The Wagon Wheel will stay in Kent, Ohio, but the question of its destination was up in the air until the start of the second half, as the Kent State Golden Flashes (3-0) ran over, through and around the Akron Zips (0-3) en route to a 69-35 victory on their home turf.
The win is Kent State’s seventh-consecutive victory dating back to 2019, and is their second-straight Wagon Wheel rivalry win. In the win, the Flashes tied a school record for most points scored in a game, and finished the day with 750 yards of total offense.
The final score wasn’t quite indicative of how events played out, however.
The Zips looked to be on track to be uncompetitive after Zach Gibson threw a bad interception into the hands of Elvis Cooper on his first pass attempt of the day, with Marquez Cooper turning the interception into the first of three touchdown runs on a three-yard rush to put the Flashes up 7-0 after a drive lasting just over 2:55 of game time.
But lo and behold, on the ensuing drive, Kent State receiver Issac Vance muffed a fair catch on the punt, and Bubba Arslenian recovered the ball to place the Zips inside the Kent State 10-yard line. They would convert three plays later on a funky, broken play which resulted in left tackle Xavior Gray scoring a fumble recovery touchdown after Gibson was stripped of the ball attempting to avoid contact near the goal line, tying the game up.
Kent State moved down the field on the next drive, capping it off with a Dustin Crum 15-yard touchdown run to put the Flashes up 14-7 with 4:49 remaining in the first quarter.
Akron would get the best of Kent State once again two drives later, as A.J. Watt stripped Bryan Bradford on a reception and Bubba Arslenian recovered the ball to give the Zips another chance to score. Teon Dollard would take the turnover and turn it into a 28 yard touchdown to bring the game to a 14-14 tie at the 10:08 mark in the second quarter.
Kent State went for a home run play on the ensuing drive, with Crum finding Isaiah McKoy for a 75-yard strike to put the Flashes up 21-14 just 12 seconds after the Zips drew it close.
Not to be outdone, Teon Dollard would take his second consecutive carry to the house, this time on a beautiful 59-yard scamper to tie the game back up once again at 21 apiece with 9:38 left to go in the first half.
The game would settle back down, as Kent State went uncharacteristically slow tempo on a four-minute, nine-play drive before Marquez Cooper found the back of the endzone for his second touchdown of the night, putting Kent State up 28-21.
Akron ran their next drive at much the same pace, taking up 4:44 of game time on their own nine-yard drive to allow Teon Dollard a chance at a third rushing touchdown, this time from 13 yards out.
With the game a 28-28 tie with :52 seconds to go, the Flashes turned on the after burners, running six plays for 58 yards before Crum found Ja’Shaun Poke for an 11-yard touchdown reception to push KSU back up front 35-28 at the half.
It was all Kent from there, as the Flashes went on an impressive 27-point run to put the game away in the second half, ultimately holding the Zips to only seven points in the fourth quarter. on a late Tolalrd touchdown run with 12:50 to go.
Dustin Crum put on a show, starting the game 17-of-17 for 330 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, finishing the evening 24-of-27 for 360 yards and five total touchdowns (three passing, two rushing) to lead the Flashes offense, while Marquez Cooper (107 yards, three touchdowns) helped put away the Zips defense late in the game.
For Akron, Dollard ruled the day, finishing with 202 rushing yards and four touchdowns, making up 28 of Akron’s 35 points on the night.
Kent State next plays fellow undefeated MAC East squad Buffalo in the follow-up to the epic 2019 edition of the game on Saturday afternoon, while the Akron Zips next play the defending MAC champion Miami RedHawks, also on Saturday afternoon.