Ohio (9-3, 6-2 MAC) closed out their regular season with a comeback win over Akron (2-10, 1-7 MAC) in the Rubber City, taking a 25-14 result back with them to Athens. Saying a game was ‘a tale of two halves’ is pretty cliché in sports writing, but that was truly what it was Friday afternoon.
Very early in the game, it was a defensive battle between the in-state rivals. Ohio put together a nice opening drive, but Akron’s defense was able to hold the Bobcats to a 31-yard Gianni Spetic field goal.
Ohio’s defense also looked tough, as they forced the Zips into a three-and-out and a turnover on downs on the Zips’ first two drives.
Just when it looked like Kurtis Rourke and the Ohio offense were going to get rolling again, the Zips defense clutched up and forced another field goal try. This time, Spetic missed from 52 yards out.
The Akron offense got ignited on the next drive largely thanks to some plays by backup quarterback Tahj Bullock, who found running back Lorenzo Lingard for a 43-yard catch-and-run for the game’s first touchdown to put the Zips up 7-3 in the second quarter.
The Akron defense would bow up once again, forcing the Bobcats to settle for a missed field goal attempt. The complimentary football gave the offense a ton of confidence. A drive that was a mix of passes completed by Undercuffler and positive runs by Bullock ended with a five-yard rushing touchdown by the latter signalcaller to put Akron up 14-3 late in the second.
With still some time left in the half, Akron defensive lineman Bennett Adler blew up any chance of a quick score by Ohio with his second sack of the day to send everyone into the locker room.
The Zips definitely came to play in the first half, but Ohio also didn’t look like themselves. They ran well behind running back Sieh Bangura, but Rourke wasn’t as sharp as he usually is and his receivers didn’t help him out either, dropping three passes early.
When the second half got started it was a whole different story. Akron’s first three drives of the half went punt, punt and interception, while Ohio’s first three drives of the half were all good for touchdowns.
On the first of those Ohio touchdown drives, Rourke completed five passes and found Tyler Walton for a nine-yard score to cap it off. A two-point conversion made it a 14-11 game midway through the third quarter.
The next Bobcats scoring drive was made possible by a 42-yard linkup from Rourke to receiver Miles Cross— and a 15-yard facemask penalty on Akron tacked onto it. Rourke found Cross for a much shorter pass to end the drive, a one-yard reception that was good for six.
After a nice interception by Ohio linebacker Bryce Houston, the Bobcats offense put their foot on the gas once again. This time, it was Sieh Bangura’s turn to shine, running the ball nine times on a 15-play drive to score his only touchdown of the game to make it a 25-14 game midway through the fourth. Bangura finished with 121 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.
Akron never came close to scoring in the second half and it was largely because they couldn’t keep their defense off the field at all. They had four offensive possessions after the break and only ran 14 total plays combined over the third and fourth quarters. Shaky play from Undercuffler and a stagnant rushing attack sealed Akron’s fate in this one.
With Friday’s game in the books Akron’s unbelievably frustrating season came to a close. Joe Moorhead’s Zips looked to turn a corner in 2023. However, injuries — like DJ Irons’ season-ending torn ACL — and a number of close losses (including three overtime defeats) saw the team fail to improve on last year’s record of 2-10.
The Bobcats aimed to play for a MAC Championship this year and will just miss out, finishing second in the MAC East. Ohio should still feel good about their 9-3 season as they await their bowl selection on December 3rd.