It’s ours: Flashes claim Wagon Wheel from Akron

Lance Lysowski

When the game clock hit 0:00 in Saturday’s Wagon Wheel victory for Kent State, several Flashes sprinted to Akron’s sideline to grab the trophy they earned, causing Zip players to clear the way. The remaining students in attendance rushed the field as Kent State held the Wagon Wheel over their heads for the first time in four years.

“I knew they were going to get (the win),” Martin said. “The second Akron player’s walked out there taunting (the Wagon Wheel) in the beginning of the game. I knew that it was over right then. Our guys just had that look in their eye.”

”We have to keep that look in our eye now. That Miami game was one of the first times we were behind and came back with a chance to win it. This week was a great opportunity. We knew this game could do the same thing because it’s a rival game.”

In front of 24,221 fans, the third-largest crowd in Kent State football history, the Flashes’ defense limited their opponents’ run game while forcing turnover after turnover.

After allowing a 34-yard run on Akron’s second offensive drive, Kent State’s defense stiffened. Zips senior running back Alex Allen finished with just 58 yards and a touchdown on 14 attempts.

The run defense has played the past three weeks without senior defensive lineman Monte’ Simmons, who returned in the Wagon Wheel victory, recording one tackle.

Martin said Simmons’ return is remarkable, especially since the injury did not limit the senior’s aggressive play.

“It’s amazing that we lost Monte’ Simmons and didn’t miss a beat,” Martin said. “Monte’ came back tonight, and I’ll tell you what, I can’t say enough about his courage. To come back, he’s four weeks off of surgery. Having the plate put in his ankle, and to come out and play like he did tonight, there aren’t many kids who can do that. My hat is off to him.”

After allowing Miami sophomore quarterback Zac Dysert to throw for over 250 yards last week, Kent State’s defensive line kept Akron sophomore quarterback Patrick Nicely uncomfortable in the pocket.

Nicely was sacked seven times and threw three interceptions. The first was returned for a touchdown by freshman safety Luke Wollet to tie the game 7-7 in the first quarter. The last two occurred on desperation throws near the end of the game.

Freshman defensive lineman Roosevelt Nix led Kent State’s pass rush. The true freshman recorded five tackles, 3.5 sacks, two quarterback hurries and the forced fumble that Kent State recovered in the end zone to seal the 28-17 win with 3:08 left in the fourth quarter.

“He’s playing lights-out right now,” senior safety Brian Lainhart said of Nix. “The kid’s an effort kid. Everyone wants to talk about how he’s not big enough or he’s not tall enough. He goes hard every day, and he plays with a chip on his shoulder. He knows people think that about him. He may give up 100 pounds to the people he lines up against, but that doesn’t bother Rosie.”

Spencer Keith showed signs of his former self while managing the Flashes’ offense. The sophomore quarterback did not throw an interception for the first time in nine games and led the Flashes on scoring drives of 63 and 90 yards.

Keith finished with 17 completions for 186 yards and touchdown.

With 8:39 left in the second quarter, Keith capped off the first offensive scoring drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Tyshon Goode on a fade route in the back right corner of the end zone.

Junior wide receiver Sam Kirkland turned in his second-career 100-yard receiving performance with 109 yards on five catches. The junior, who caught passes of 40 and 23-yards, said Keith’s performance is the product of hard work.

“Spencer has been putting in a lot of work these last couple of weeks,” Kirkland said. “He keeps getting better, and keeps progressing. I know he’s had a tough time these last couple of games, but he played an outstanding game today.”

The victory is the team’s first against a Mid-American Conference opponent this season. After last week’s loss against Miami, Lainhart said the team did not have any doubts about their ability to compete in the MAC East.

“This team is different,” Lainhart said. “This team is special. We talk about mental toughness. We preached it in camp, spring ball and it’s carried into the season. Going into this game, Coach Martin said believe in yourself. Keep playing, keep playing and we went out and kept playing. It just takes (one win) to get the stick rolling, and that’s what we plan on doing.”

Contact Lance Lysowski at [email protected].