Kent State football retains Wagon Wheel behind strong second half

Kent State’s offensive line huddles to strategize during their game against Akron. Nov. 17, 2020.

Nick Pedone Sports reporter

The Wagon Wheel Rivalry between Kent State and the University of Akron was a game with a lot riding on it. 

Aside from a legendary midwest football rivalry, the game had historic quarterback play, Kent’s football program looking for its first 3-0 start in over 60 years and robust offenses on a freezing cold November night.

The night encapsulated Mid-American Conference football, and proved that anything is possible with the Wagon Wheel on the line. Coach Lewis echoed that notion postgame.

“This is not your regular game, this is not a regular week,” Lewis said. “This is a number one football goal we have, to keep that wheel painted the proper blue and gold, to have it hang in our locker room.”

Kent State rode a massive offensive performance to beat Akron 69-35 and kept the coveted Wagon Wheel in Kent, Ohio. 

KSU now leads the all-time series 25-24-1 and also made history by moving to 3-0 for the first time since 1958.

The performance was dominant. Kent State amassed 750 yards of total offense to Akron’s 366, converted 37 first downs and outgained Akron on a per-play-basis by more than three yards.

The Flashes jumped on the board quickly after Akron quarterback Zach Gibson was intercepted by senior cornerback Elvis Hines. Kent State capitalized on that turnover with a three-yard rushing touchdown by freshman Marquez Cooper. 

After Kent State muffed a punt, the Zips took over and capitalized on a short field, tying the game at seven.

Fumbles were an area of concern for the Flashes in the first half, as Akron’s first two scoring drives came after Isaac Vance’s muffed punt and redshirt freshman running back Bryan Bradford’s fumble in Akron territory.

The second quarter the scoring was back and forth, with both teams moving the ball and exchanging touchdowns. 

For the Zips, running back Teon Dollard caused fits for Kent’s defense. 

The Flashes countered with huge production from junior wide receiver Isaiah McCoy, he would finish with 140 yards and a touchdown, and Cooper’s 107 yards and three touchdowns.

At halftime, Kent quarterback Dustin Crum was a flawless 17-of-17. Crum finished the day early in the fourth quarter with 348 yards and 5 total touchdowns, three passing and two rushing.

The second half was all about Kent’s record-breaking offense, fueled by Crum. In the final two quarters the Flashes outscored Akron 34-7 to cruise to victory in Dix Stadium. 

This is the second year in a row Kent State has soundly beaten their rivals to secure the Wagon Wheel.

Crum’s performance was historic, being the first time a Kent State quarterback scored five total touchdowns since NFL great Joshua Cribbs in 2004.

“We’re not in this position without him,” Lewis said of Crum. “He’s the most humble and hungry kid I’ve ever been around. He sets the tone for what our culture is.”

Crum’s passing attack was led by McKoy, whose six receptions were matched only by sophomore Ja’Shaun Poke. Poke added a touchdown and 82 receiving yards.

The air attack was assisted on the ground by Cooper and junior Xavier Williams, who added 97 rushing yards and a touchdown.

Crum himself had an impact there too, actually leading Kent State in rushing yards with 116 in addition to his two rushing touchdowns.

“That’s what allows us to fire on all cylinders,” Crum said of the running game.

In the fourth quarter, backup quarterback Collin Schlee entered the game and completed a one-yard touchdown pass to Javon Williams. 

That score pushed Kent State to 69 points, tying the school record.

Akron muffed the ensuing kickoff, but Lewis ran out the clock rather than push to set a new record. 

After the game, Lewis said he was unaware that he was one point away from breaking the school record.

The defense took off in the second half as well, holding Akron to only one touchdown after Kent State went into halftime up only 35-28.

Junior Khalib Johns led Kent State with 10 total tackles, five of which were solo tackles and one of which was for a loss.

Several Flashes registered sacks, but only redshirt junior defensive end Zayin West had two, totaling seven yards of loss for the Zips.

“I wish we could’ve pulled away more,” Crum said. “But whenever you beat The School Down The Road, it’s a good feeling.”

Lewis was not totally satisfied with his team’s showing, stressing the importance of learning from their mistakes and correcting them before next week.

“As great as this is, the Wheel goes on the wall and it’s onto Buffalo,” Lewis said.

Next, the Flashes face the only other undefeated team remaining in the MAC East division, the University at Buffalo. The Bulls are also 3-0 and are coming off a solid showing against Bowling Green. 

The matchup has huge implications in deciding which school will win the MAC East and represent the division in the MAC championship game.

Nick is a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected].