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Football walks away without Wagon Wheel after devastating loss

Cadie Pierce
Kent State Sophomore Quarterback Tommy Ulatowski celebrates with Senior Wide Receiver Luke Floriea (0) after they connected for a 19 yard touchdown pass in the second quarter of the Wagon Wheel game at Akron’s Infocision Stadium on Nov. 1, 2023.

Akron snatched victory from the jaws of defeat Wednesday after scoring the game-winning touchdown with 26 seconds remaining on the clock.

Kent State was set to defend the Wagon Wheel for the fifth straight season, but a 21-0 run by Akron saw the trophy slip away from the Flashes.

Kent State sophomore wide receiver Chrishon McCray crosses the goal line with Akron defensive back Corey Thomas Jr. running out of room to catch McCray during the Wagon Wheel game at Akron’s InfoCision Stadium on Nov. 1, 2023. (Cadie Pierce)

“We came out and were ready to play,” coach Kenni Burns said. “We had pride in defending the Wheel and holding on to it, but as the game got closer, it took a toll on us.”

Kent State’s 31-27 defeat was its eighth of the season and sixth consecutive – the team has not won since Sept. 16.

The loss puts Kent State at a 1-8 record on the season, with a 0-5 record against Mid-American Conference opponents. KSU is the only team in the MAC without an in-conference victory, putting them in sole possession of last place in the entire conference.

Akron improved to a 2-7 overall and a 1-4 conference record. The team now sits in fifth place in the MAC East.

This is the first time this season that a Kent State game was decided by one score or less.

“We’re disappointed in the loss,” Burns said. “We have to play better, we have to play four quarters, we have to coach for four quarters, and it wasn’t good enough. We have to learn from it and get better – it’s not what we expected at all, but we didn’t play four quarters. We didn’t finish strong, and it was clear as day.”


The beginning of the game was tightly contested, with a 7-6 score at the end of one quarter.

The scoring was done by sophomore quarterback Tommy Ulatowski on a five-yard rushing touchdown, but a rare missed extra point by Andrew Glass kept the Flashes at six points.

This was the first extra-point miss from the junior kicker this season.

The Zips came back on the next drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass from redshirt senior quarterback Jeff Undercuffler, Jr. to redshirt senior wide receiver Daniel George, his first receiving touchdown of the season.

KSU ran away with the game in the second quarter, outscoring Akron 14-3 in the frame.

The Flashes sandwiched two touchdown drives in between Akron’s 29-yard field goal.

The first touchdown was scored by redshirt freshman wide receiver Chrishon McCray on a 36-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Tommy Ulatowski.

Kent State sophomore running back Gavin Garcia, having previously eluded Akron linebacker Bryan McCoy, gets a block from wide receiver sophomore Trell Harris to keep Akron defensive back Judson Tallandier at bay during Kent State’s 31-27 loss to Akron at InfoCision Stadium on Nov. 1, 2023 (Cadie Pierce)

Kent State’s other score was a 19-yard touchdown pass from Ulatowski to senior wide receiver Luke Floriea. 

KSU took a 20-10 lead into halftime and scored the only points in the third quarter to extend its lead.

The team’s final score of the game came on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Ulatowski to McCray, the wide receiver’s fourth touchdown catch of the season.

A 27-10 score was taken into the fourth quarter, but Akron would score 21 unanswered points to take the game.

Undercuffler, Jr.’s second touchdown pass of the night, paired with a 37-yard rushing touchdown by redshirt senior Lorenzo Lingard, cut the lead to 27-24 with just over 3:30 left in the game.

A short Kent State drive and punt gave the Zips the ball back, facing a three-point deficit.

Akron eventually drove the ball into the red zone and capped off the drive with a five-yard rushing touchdown from Undercuffler, Jr., with less than 30 seconds left in the game.

KSU got sacked on the final two plays of the game, finalizing the 31-27 score.

“On defense, in the fourth quarter, it got away,” Burns said. “They completed some balls, we didn’t tackle very well, and we didn’t do a good enough job. We had some backups in there, but that’s not an excuse – we need to play better. They’re talented enough, and they’ve had enough reps, and they should be able to go in there and make the play.”

Ulatowski made his first start of the season after sitting behind redshirt junior Mike Alaimo for the first eight games of the season while sharing field time for the most recent three games. 

“He played solid – he led the offense, did a good job, got the ball moving, was effective with the throwing game, didn’t turn the ball over – there’s a lot to build off of for Tommy,” Burns said.

Kent State Offensive players look back to their sideline following Akron defensive lineman CJ Nunnally, IV’s (Center Blue) sack of sophomore quarterback Devin Kargman on the final play of the Golden Flashes’ 31-27 loss to Akron at InfoCision Stadium on Nov. 1, 2023. (Cadie Pierce)

Ulatowski completed 15 of his 23 passes for 229 yards and three touchdowns. The quarterback added 11 rushes for 24 yards and one touchdown on the ground.

This is the first time this season that Kent State has thrown for over 200 yards in a game.

McCray built on his breakout season by exploding against Akron, catching six balls for 161 yards and two touchdowns, leading the team in each category this season.

The receiver left the game in the second half with an ankle injury.

Burns expressed the importance of losing a high-impact player on the offensive scheme.

“We lost some of our pass stuff; there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “He’s a special player; a lot of things were built for him. Obviously, he’s a leader on offense, too, so we lost his voice in the huddle.”

The Flashes also lost a defensive leader in redshirt senior linebacker Devin Nicholson.

“We had some guys go down, and guys have to step up, and they have to play. Everybody wants an opportunity until they get an opportunity. When you get the opportunity, you have to perform, and we didn’t do that.”

Kent State’s 27 points is its second-highest mark of the season, with the next-highest point total being 17.

Burns was not in favor of the team’s execution at the end of the game.

“We just didn’t execute,” he said. “We need to execute on every single play, and we did some stuff that was uncharacteristic of us late in the game.”

Looking ahead

Kent State will reappear on Midweek MACtion next week when the team plays Bowling Green on Wednesday, Nov. 8.

BGSU is tied for third place in the MAC East with Buffalo. Both teams hold a 3-2 conference record, but the Falcons get the edge on its 5-4 overall record and have won four of its last five games.

KSU has been dominated by BGSU in the all-time series, going 24-60-6 in the 90 matchups between the teams.

Kent State graduate safety Bryce Sheppert closes in to make the tackle of Akron wide receiver Bobby Golden during the Wagon Wheel game at Akron’s InfoCision Stadium on Nov. 1, 2023. (Cadie Pierce)

The most recent five contests have gone the Flashes’ way, however, including a couple of 62-point outings.

Kickoff will be in Dix Stadium at 7:00 p.m.

“Before the game, I said, ‘This has to be for each other – in order to win games, you have to play for each other when things are tough when things go your way, it’s always for each other,’” Burns said. “That’s not going to change. They have to go back to work and get better for each other as a football team. We’re closer than we were, but we have to put it together.”

John Hilber is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected].

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About the Contributors
John Hilber, Reporter
John is a sophomore majoring in journalism with a minor in psychology. This is his second year with the KentWired team as a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected].
Cadie Pierce, Photographer
Cadie Pierce (she/they) is a Senior Integrative Studies major and Photojournalism minor and staff photographer for KentWired/Kent Stater. Cadie can be reached at [email protected].

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