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The Eastern Echo Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Print Archive
The Eastern Echo

Eastern Michigan Vs. Toledo (Football)

EMU football secures bowl eligibility for fourth consecutive season following road win at Akron, 34-28

Austin Smith received his fourth start and led the Eagles to a road victory in Akron, 34-28

The Eastern Michigan University Eagles headed to InfoCision Stadium to face off against the University of Akron Zips on Tuesday, Nov. 8 at 7 p.m. In sophomore quarterback Austin Smith’s fourth start, the Eagles battled under the lights, just miles from the birthplace of competitive football.

The Eagles' first drive almost ended abruptly after a fumbled handoff on third and two was recovered by senior running back Samson Evans for a first down. The same drive was highlighted by an Evans hurdle over a Zips defender but ultimately resulted in just three points for the Eagles' opening drive.

Hosting Akron got the ball nearly halfway through the first quarter and was helped along by a roughing the passer penalty on junior Mikah Coleman. In the Eagles' last two games, their opponents have been shut out in the first quarter. This streak was snapped when LSU transfer Alex Adams caught a pass from sophomore quarterback DJ Irons before running into the end zone. With 4:30 left in the first quarter, the Zips took the lead, 3-7.

EMU was quick to respond, however, needing only 2:18 to retake the lead, 10-7. On their third first down of the drive, Smith was able to find senior wideout Dylan Drummond on a 40-yard touchdown pass. Last week, Drummond’s 36-game streak of at least one reception was snapped.

The Zips' following drive was initially stunted by a false start call to create a long first and 15 from their own 16-yard line. Just three plays later, the hosts were slapped with another false start penalty to make for a second and eight from their 38-yard line. After an eight-yard rush by Irons, he proceeded to throw three incomplete passes and force his team to punt from their 36-yard line.

After a tackle for loss, the Eagles started the second quarter from their own 19-yard line, then followed by two incomplete passes. On the subsequent punt, Akron was tagged for an illegal block in the back penalty to back them up to their own 29-yard line. Irons' first pass was intercepted by junior Kempton Shine, the first in his collegiate career, and further boosted to a first and goal thanks to a face mask penalty on Shine’s mark. The offense needed just one play for Evans to run the nine yards into the end zone to further extend the Eagles' lead, 17-7, just 39 seconds into the second quarter.

From their own 29-yard line, the Zips marched down to the Eagles' forty-yard line before coming up short on a third and three. They decided to go for it and despite a great read by linebacker Joe Sparacio, the officials concluded it was indeed a successful fourth down conversion.

A few plays later and now at the EMU 21-yard line, the hosts chose to play it safe with a field goal on fourth and five. Unfortunately for the Eagles' defense, an illegal formation penalty kept the drive alive, giving the Zips a first down at EMU’s 16-yard line. An 11-yard pass by Irons to Shocky Jacques-Louis put the Zips at first and goal. Momentum for the offense was disrupted by an Eagles injury and even more so in the following play when Irons sustained an arm injury and did not return to the game.

With quarterback Jeff Undercuffler Jr. now under center, he handed it off to running back Cam Wiley for the one-yard rushing touchdown. With 6:29 remaining in the second half, the Eagles still maintained the lead, 17-14. On this play, the hosts lost sophomore center Tony Georges to a right leg injury. Fortunately, he did return to the game before having to leave again late in the fourth quarter after another injury.

Eastern’s next drive started off with an outstanding toe-tapping 16-yard catch by senior wideout Tanner Knue. However, the Zips' defense held strong to force a quick three and out for the visiting offense.

Still, with Undercuffler under center, Akron began their last drive of the first half from their own 21-yard line. Their offense was only able to gain 22 yards before Undercuffler was sacked by Michigan State transfer Chase Kline to force a punt.

With 2:09 left in the half, Smith kicked off the Eagles' last drive of the half with a 24-yard rush to near midfield. After a 10-yard pass to Beydoun, Smith found Knue again for another 15 yards at Akron’s 23-yard line. After a dish to Drummond, Smith found Knue once more on the following play, this time in the end zone, to extend the Eagles' lead to 24-14 with 38 seconds to go before halftime.

After receiving the ball to start the second half, Wiley got the handoff and ran fifteen yards to jumpstart his team’s drive. However, on the next play, Undercuffler was sacked by Coleman for a loss of nine yards. Despite a 16-yard pass to Adams, the Zips gambled and lost on their following fourth-down conversion attempt.

Taking over on downs at the fifty-yard line, the Eagles' drive was jammed by both a delay of game penalty, a sack, and an illegal block in the back penalty. To cap it all off, Smith was looking for Beydoun on third and 19 but was picked off by senior linebacker Bubba Arslanian. Fortunately for the Eagles, the Zips were unsuccessful in capitalizing on this takeover, after junior Cory Smigel missed a 44-yard field goal attempt.

With just under six minutes left in the third quarter, the Eagles took over on their own 26-yard line. After a stout defensive effort, the Eagles were forced to punt after a quick three and out.

From their own 13-yard line, the Zips were met with an equally ferocious Eagles defense that saw sophomore Joshua Scott notch his first career interception from Undercuffler on a pass intended for wideout Daniel George. The joy of Scott’s first interception of the season was short-lived when officials were put to review a fumble or incomplete pass from Smith that was recovered for a Zips touchdown. Nevertheless, after officials ruled in EMU’s favor of an incomplete pass, Evans promptly responded on the following play with a 23-yard rushing touchdown. After a chaotic two minutes of play, the Eagles led the Zips through the end of the third quarter, 31-14.

Akron’s subsequent drive almost began with another interception by Shine, just narrowly slipping through his fingers. However, the Zips were able to cut the lead to 31-21 in the first play of the fourth quarter with Wiley getting his second touchdown of the night.

Just a minute and a half later, Wiley found the end zone for the third time with a jammed 55-yard dash. With 13:06 left in the game, thanks to Wiley, the Zips had scored two unanswered touchdowns in a row and cut the Eagles' lead to a meager three points, 31-28.

The Eagles kicked off their ensuing drive from their own 41-yard line with three Evans rushes in a row and an incomplete pass before Smith was sacked for a loss of eight yards. Thanks to extraordinary efforts by junior Darius Lassiter on the next catch and a personal foul flag on Akron, EMU was able to keep the drive alive. It was ultimately capped off by a 43-yard field goal from sophomore Jesús Gómez, extending the Eagles' lead to 34-28 with 8:02 to go in the game.

In what would have otherwise been a three-and-out for the Zips offense, their drive was extended after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Scott gave the opponents a free first down. Akron scrapped together another two first downs before Undercuffler was intercepted by Sparacio on a fourth-down conversion attempt with 4:03 left to play.

Sparacio’s interception sealed the deal for the Eagles, who ran and forced Akron to use timeouts until the clock ran out. His first as an Eagle and the team’s third of the match, it capped the highest number of interceptions by EMU in a game so far this season. This win also marked the third meeting in a row that the Eagles have come out on top over the Zips.

Both defense and offense shined tonight, with Evans coming into this game tied for seventh and just one away from sixth place for most career touchdowns at EMU. After collecting two on the evening, he is now tied for fifth place with 25 in his career.

EMU football returns to Ohio next Wednesday, Nov. 16, to face the Kent State University Golden Flashes. The exact kickoff time is still undecided so be sure to check in at EMUEagles.com