FINAL SCORE: Eastern Michigan 30, Akron 24 (2OT)
It was gut check time for EMU's side, and the Eagles are one win away from going bowling.
Samson Evans reached 1,000 career rushing yards on Eastern Michigan’s gray turf in his 3-touchdown performance Tuesday night against Akron, and the Eagles were able to send its seniors off with a double-overtime win in their final home game.
EMU beat Akron 30-24 on a Senior Night that really did get the most out of its graduating class.
Evans rushed for 71 total yards and three scores.
Tanner Knue had eight catches for 79 yards. Hamze El-Zayat had 92 yards on six catches. Both of them had 34-yard receptions.
Chase Kline and Joe Sparacio had 19 and 15 tackles respectively.
Londyn Craft, a graduate transfer from SEC country, had a personal-best 10 tackles in a game he wasn’t expected to see the field too much in. E.J. Williams, an outgoing senior who came up big when Joe Sparacio exited the NIU game early, left the Akron game very early with an injury.
“So we’re doing [postgame, locker room] shout-outs, and E.J. shouts out Londyn and is literally happy for him that he got to play,” EMU coach Chris Creighton, who picked up his 190th career coaching win, said after the game. “So I go to E.J. and I go ‘I want to be like you one day.’ He’s not sitting in the corner with a towel over his head because he got injured and didn’t get to play much on Senior Day. He’s able to literally be excited for another senior that got to play as a result.”
If EMU didn’t really want to play for a bowl game this December, Akron would’ve won. EMU never took the lead during regulation, which is an obvious issue, but what’s not an issue is that the team didn’t fold like a chair just because Akron took the lead on two occasions.
Far from a perfect performance, but at this point, this program isn’t going to get too picky in how it gets to end three-game losing streaks. If it takes a double-overtime win against Akron to get to a bowl game, then that’s just what it took.
EMU moves to 5-6 on the year (3-4 MAC), and will close out the regular season next week at Buffalo.
Then, should EMU win that, a bowl game will be in EMU’s future. But it had to be prepared for Akron, which likes to play spoiler.
Slow(?) first half
After a 0-0 first quarter, Akron got on the scoreboard first. Tahj Bullock capped off a 9-play, 76-yard drive with a 1-yard run up the middle. EMU responded with a 12-play, 78-yard drive and a touchdown. On third and goal, Smith’s pass to Knue in the end zone would be flagged for pass interference, and gave EMU a new set of downs from the two-yard line. From there, Evans made his first score for EMU to tie the game at 7-7, only midway through the second quarter.
Akron’s Jeff Undercuffler connected with Daniel George for a 46-yard gain on the next drive, and Joe Sparacio helped Akron’s efforts out even more with an unsportsmanlike conduct a few plays later. Lorenzo Lingard punched in a 7-yard touchdown run (after the 15-yard catch he had the play before) to re-take the lead for his Zips squad.
EMU’s response was to have some fun with its kick return. El-Zayat fielded Akron’s kick, ran right to left, and pitched the ball back to the speedy Jaylon Jackson, going left to right, to try to get a sizeable return. Jackson got to the 26, and an Akron unnecessary roughness call put EMU’s offense on the 41-yard line.
Even more help for EMU on the drive, a targeting call by LB Antavious Fish booted him out of the game, and was effectively the third starting Akron defender to come out of the game in the second quarter.
During the previous scoring drive, DT Terray Jones and DB Nate Thompson came out with injuries on back-to-back plays; Thompson was back on the field for the second half.
Still, the help kept coming. A pair of defensive pass interferences with defenders against Tanner Knue and Hamze El-Zayat moved EMU’s offense up even more, and eventually, Evans got the carry from the 2-yard line for the score. Again.
Eventually, more points again
A scoreless dud of a third quarter turned exciting once Akron took the air out of the ball. A 16-play, 75-yard drive that lasted from the third into the fourth quarter finally finished with a field goal that, would let the Zips re-take the lead 17-14.
EMU failed to get any yards on its next drive, and a 66-yard punt from Mitch Tomasek probably saved the team here. The Zips took the ball and put themselves in a third-and-long situation. Undercuffler connected with Jasaiah Gathings for a 31-yard dagger into EMU territory. It looked like the game would end on that drive.
EMU’s defense stepped up on the drive making stops after each of the next three plays, burning all of the timeouts that it kept, and Akron ended up punting from EMU’s 32-yard line to try to pin the Eagle offense deep.
However, that attempt failed, and a touchback put EMU on the 20. Samson picked up an instant 21 rushing yards and Smith’s 34-yard connection with El-Zayat put the Eagles in the red zone with under a minute to play. Stopped with 10 seconds remaining, Jesus Gomez came out and made a 32-yard field goal, and finished the day 1-for-2.
In the first OT, Evans controlled the opening drive with four carries, and stamped things with a bullying 11-yard TD run for the hat trick. Not only was this Evans’ first 3-touchdown performance since last year’s Toledo game, but it was also the 40th score of his career.
Anyways, Akron opened up the second OT with a field goal kick, and EMU was able to end things with a touchdown. The whole defense assumed Evans would keep getting the rock, which led to tight end Jere Getzinger to be open for a TD reception from Smith to close out the game.
It was the first score of Getzinger’s career.
“I’m not going to sugar-coat it, it hasn’t been easy,” Smith said after the game. “Three losses in a row will put a dent into any team’s morale. I think with it being Senior Night, I think it kind of helped us being focused and locked in and having the energy to bring it each and every week. Especially on a short week, that was hard too. … It really kind of helped us send the seniors off right in their last home game.”
Samson Evans reaches 40th overall TD, 1000+ yards on gray
All he needed was 11 yards.
Coming into the game, Evans had a career 989 rushing yards at Rynearson Stadium and he finished with 71. For his career, Evans will end his EMU home game playing career with 1,060 rushing yards on 232 carries with 23 touchdowns (and one passing TD).
For his career, Evans reached the previously-unchartered waters of 40 rushing scores, which is pretty rad.
So, so close
If not for a loss of yards on a screen pass to him, or maybe if not for a dropped pass, or maybe if not for [point to whatever example you feel like using here], Knue would be able to join the four-digit fun too.
Entering this game, Knue had 72 career catches for 919 yards with 9 scores. Only 81 yards would’ve done the trick for Knue.
His final stat line? He caught 8 passes for 79 yards — Knue will finish with 998 receiving yards in career EMU home games.
Yes, the track is going away. Yes, new gray turf will be installed next season.
There will be plenty of time to talk about all of this leading up to it, but considering this is the last time EMU will have played a home game with the godforsaken track around the field, it’s probably worth bringing up very quickly. This turf is going to be replaced with another gray field, and will be named after Maxx Crosby after his $1M donation. Track and field will have its own venue, and EMU football will continue to modernize its aesthetics.
Unless I’m mistaken, after EMU gets rid of the track around its field, Buffalo and Nevada will be the only FBS teams remaining with tracks around their football fields.