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Home Crowd Can't Believe It As Zips Fall 38-37 In OT To Gardner-Webb
Make no mistake about it, the 2010 football season at the University of Akron has nowhere to go but up, up and more up.
UA was a prohibitive favorite Saturday afternoon over Gardner-Webb (N.C.) University, a member of a lower NCAA classification known as the Football Championship Subdivision.
But the Zips (0-2) parlayed a series of late mistakes and misdeeds into a wrenching 38-37 overtime loss to the Runnin’ Bulldogs before a disbelieving home crowd of 10,046.
“We are obviously very disappointed with the outcome of that game,” first-year UA coach Rob Ianello said. “But you have to do the things that good teams do to put yourself in position to win that game.
“As I told the team, the offense had plenty of chances to win that game, the defense had plenty of chances to win that game, the special teams had plenty of chances to win that game. So that’s a team loss.”
Gardner-Webb (2-0) plays in the Big South Conference with the likes of Charleston Southern, Presbyterian and Stony Brook. The Bulldogs had 271 total yards last weekend in a 28-14 victory over Division II Brevard (N.C.) College. Against the Zips, Gardner-Webb had 391 yards and gained its first victory ever over a Mid-American Conference opponent.
It also was the Zips’ first loss to a lower-division team since a 24-10 setback in 1995 to coach Jim Tressel’s I-AA Youngstown State Penguins.
“We didn’t take the opponent lightly,” said senior tailback and tri-captain Alex Allen, who scored three touchdowns. “We practiced well. We practiced to win. We just came up short.”
The loss was especially disheartening since the Zips led 31-17 midway through the third quarter and had several late chances to add to that margin.
After UA took that two-touchdown lead, Gardner-Webb put together scoring drives of 82 yards in seven plays in the third quarter and 86 yards in 14 plays in the fourth quarter to tie the score at 31-31.
The Zips (0-2) then drove deep into Bulldogs’ territory, only to lose the ball on a fumble by tailback Nate Burney at the 5 with 2:46 left in regulation.
“That was a big play because of how we had moved the ball down the field and were in position to score,” Ianello said.
But the Zips forced a punt and got the ball back at the Gardner-Webb 49 with 1:34 remaining. The drive reached the 17 and senior Igor Ivelijic was sent out to try a 34-yard field goal with five seconds left to break the 31-31 tie.
Bulldogs coach Steve Patton called two consecutive timeouts and Ivelijic introduced overtime to the crowd by missing the kick.
“It was one of those things. We just missed it,” Ianello said. “We had plenty of chances to do other things and not have it come down to that kick.”
In the overtime, Allen scored on a 9-yard run to put UA ahead 37-31, but the extra point was blocked by defensive back Bryce Nixon.
Five plays later, the Bulldogs got the tying score on a 4-yard run by freshman tailback Juanne Blount. Then Ryan Gates kicked the extra point for the victory, prompting a mass celebration on the visitors’ sideline.
“Our kids hung around,” said Patton, whose team was without standout running back Patrick Hall (ankle). “When a team is favored and you hang around like we did, it puts a lot more pressure on them. I feel like it did in the fourth quarter.
“I felt great for our kids because they never quit believing that we had a chance to win, even when we were down two scores.”
Ianello had promised improvement in his team after a 29-3 loss to Syracuse at home seven days earlier.
The offense did do that, accounting for 389 yards after getting only 166 against the Orange. Burney rushed for 119 yards on 17 carries and Allen ran for 110 yards on 20 attempts.
That was the first time since 2002 that UA had two backs rush for more than 100 yards in the same game.
The UA defense, though, did not improve, being hit for those 391 yards by the Bulldogs’ no-huddle, spread attack. Sophomore John Rock and freshman Chandler Browning combined to complete 25-of-43 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns. Receiver James Perry III had 10 catches for 125 yards and two scores.
“They spread us out. . . .They did a nice job. They have some talented wide receivers,” Ianello said. “They caught us in some tough matchups. We were in position to make some plays, but we didn’t and they did.”
The Zips now face the task of playing BCS opponents on the road over the next two weekends, meeting Kentucky of the SEC on Sept. 18 and Indiana of the Big Ten on Sept. 25.
By Tom Gaffney, Beacon Journal