It has been a long ten years for the Akron Zips football program. Tonight, though, those same Akron players and fans that struggled through three consecutive 1-11 seasons and without even a six-win season are celebrating the program's first ever bowl win - a 23-21 triumph over Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. A couple of years ago it would seem unfathomable that the Zips would ever be back in a bowl game, much less win one.
But that's what makes tonight's win so much sweeter. The players and fans know how much it means to the program, as you can see in this video:
Let's get to the game action:
- On Akron's second possession of the game, quarterback Tommy Woodson hit A.J. Coney on a slant route which Coney took 42 yards deep into Utah State territory. The next play Woodson lined up in the backfield, handed it off to Conor Hundley who then flipped it to backup quarterback Tyrell Goodman. As that was happening Woodson went straight to the end zone and Goodman found him for the game's opening score.
- The first quarter was all Akron as they outgained the Aggies 116 to -5 in total yardage. Utah State couldn't do anything on the ground, losing twelve yards during the quarter.
- Utah State's only highlight was this 69-yard punt (nice) that took up two Vines to show how great it was:
- Utah State's fortunes seemed to be turning around after, on the first play from scrimmage, Woodson threw a pick right at Jalen Davis after being pressured. The Aggies then used that momentum to drive down the field to the Akron 21, but quarterback Chuckie Keeton returned Woodson's favor with a bad pass that Akron's Kris Givens scooped up at the Zips' 6-yard line.
- The Aggies were knocking on the door again on their next possession, but the Akron defense stepped up. Keeton found Brandon Swindall open in the end zone and it looked as though Swindall had caught it, but Givens didn't give up on the play and punched the ball out of Swindalls' hands as he was hitting the ground. Utah State lined up for a field goal, but the snap was bad and the holder was tackled for a turnover on downs.
- Akron took that momentum and went on a 12-play, 59-yard drive that ended in a Robert Stein field goal to put the Zips up 10-0.
- That momentum wouldn't last long though, as on the first play of Utah State's next possession, running back Devante Mays found a huge hole to run through and burst 60 yards down the sideline to the Akron 10. That run doubled their yardage output for the entire game, and two plays later the Aggies were in the endzone on an easy pass from Kent Myers to Swindell.
- The #MACtion officially started at the end of the half, when Utah State had driven down to the Akron 28. Myers dropped back to pass but Jatavis Brown hit him from behind, causing a fumble. Defensive lineman Rodney Coe, all 305 pounds of him, picked up the fumble and rumbled 56 yards to the Aggie 12-yard line with 4 seconds left. Stein came out and connected on another field goal, this one from 29 yards, to give Akron a 13-7 halftime lead and all of the momentum heading into the locker room.
- Utah State opened the second half with a quick score, driving 64 yards over 7 plays in just 2:19 of game time. The Aggies were facing a 3rd and 17 at the Akron 46 but Myers found a huge hole to run through right through the middle of the offensive line and scampered for 27 yards. The next play he found Hunter Sharp in the endzone to give the Aggies their first lead of the game at 14-13.
- After a quick Akron three-and-out on the next possession, Utah State set up to drive again. After a couple of nice plays, Aggie receiver Andrew Rodriguez caught a swing pass and as he was starting to find his footing, his wrist hit the turf and the football popped loose. Akron recovered at the Utah State 39 and were in business.
- They took advantage of the turnover, and hit paydirt on an 8-play, 40-yard drive. It took a couple of plays and a costly Utah State pass interference penalty on third down, but Akron eventually scored on a nice play fake from Woodson who pitched to Donnell Alexander to put the Zips back on top at 20-14.
- Akron started the quarter with one of their now-patented long drives. The drive went 14 plays for 56 yards and lasted 6:38, chewing up almost half of the quarter. It ended in a Stein 46-yard field goal that pushed the lead to two possessions at 23-14.
- Utah State got the ball back looking to answer. They drove into Akron territory but on 4th and 5 at the Akron 40, Keeton threw left to Swindall. The ball was deemed to hit the turf before it was caught, and the Aggies turned it over on downs.
- With a chance to close out the game, the Zips were unable to do so with minutes left in the contest. Akron was driving but faced 4th and 1 on their own 36. They elected to go for it instead of kicking the field goal, but couldn't pick it up as Cody Grice was stopped behind the first down line.
- Utah State got the ball back and started rolling down the field, but didn't do a great job at getting out of bounds which ate up clock. Akron had them down to 3rd and Goal but committed defensive pass interference giving the Aggies a new set of downs. Keeton then found Swindell wide open for touchdown, cutting the gap to 23-21.
- Luckily for Akron they recovered the onside kick. The offense ran the clock down to 13 seconds, but couldn't pick up a first down and had to punt. Utah State fair caught the punt at their own 12 with 6 seconds left. They tried lateraling all over the field, but couldn't make anything of it.
The win gives Akron it's 8th win on the season, which is the most wins in a season in program history. The Zips ended their season on a five-game winning streak and have huge momentum going into the offseason. Some talent is graduating this year, but a lot from this team is returning. Next year is a big year for Zips football, and maybe Akron fans can start dreaming about a MAC Championship.