The Michigan Wolverines turned the ball over four times, got a break down the stretch, and still barely held on to beat the Akron Zips in front of a shell shocked and disappointed home crowd.
The day was September 14, 2013. It was a typical Saturday afternoon at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The temperature was a comfortable 70 degrees, and the 107,210 in attendance were ready to cheer the Maize and Blue loud and proud.
I remember getting tickets for free to attend the game. I was a student at Eastern Michigan University then, and appreciated the MAC, but could not possibly cheer against the team I had grown to love since I was old enough to watch football. We did our usual things on a Saturday morning before a football game. Of course any college student knows that consists of tailgating, or drinking and grilling. I walked to the stadium with four friends talking about the blowout we were about to see, and making our guesses on the final score. The closest score anybody suggested was 41-17. Little did we know we were in for the worst game watching experience of our lives.
Michigan looked to be fighting a hangover in the first half, scoring just once, while barely clinging to a 4-point lead heading into halftime. Akron wasn't overly impressive in the first half either, watching opportunities slip away. The Zips missed two field goals following Devin Gardner turnovers, yet they were still in the ball game.
Meanwhile Gardner, who was coming off of a career day vs the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, was let off the hook with the Zips inability to capitalize. There was no way he would continue to struggle against a team like Akron for the second half, right?
I was a little excited at this point, pointing out to my friends that a close loss could make the MAC look more respectable against a conference like the Big Ten. I didn't believe the game would remain close though down the stretch.
More Painful Memories
More Painful Memories
While things looked ugly at halftime, the Wolverines came out in the third quarter with a new fire under their butts. Gardner ran in for a 36-yard score to give some separation, but we really started to breathe a sigh of relief when Gardner hit Jehu Chesson on a beautiful 33-yard touchdown pass. The play put the Wolverines up 21-10. The Wolverines defense held Akron to a three-and-out and were entering the fourth quarter with the ball in hand and an 11 point lead. Now it was time to kick things into cruise control and coast to an easy home victory.
"After the next score let's head out and try to beat some of the traffic," my buddy John said to me at the time. It sounded like a great plan until one play later when Akron was returning Gardner interception (his third of the game) 27 yards into the endzone bringing the Zips within 4 points yet again. At that moment the five of us realized today might not be our day. The crowd went silent. In fact, if not for the marching band doing its best to keep things alive you may have been able to hear a pin drop in the Big House.
Michigan still had the lead and was getting the ball back. At this point a bunch of people from our section were chatting and the theme of our conversations were "just control the clock". All we needed was a couple of first downs, a clock running drive capped off with a score and this game should still be ours to win.
The Wolverines went three-and-out. The Zips got the ball and promptly marched right down the field. The defense was out there, but they weren't doing much to make a stop. Kyle Pohl had taken his team 56 yards in under two minutes, and the Zips were at the 2-yard line. As a fan I was hoping something crazy would happen, and in this case it did. Pohl was picked off in the endzone by Jarrod Wilson and the Maize and Blue faithful rose to their feet in a roar. The momentum had shifted back in our favor and now the crowd was behind their struggling team.
The Wolverines started at the 20 following the touchback, but could only muster one first down, and once again they were forced to punt. The Big House was quiet yet again. Pohl hit Tyrell Goodman on a 1-yard touchdown pass to give the Zips the lead 24-21. It was their second lead of the second half.
It was as frustrating a game as it could be. The Wolverines looked awful. I saw shades of Appalachian State (2007) all over again. I remember sitting there. Sober, angry, and trying to figure out how we could lose to a team as bad as Akron. The Appy State loss was devastating, but that was a very solid team that could have beaten many FBS schools that season. The same cannot be said for Akron. The Zips place was in bottom of the MAC, and after back-to-back 1-11 seasons, for good reason.
The Wolverines finally marched down the field and capped off a nice four play 70-yard drive. Fitzgerald Toussaint scored from 2 yards out, but left just a little over two minutes on the clock.
What happened next is something I will remember for the rest of my life. Confusion and chaos on the field. Frustration, anger, and anxiety in the stands. Officials that seemed to be lost in the moment, and a school that seemingly was "screwed" because it came from a small conference.
The Wolverines were unable to put any pressure on Pohl on the final drive, or all day for that matter. Pohl marched his Zips down the field again, looking to play the role of the Heartbreak Kid. Pohl started the drive from his own 25. The Zips needed to go 75 yards to pull off the upset.
Connor Hundley broke off a 19-yard run which put the Zips deeper into Wolverine territory. The next play, Pohl completed a pass to L.T. Smith taking the Zips down to the 2-yard line, just short of a first down.
My stomach turned. My mind was racing.
We were disgruntled, angry, and completely pissed off. The winningest school in college football history was about to lose to a team in Ohio, (what else is new?) but not that one. A whistle blew. The referee spotted the ball, but the booth wanted to review the play. This all makes sense and is on par with what is supposed to happen. Things took a bizarre turn when we noticed the game clock still running while the game had been stopped.
Akron had lost at least nine seconds in a complete meltdown by the officials. Secretly we were all hoping the clock would just run out and the game would end. We didn't deserve to win this game, but as they say, a win is a win. The decision in the booth was to move the ball back about a half a yard, but the clock—which should have read 24 seconds—was somehow sitting at 15.
Pohl lined up and handed the ball off to Jawon Chisholm. Why? I will never understand the play call, or what Akron was thinking at that moment in time. Michigan could not stop the pass all day. The Zips had very little success running the ball, and with the limited amount of time on the clock an incomplete pass could save their final timeout. Chisholm was dropped in the backfield for a loss of 2 yards and the Zips were down to their final play, sitting at fourth and goal trailing by 4.
We sat there praying to hold on while thinking we don't deserve this game. Pohl had a wide-open Zach D' Orazio in the endzone but misfired and the pass fell incomplete. Pohl sat up and unstrapped his chinstrap as he Big House erupted. It was all over. Michigan won, 28-24.
It pained me to see the game finish the way it did. The Zips seemed to get screwed, and the Wolverines ended up with a victory that they did not deserve.
We left the stadium in disbelief. We won the game, but was it something to be happy about? No. Was it worth sitting there fighting an anxiety attack? No. The truth is the scoreboard said we won, but the better team that day was heading back to the state of Ohio.