The Kent State Golden Flashes (3-5, 2-2 MAC East) snapped a two-game losing streak in style on Saturday afternoon, defending the Wagon Wheel trophy against the Akron Zips (1-7, 0-4 MAC) on their home grounds at Dix Stadium, taking the win by a final score of 33-27.
The victory was Kent State’s fourth-straight in the Wagon Wheel Rivalry over Akron, and also reeled in their program-defining 12th home win in a row to extend the record. The win also puts the Flashes back into the mix for a bowl game if they win the majority of their remaining games.
Saturday was a disappointing result for the Zips, who lost their third-straight game by seven points or less and will see their postseason hopes evaporate.
It was an admirable comeback effort from the Golden Flashes, who were missing starting quarterback Collin Schlee due to a leg injury, leaving true freshman Devin Kargman to operate the offense. Kargman lived up to the moment, finishing with two passing touchdowns and no interceptions.
With the Flashes needing some time to get acclimated to a new signal-caller, the Zips threw the first punch, opening up the scoring account with an 80-yard pass from DJ Irons to Alex Adams on Akron’s first play from scrimmage.
The Zips were able to endure an early mistake in the first quarter after JoJo Evans made a great play on a DJ Irons throw to give the Flashes their first turnover of the day, forcing the Flashes to punt the ball right back to them.
Akron would continue to dominate the pace of play until early in the second quarter, leading one of their best scoring drives of the season on a 15-play, 86-yard drive killing over seven minutes of game time before settling for a Cory Smigel field goal from 22 yards out to go up 10-0 with 10:52 to go in the frame.
Bryan Bradford’s 58-yard touchdown run to get KSU on the board with 9:47 to go in the half seemed to awake something on the Kent State sideline, as they would turn around and score on the next offensive drive on Kargman’s 35-yard touchdown pass to Devontez Walker to take their first lead of the game.
Akron came back on the next drive with their hair on fire, running nine plays for 75 yards in just over three minutes before DJ Irons rushed in for a five-yard score to re-claim the lead at 17-14. Kent State responded in kind, needing just 1:15 for Devontez Walker to find paydirt on his second connection with Kargman from 10 yards out to put the halftime tally at 21-17 Kent State.
DJ Irons was intercepted by Montre Miller to end the first drive of the third quarter, giving Kent State the ball at their own 13-yard line— and some all-important momentum. The Flashes would eventually convert the turnover to points on a Devontez Walker 14-yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 27-17.
An Andrew Glass field goal after a forced three-and-out put Kent State up 30-17 with 6:33 remaining in the third quarter, putting the Zips in a situation much like they were in against BGSU two weeks prior.
The Zips answered the call right away, as DJ Irons picked up his second five-yard rushing touchdown of the day on a QB draw to pull the Zips within a score at 30-24.
The Zips defense did its job on the next drive to force a Kent State punt, but on the ensuing possession, the offense had their worst performance at the wrong time, going for -16 yards on three plays, eventually having no choice but to punt from their own one-yard line, giving the Flashes the ball at the Akron 27.
The Flashes exchanged the short field for three points, expanding the lead to 33-24.
Akron then marched down the field on offense with a no-huddle look, aiming for either a touchdown or a field goal, getting all the way up to the Kent State 17-yard line before opting to go for it on fourth-and-one. Clyde Price III was stuffed at the line, and the Zips turned over the ball.
Kent State picked up 15 yards on the ground after taking the ball over and called their own timeout with 5:08 remaining, opting to try and convert the third-and-seven through the air. The attempt failed, and Akron would use up all but 12 seconds of the remaining clock after fielding a 44-yard punt to kick a 42-yard field goal to once again bring the game within a touchdown.
The onsides kick by the Zips went for naught, and the Flashes managed to walk away with the 33-27 win.
Devontez Walker was the star for Kent State’s offense, with five receptions for 72 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for a 14-yard touchdown. No other receiver had more than 51 yards (Ja’Shaun Poke) or three receptions (Dante Cephas.) Marquez Cooper led all backs with 135 rushing yards, while Bryan Bradford had the lone KSU rushing score on his long run.
Devin Kargman finished 14-of-25 for 213 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in relief of Collin Schlee, doing most of his damage in the first half.
Linebacker Marvin Pierre led the Flashes in tackles (14), while defensive lineman Zayin West led the defense in both tackles-for-loss (three) and sacks (two) on five total tackles, JoJo Evans and Montre Miller hauled in KSU’s two picks, with three players notching pass break-ups.
DJ Irons once again put up a Herculean effort— or perhaps a Sisyphean one— at QB for the Zips, throwing for 383 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions on 32-of-43 attempts through the air, while also toting the ball 22 times for 37 net yards (47 lost on sacks) and two touchdowns.
Alex Adams shined brightly as the star receiver, leading all receivers with 199 yards and a touchdown on nine receptions, while Shocky Jacques-Louis hauled in 10 catches to lead all receivers, totaling 88 yards. Clyde Price III led the Zips with 41 rushing yards.
Bubba Arslanian led the Zips defensive effort with nine total tackles (eight solo), while the entire defensive unit combined for four tackles-for-loss. Tyson Durante picked up the lone pass break-up on what was otherwise a less-than-ideal day for the Akron defense.
In the placekicking game, Akron started Cory Smigel, who was previously benched for performance, and he delivered, going 2-of-2 from 22 yards and 42 yards. Andrew Glass was 2-of-3 for Kent State, missing from 37 yards, but making from 27 and 42 yards.
Kent State must win out to guarantee a bowl game, currently sitting at 3-5 overall. Their next game is against Ball State at home to kick off weeknight #MACtion on Tuesday, Nov. 1 at either 7 or 7:30 p.m. Eastern time.
Akron will look to play the role of spoiler, as seven losses assures they won’t participate in the postseason. They’re set to take on Miami on Saturday, Oct. 29 at noon Eastern time.