simple slant rout for a 21-7 lead.
Late in the period, the Bulls scored their second touchdown as Licata put together a 10-play 76-yard drive with junior RB Jordan Johnson eventually blasting up the middle from two yards out. Senior RB Anthone Taylor had a 17-yard run during the drive as he finished the game with 98 yards on 18 carries.
Just before halftime, UA countered the Buffalo score with one of its own. The Zips drove 74 yards in just five plays. Two were key completions to Davis for a combined 36 yards. He would finish the game with seven receptions for 118 yards and a score.
The drive reached the UB 38 when Woodson and Lane connected for their second score of the game. Lane was covered by a UB defender, but Woodson got the ball to him in the end zone. Lane juggled the ball, then gained possession, for the score to make it 28-14 at halftime. Lane had five catches in the game for 80 yards and two scores.
Coming into the game, UA was 12th in passing offense in the MAC averaging 192.8 yards per game. On this damp dreary day, however, Woodson completed 17-of-30 for 258 yards and the four touchdowns. That equaled a career high from earlier this season in the Zips 47-21 win at Eastern Michigan.
The story of the second half centered on two elements: First, the UA defense and, second, the play of RB Donnell Alexander.
On the Bulls, first possession of the second half, Licata had moved the ball from their own 25 to the UA 42 when he was intercepted by sophomore FS Zach Guiser.
Later in the period, with the Bulls again in Zips territory, Licata threw his second interception as senior Rover back Bryce Cheek collected the ball in the end zone.
As for Alexander, he came into the game when senior RB Conor Hundley suffered an upper-body injury in the second quarter. It was the most time the transfer from Colorado State has seen in a game this season, and he made the most of it.
Midway through the third quarter, he capped a six-play 58-yard drive with a seven yard burst up the middle to make the score 35-21. Then in the fourth quarter, he accounted for 82 of the 85 yards in UA’s final scoring drive. The final play was a 35-yard run around the right side and into the Bulls end zone.
Alexander, the son of the late Derrick Thomas former All-American LB at Alabama and All-Pro with the Kansas City Chiefs had a career day with 143 yards on 24 carries and the two scores.
The Bulls ended scoring on the next drive, going five plays and gaining 62 yards. Johnson finished the drive with his second touchdown of the gme -- this from two-yards out to make the final score 42-21.
The victory was UA’s third straight, its longest win streak of the season, and also broke a two-game MAC home losing streak.
“I am just so thrilled for our guys after tonight, finally getting to be bowl eligible” Bowden said. “It was clear last night that our seniors had a special desire to win this game today, and they did.”
Two notable statistics came out of the game. The first, despite the wet conditions, both teams combined for 867 yards of total offense (475 UA – 392 UB). Second, the Zips scored 42 points, the most in a MAC game in the seven year history of InfoCision Stadium. The last time UA scored that many points in a conference game was 47 against Toledo in 2008 at the Rubber Bowl.
Both teams complete their regular seasons on Friday at home. UA gets arch-rival Kent State in the battle for the Wagon Wheel trophy while UB faces Massachusetts in the Minutemen’s final game as a football-only member of the MAC.