Potato Bowl: Akron tops Utah St. for school’s first bowl victory
BOISE, Idaho — Robert Stein made three field goals and Jatavis Brown led a smothering defense as Akron earned its first victory in a bowl, a 23-21 over Utah State on Tuesday in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Stein, who became the school’s career scoring leader with 268 points, connected from 29, 33 and 46 yards, and was selected the game’s MVP. His longest kick gave the Zips a 23-14 with 8:15 remaining.
Akron (8-5) finished with eight wins for the first time since moving up to FBS in 1987. The record came four years to the day after the school hired coach Terry Bowden.
While Stein provided the difference in scoring, it was Akron’s defense that made the lead stick.
Brown, the MAC defensive player of the year, had eight tackles along with 1 1/2 sacks, 2 1/2 tackles for loss, and a critical forced fumble.
Utah State (6-7) mounted a comeback behind senior quarterback Chuckie Keeton, who threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Sharp with 1:12 remaining to pull to 23-21. But Akron recovered the onside kick and then stopped one final flea flicker play by Utah State as time expired.
While Akron averaged less than 200 yards passing per game this season, the Zips turned to the air to score the game’s first points.
After an incompletion, Zips quarterback Thomas Woodson hit A.J. Coney on a 42-yard pass play. On the next play, Akron dug into its bag of tricks, scoring when receiver Tyrell Goodman hit Woodson with a 14-yard pass for the 7-0 lead.
Utah State struggled to generate any offense early as the Aggies, going through three-and-out for minus-5 yards on their first four possessions.
The Aggies, however, got a spark after a long punt return by Sharp set up Utah State at the Akron 31. But on third-and-8 from the Zips 18, Akron cornerback Kris Givens ripped an apparent touchdown catch out of Brandon Swindall’s arms. Utah State elected to go for a first down instead of kick a field goal, but the Akron defense held.
The Zips responded with a 12-play, 59-yard drive that ended in a 33-yard field goal by Stein, pushing their lead to 10-0.
Utah State wasted little time in answering. Devante Mays broke off a career-long 61-yard run before Jatavis Brown caught him at the Akron 10. Two plays later, Kent Myers hit Swindall on a 9-yard pass play. Brock Warren’s extra point cut the deficit to 10-7 with 1:21 left in the half.
On Akron’s next possession, Utah State’s defense stiffened and forced a punt with 1:00 left in the half, using two time outs to preserve time on the clock.
However, it was a plan that backfired.
With Utah State on the Akron 28, Brown stripped the ball loose from Myers, and Akron defensive tackle Rodney Coe scooped up the ball and rambled 56 yards to the Aggies 12 with 4 seconds left in the half.
Stein booted a 29-yard field goal as time expired to give the Zips a 13-7 lead.
In the second half, Utah State took its first possession 64 yards in seven plays, scoring on a 19-yard pass play from Meyers to Sharp. Warren’s extra point gave the Aggies their first lead of the game at 14-13.
Akron’s offense could muster only two yards on its next possession, but found new life after the Zips’ defense recovered a fumble at the Utah State 40.
Eight plays later, Donnell Alexander sprinted into the end zone from 2 yards out to help the Zips regain the lead at 20-14 with 5:43 left in the third quarter.
Keeton and Myers combined for 28-of-45 passing for 232 yards and three touchdowns, while Woodson was 14 of 29 for 168 yards.
Andrew Pratt set a career high with nine receptions for 94 yards to lead the Zips. Hunter Sharp had 11 catches for 91 yards.
Mays led Utah State on the ground with 124 yards on 12 carries, while Woodson rushed for 47 yards to lead Akron.