This time, the water cooler was not emptied on coach Al Golden. Players didn’t get teary-eyed. And the fans weren’t as ecstatic as they were at Homecoming last season, when the football team recorded its first win under Golden and snapped a 20-game losing streak.
That’s because everyone – Golden, the football team and its fans – have seen this before.
So, the Owls won a game last Saturday for the Homecoming crowd. Now they’ve got to bring the same intensity and desire to the Rubber Bowl Saturday when they face Akron at 6 p.m.
The Owls (1-5, 1-2 Mid-American Conference) haven’t been able to do that in the past. They haven’t won back-to-back games since beating Syracuse and Connecticut in 2002.
“The biggest challenge from this moment on . . . is can they learn how to handle winning,” Golden said after Saturday’s game. “That’s the next phase and they usually butt up against each other. Learning how to win and learning how to handle winning come hand-in-hand.
“Will they, like after Navy, allow everybody to pat them on the back and run around and get big heads? I certainly hope not. But that’s what happens when you’re building a program. Will they stay focused and will they understand what allowed them to win? . . . That’s the challenge for the staff and, obviously, the team.”
As Golden alluded to, the Owls fought tough against Navy in their season-opener, limiting the Middies to just six second half points in a 30-19 loss. That effort came against the same Navy squad that slaughtered the Owls, 42-6, in last season’s finale.
The Owls then laid an egg the following week, allowing Buffalo to place 21 points on the board before the end of the first quarter, en route to a 42-7 defeat.
The same thing happened last season, when the Owls faced Central Michigan at home following their Homecoming victory. The Chippewas scored 21 points in the first quarter as they rolled over the Owls, 42-26.
“Competing with Navy, and the win last year, I think we were too content afterward,” tackle Devin Tyler said. “So, that’s one thing we need to work on. After this win, we can’t be content. We have to come and work harder next week so we can get another one.”
Like the Owls, the Zips enter Saturday’s game riding an emotional high. The Zips defeated Western Michigan on an 89-yard kick return as time expired last weekend, evening their record at 3-3. They scored 15 points in the game’s final five minutes, erasing a 14-point deficit to win for just the second time ever in 10 trips to Kalamazoo, Mich.
“I was a little bit shell-shocked,” Akron coach J.D. Brookhart said. “The whole thing was a little bit crazy.”
Brookhart has the same task Golden does in getting his team focused on the next game after an emotional win. He also sounded a bit like Golden.
“It’s always the challenge,” Brookhart said. “The bottom line is every week is MAC Championship week. It has to be.”
The Zips’ offense, which entered the game ranked last in the MAC in total offense, busted out for 501 yards, its highest total since playing Memphis in the 2005 Motor City Bowl.
Quarterback Chris Jacquemain posted 389 passing yards and four touchdowns and continually found wide receiver Jabari Arthur.
Arthur caught 15 of the Zips’ 23 receptions and logged a career-best 223 yards and three touchdowns.
“You’ve got to start with Arthur,” Golden said of his game plan against Akron. “He accounts for a little less than 1/3 of their offense. Tremendous football player. Great competitor.”
The Zips split their rushing duties among four backs – Bryan Williams, Alex Allen, Dennis Kennedy and Carlton Jackson. Of the four, Williams has the most touches and owns a team-high 4.6 average per carry.
Until its last game, Akron had relied heavily on its defense to win.
The Zips rank fourth in the MAC in total defense, allowing 384.0 yards per game. Their pass defense has allowed just 169.2 yards a game, the second-best unit in the MAC.
The Zips are perfect in the MAC, their three losses coming to Ohio State, Indiana and Connecticut.
“No. 1, this is a veteran team,” Golden said of Akron. “And obviously, a lot of these guys have been there for a lot of wins – and a lot of big wins.”
John Kopp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.