14 miles from keeping the Wheel

Joe Harrington

Flashes aim to keep Wagon Wheel on campus in 50th game versus Zips

All winter long, it’s all they hear: Are you out-working Akron?

All summer long, it’s all they hear: Are you out-working Akron?

On Saturday, the coaches will finally have their answer in the 50th meeting between Kent State and the Akron Zips.

Fourteen miles separate the two schools — the only closer rivalry is Duke and North Carolina.

“It’s really about bragging rights because you see (Akron players) year after year, and we’re only 14 miles apart. You always see them at the mall or something,” senior defensive tackle Colin Ferrell said.

Ferrell was on the team two years ago, when Kent lost 35-3 during a Thanksgiving blizzard. He said the blowout is the most memorable Akron game he has played in, because it motivated him in the entire offseason.

“The Akron game last year; I think, we played our best game, maybe of the season,” he said. “We were so focused and we wanted that Wagon Wheel.”

In order to keep the Wagon Wheel hanging in the M.A.C. Center, the defense must not only stop one quarterback, but two. The Zips will play both sophomore quarterbacks Carlton Jackson and Chris Jacquemain. Both signal callers have seen extensive time this season, but Jackson will start tomorrow, with Jacquemain relieving him at times.

No matter whom the quarterback is, they will have one of the best receivers in the Mid-American Conference to throw to: senior Jabari Arthur.

Arthur is third in the MAC in receptions and receiving yards per game and had seven catches against Indiana last week.

“He’s a good all-around receiver,” said senior cornerback Jack Williams. “He uses his size well.”

The defense will receive an extra boost this week, when one of the team’s leading tacklers in 2006 returns from a hamstring injury.

Stevon Moss, who tied for second in tackles last season with 72, will play his first game of the season. The junior linebacker has started 20 games over the past two years and will make a deep linebacking corps even deeper.

“Going into my first game against the rival makes it that much better,” Moss said.

Moss’ return comes a week after the passing game made a splash against Delaware State. Quarterback Julian Edelman threw for a season-high 267 yards and three touchdowns last week after being told not to run out of the pocket.

With Edelman’s game restricted, receivers Shawn Bayes and Rashad Tukes, and running back Eugene Jarvis, all had touchdown catches against the Hornets.

The passing game will have a much more difficult task this week against the Akron secondary led by senior safety John Mackey. Mackey leads the team in tackles with 28, thirteen of which came last week.

Jarvis is also a key to Kent State’s success. The sophomore running back has rushed for more than one hundred yards in every game this season. Jarvis is on pace to rush for a 1,000 yards this season, which would be Kent State’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 1996. Akron has allowed 488 yards rushing this season.

Akron’s defense will be hungry to redeem itself after allowing 61 points the past two weeks against Big Ten opponents Ohio State and Indiana.

If the offense and defense struggle, the Flashes may have to rely on their special teams. The Flashes lead the nation in kickoff return average with 36.5 yards a return. Of course that was helped when Shawn Bayes, the reigning MAC special teams player of the week, ran a kickoff back 95 yards for a touchdown last week.

But the special teams could also cost the Flashes. Last week was the first game kicker Nate Reed was perfect for extra points. Reed’s consistency problems may have been solved after he was lectured by Martin after missing his first field goal attempt wide left last week. In the second half Reed kicked a career-best 40-yard field goal.

This game is never just another MAC regular season game. It’s the key to recruiting in Northeast Ohio. It’s being able to argue with family members and friends from the schools. In short, it’s a rivalry.

“Coming (into the program) you don’t even know about Akron (or) two things about the rivalry. But as soon as you sign that letter of intent — you get it,” Moss said.

Contact football reporter Joe Harrington at[email protected] .