Homecoming weekend welcomes the 56th Wagon Wheel game


Kent State senior running back Trayion Durham stiff arms Akron senior cornerback Bryce Cheek at Infocision Stadium on Friday, Nov. 27, 2015. Durham’s run was called back due to a holding call. Akron shut out the Flashes 20-0.

Henry Palattella

Kent State (1-3) will open Mid-American Conference play this weekend when they face off against The University of Akron (2-2), a game which will conclude Kent State’s homecoming week.

The Flashes will look to bring the wagon wheel back to Summit County after Akron claimed it last year by beating Kent State 20-0 in the final game of the regular season. Kent State’s last wagon wheel win came in 2014 when the Flashes beat Akron 27-24 on a last second touchdown.

“One of the best things (about) being so disappointed coming out of (the University of) Alabama (game) is the start of Akron week,” said Kent State head coach Paul Haynes. “You forget about it, you wipe it clean, and then you get ready to play your rival. Our guys will be excited; our guys will be prepared.”

Akron is leading the all-time head to head matchup 31-24-2. Haynes is 1-3 against Akron as head coach of the Flashes.

Senior defensive end Terence Waugh knows that this is not just another game.

“To say that I’m excited is a big understatement,” Waugh said. “I didn’t exactly get to play them last year due to injury. It’s a big rivalry, so it means a lot to the program (and) the community that we get the wagon wheel back.”

The Flashes are coming off of a 48-0 drubbing at the hands of No. 1 Alabama, a game in which starting freshman quarterback Mylik Mitchell left due to a wrist injury, Haynes acknowledged that the injury could keep Mitchell out “the rest of the season,” meaning that all signs point to sophomore quarterback George Bollas starting this Saturday.

Bollas – who started six games for the Flashes last year – threw for 71 yards and rushed for 26 against the Crimson Tide.

“I think George is a tough kid,” Haynes said. “George doesn’t say a lot; he just goes out and does his work. I think the players respect the hell out of him just because he works his tail off. That’s part of being a quarterback. He’s battle-tested, he’s battle-ready. He prepares like crazy to go out there and preform.”

Bollas will be backed up by fifth-year senior Colin Reardon. Reardon has spent the past three years as Kent State’s starting quarterback before switching his position to wide receiver this offseason. Reardon was a big reason the Flashes beat the Zips in 2014; he threw for 298 yards and two touchdowns that game, one of which proved to be the game-winner.

Akron is coming off of a tough 45-38 loss to Appalachian State last week, a game in which they were down 31-14 at halftime. The Zips defense had a tough game; they gave up 587 total yards, 307 of which came on the ground. The team has a very explosive offense, led by junior quarterback Thomas Woodson.

Woodson – who has thrown for 1247 yards and 13 touchdowns so far this year – was named MAC East Offensive Player of the Week when he threw six touchdown passes against the Virginia Military Institute earlier this year.

Kent State quarterbacks have only thrown five touchdown passes all year. Woodson threw for 140 yards and a touchdown in last year’s 20-0 win over Kent State.

“I think (Woodson) is playing very, very well,” Haynes said. “He’s tossing the ball around. They have some very electric wideouts that are doing a good job at attacking the ball and catching the ball.”

Woodson’s favorite receivers on the Zips team thus far have been junior wide receiver Jerome Lane and senior wide receiver JoJo Natson. Lane has caught 29 passes this year for 488 yards and three touchdowns, while Natson has added 255 yards and five touchdowns.

The Flashes will turn toward their veterans on defense in the hopes of containing Woodson and the Zips offense.

Senior safety Nate Holley leads the nation in solo tackles with 39, while Waugh is fifth in the nation in tackles for loss (eight), and eighth in sacks (five). He thinks that he can continue that domination against Akron.

“I like my chances,” Waugh said. “I like our team’s chances. I like our D-line as a unit. I’d like for us to be productive this game.”

Saturday’s game is set for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff.

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