Eastern Michigan (5-6, 3-4 MAC) pulled out a huge win to keep their bowl hopes alive in an overtime victory over Akron (2-9, 1-6 MAC) at home Tuesday. The close contest saw the Zips take a couple of leads but ultimately, Joe Moorhead’s team suffered yet another devastating close defeat.
After a slow start for both offenses, there were some impressive scoring drives in the first half to get the MACtion going in Ypsilanti.
Akron bridged the first and second quarters with a 12-play drive (which was made up of eight runs) taking 6:18 off the clock to open up the scoring, as backup quarterback Tahj Bullock would cross the goal line first on a short touchdown scamper to give Akron the 7-0 lead.
On EMU’s next possession, they put together a 12-play, six-minute drive of their own that ended with a two-yard rushing touchdown by running back Samson Evans. The Eagles made things happen in the air on this drive, as quarterback Austin Smith completed four passes, including a big 32-yarder to receiver Hamze El-Zayat to set up the score.
With less than five minutes to go in the second quarter knotted up at 7-7, each team somehow completed long touchdown drives again before the half. The Zips got on the board again on a seven-yard run by Lorenzo Lingard on a drive that was catalyzed by a 46-yard reception by Daniel George from quarterback Jeff Undercuffler Jr.
The Eagles responded by running the two minute drill and got in the endzone on another Samson Evans run from close range.
After the break, the game turned into a defensive battle, as neither side was unable to score on their first two drives of the second half. The only positive movement during this period was EMU getting into position to try a 56-yard field goal, but kicker Jesus Gomez was just a bit off target, to say the least, floating wide left and extremely short in the cold atmosphere.
The Zips finally broke the 14-14 deadlock midway through the fourth quarter thanks to a chip shot field goal by kicker Owen Wiley. On this drive, the quarterbacks made plays for Akron. Undercuffler completed five passes for 34 yards, while Bullock ran for 18 yards on two rushes and completed a 13-yard pass to Daniel George.
Needing to score to save their season, Eastern Michigan was shut down by the Akron defense on their next drive. Linebacker Shammond Cooper came up with a big tackle-for-loss to force the Eagles into a punt with 6:49 left in the game. Cooper was the standout defender for the Zips in the game finishing nine total tackles and a sack.
Fortunately for the Eagles, their defense was able to force Akron into a punt with some time left in the game. Linebacker Chase Kline, who finished with a game-high 19 total tackles, came up with a big stop for the Eagles to give his team the ball back. The dribbling punt couldn’t get stopped in front of the goal line in time, resulting in a key touchback.
With the season fully on the line now, Eastern Michigan clutched up and got into field goal range quickly, allowing Gomez to tie the game with ten seconds to go on a 32-yard field goal.
The Eagles continued their new-found form in the first overtime period, as Samson Evans burst through the heart of the Akron defense on an 11-yard touchdown run to complete his hat trick of socres. Evans finished with 71 yards on 15 carries with three touchdowns.
Needing a touchdown to stay alive, Akron responded and used their two-quarterback system to catch the Eagles off guard. After a couple completions by Undercuffler, Bullock came in and found tight end Jake Newell on the read-option pass for a two-yard score to tie it at 24-24.
Bullock finished the game 4-of-5 passing for 17 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for 20 yards and a touchdown. Undercuffler finished 19-of-26 with 223 yards.
Akron got the ball to start the second overtime but was stifled and forced into another Austin Smith and tight end Jere Getzinger would bring it home for the Eagles, as the two combined for both a third-down conversion and the three-yard walk-off touchdown to save the Eagles season. It was a big moment for Smith who struggled in some recent losses. He finished Tuesday night’s win with a respectable 20-of-32 passing line with 214 yards, a touchdown and no picks.
The win is highly significant for Eastern Michigan, who moved to 5-6 on the year, and can clinch bowl eligibility with a win in the final game of the season.
For Akron, the season became a wash a while ago, but this one will still hurt. Tuesday night’s loss was their third loss in overtime of the season, and their fifth loss in a one-score game.
Eastern Michigan takes on Buffalo on the road next Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time. Akron will wrap up their season when they host Ohio on Black Friday at 12 p.m. Eastern time.