Akron beats Kent State 31-27 with touchdown in final minute

Henry Palattella

The University of Akron sophomore Tra’Von Chapman ruled the Kent State area gridiron when he was a standout quarterback at Kent Roosevelt High School. Saturday’s game was tangible proof that old habits die hard.

Chapman led Akron on a four-play, 57-yard drive that ended when Mykel Traylor-Bennett rushed it in from three yards out to give Akron (3-2, 1-0 MAC) a 31-27 lead over Kent State (1-4, 0-1 MAC) with 20 seconds left, the final margin that the Zips would win by.

“Disappointing, very disappointing,” said Kent State head coach Paul Haynes of the loss. “Especially losing like that, but I’m super proud in the way that (the team) fought.”

This came after the Flashes took the lead with 1:02 left when redshirt junior Nick Holley hit true freshman Justin Rankin in the end zone from nine yards out, a score that gave Kent State a 27-24 lead. Holley started the game as quarterback for the Flashes, which was a drastic change of the guard for the Flashes.

Holley — who came into Saturday’s game leading Kent State in receiving yards —had never played quarterback during his time at Kent State. The last time that he played quarterback was his senior year of high school, when he threw for 1,087 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Haynes said that the decision to start Holley was a decision that was made “as soon as they landed from Alabama” — statement that Holley reiterated.

“I got a text on Sunday that said the head man wanted to see me,” Holley said. “I thought I was in trouble or something. But I came in and he asked if I wanted to play QB. Instantly, I had knots in my stomach, was nervous, had butterflies but I couldn’t have been happier and thankful that he gave me a shot.”

That success spilled over into Holley’s first collegiate start under center as he threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns, while also running for 117 yards and a touchdown. Holley was the first player in to amass 400 total yards since Josh Cribbs in 2004.

Holley made a point of getting Rankin the ball, who made the most of it, finishing with 181 yards receiving and the aforementioned touchdown. Rankin’s most explosive play came in the second quarter, when he caught a ball from Holley and eluded right Zip tacklers en route to a 54-yard gain.

“I knew the play would work,” Rankin said. “It was a fake, fake run. I (faked the) block, then (caught) ball. Nick threw a good ball — a perfect ball — after that, I just did what I knew I could do. I should’ve scored. I (cut) back in and should’ve (cut) out.”

Holley starting behind center was a surprise, as the popular assumption was that sophomore quarterback George Bollas would start, with fifth-year senior Colin Reardon serving as his backup. Haynes said after the game that Holley will be the starting quarterback going forward.

Akron had a backup quarterback at the helm as well, as Chapman was making the start due to an injury junior starting quarterback Thomas Woodson sustained during the Zip’s 54-28 loss to Appalachian State University.

It was a tale of two halves for Chapman; he started, going 2-of-14 for 75 yards and two interceptions in the first half, but he finished the game strong, going 7-of-14 with 162 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. He finished the game 11-of-28 for 237 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, all of which are career-highs for the sophomore signal-caller.

Both of Chapman’s interception landed in the hands of junior defensive back Jarrell Foster, which were the first two interceptions of his career.

Chapman’s best throw of the night was his last one. He beat double coverage double the right sideline to find senior receiver JoJo Natson for 43 yards, which led to Traylor-Bennett punching it in from three yards out on the next play. Traylor-Bennett also scored the Zips only first-half touchdown on a 13-yard rush in the second quarter.

Special teams errors plagued the Flashes all night, and those errors were exemplified on Akron’s game-winning drive, as Haynes elected to go with the hard squib kick instead of the conventional kickoff. This resulted in Akron getting the ball at their own 43-yard line.

“We didn’t do a good job in our coverage,” Haynes said after the game. “We tried to … squib it, but their guy did a good job of taking it on the 40 … compared to where we were getting it, you know, in previous (games) … we still had our chances still at the end, and he made a good play.”

Akron’s Van Edward’s touched the Flashes for a 75-yard kick return in the first half. Flashes sophomore kicker Shane Hynes missed a crucial field goal late in the first half — one that would have given them a two-possession lead going into the break.

Henry Palattella is a sports reporter, contact him at [email protected]