Zips win Thanksgiving game; earn MAC East title bid
Junior defensive back Usama Young (18) tackles senior Akron running back Brett Biggs (34) at the game Thursday. The Flashes lost to Akron 35-3 at the Rubber Bowl.
Credit: Jason Hall
Daily Kent Stater
The Kent State football team got served along with the Thanksgiving turkey Thursday.
The Flashes finished their 2005 season with a 35-3 loss to Akron, giving them a 1-10 overall record and a 0-8 Mid-American Conference record.
With the win, Akron produced a winning season with a 6-5 record overall and a 5-3 record in the MAC.
The Zips had plenty of reasons to be thankful.
Not only did they win their second consecutive “Battle for the Wagon Wheel,” but the Zips also won their first ever MAC East Division title.
“I want to congratulate Akron,” Kent State coach Doug Martin said, “they’ll have a good game with Northern Illinois.”
The blustery snow, a temperature of 27 degrees and high winds of up to 23 mph caused both teams to run the ball and slip and slide all over the field.
“The weather definitely affected our game plan on both sides of the ball,” Martin said. “The wind was a major factor, more so than the snow. When you’re going into the wind, there is not a lot you can do. We couldn’t throw at all. However, both teams played on that field.”
Akron won the coin toss and chose to kickoff.
“The best call all day was the coin toss,” Akron coach J.D. Brookhart said. “We knew playing in these conditions were going to be tough. Winning the coin toss gave you field advantage throughout the game, which we had for the majority of it.”
Winning the toss was more of an advantage than the Zips realized.
The Flashes had two fumbles on their first three snaps. The second fumble, by freshman running back Jerry Flowers, was recovered by Akron sophomore linebacker Brion Stokes, who returned it 16 yards for a touchdown. It was the Zips’ first defensive touchdown of the year.
“I just picked it up and ran it in,” Stokes said. “We knew from then on that we needed to keep that up because that’s what was going to win the game. We were able to do that with the interceptions and the big stops.”
Martin said he knew the game was going to come down to turnovers and the running game.
“A game like this is going to come down to turnovers and the kicking game,” Martin said. “It hurt when we turned the ball over early and gave them a touchdown. Overall, they ran the ball better than us anyway.”
The Zips scored their second touchdown with 27 seconds left in the first quarter on a 7-yard run from senior running back Brett Biggs. Biggs finished with 149 yards on 36 carries.
“My goal was to run hard playing in these conditions,” Biggs said. “I’ve never had to play in this before. The line was backing me up the whole time telling me that I needed to get that thousand yards. They just opened up a hole, and I got through.”
With the touchdown, Biggs became the eighth Akron running back in school history to pass 1,000 rushing yards in a single season. He finished the year with 1,114 yards and nine TDs.
The Flashes’ only points came from a 26-yard field goal by senior kicker Travis Mayle with 10:23 left in the first half. The Zips led 14-3 at intermission.
Biggs scored his second touchdown of the game on a 17-yard pass with 8:47 left in the third quarter, making the score 21-3.
The Flashes were unable to produce on their next possession and chose to punt on fourth down. Senior punter Josh Brazen’s punt on the 17-yard-line was blocked and recovered by Akron senior Jay Rohr who returned it for a touchdown with 6:49 left in the quarter.
The Zips ended their scoring with 5:53 left after a failed fourth-down conversion by the Flashes, allowing the Zips to go on a 72-yard scoring drive.
The Zips play MAC West champion Northern Illinois in the conference championship Friday at Ford Field in Detroit.
“Their ability to hang in there has impressed me,” Martin said. “It’s not like they swept through the conference. They had some tough losses like us, but they hung in there and found a way to win.”
The Flashes ended their season with their first winless MAC season since 1998.
“Through all of the adversity, they (the Flashes) have been a resilient group,” Martin said. “They have been through things you guys don’t know about. It all started with the death of (coach) Mike Drake at the beginning of the year.”
But Martin said he is most thankful for the team’s attitude and is excited for the 2006 season.
“I am looking forward to working with this group in the future, because of their attitudes,” he said. “They are different from the group that was here when I got to Kent State. They are not a group of blamers and they have a lot of class about them.”
Contact assistant sports editor and football reporter Kali Price at [email protected]