ANN ARBOR, Mich. — College football’s winningest program might have just had its worst win.
Fitzgerald Toussaint scored a go-ahead, 2-yard touchdown with 2:49 left and No. 11 Michigan made a desperately needed stop on the final play to hold on for a 28-24 victory over Akron on Saturday.
Michigan (3-0) avoided getting upset at home — as it did against Appalachian State and Toledo — by a Mid-American Conference team with three straight one-win seasons that hasn’t won a road game in nearly five years and was expected to lose by more than five touchdowns.
“This is embarrassing for the University of Michigan football team,” offensive tackle Taylor Lewan said.
The Wolverines trailed twice in the second half — including with 4:10 remaining when Kyle Pohl threw a 1-yard TD — and allowed the Zips (1-2) to get to the Michigan 4 on the final drive of the game.
On the third straight snap inside the Michigan 5, Pohl was hurried and hit by Brennen Beyer and that led to an incomplete pass in the end zone as time expired.
“We almost lost to Akron, no disrespect to Akron,” Devin Gardner said.
Gardner had a lot to do with that.
He had a career-high three interceptions and fumbled.
“I don’t care if we are playing Saline High School or the Super Bowl champs, you can’t turn the ball over,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said.
Akron was very close to going ahead in the final minute, but wide receiver Jerrod Dillard couldn’t come down with a high pass that went through his hands in the end zone, and receiver L.T. Smith was stopped at the 2 by two defenders.
“I’ve been fortunate to have some big wins in my career, but that would’ve been the biggest,” said Akron coach Terry Bowden, who went 11-0 two decades ago at Auburn. “I’m sorry for our players. They worked so hard and been through so much, but I told them they had the chance to play the game of a lifetime and they did and they played the game of a lifetime.
“I’m sure down the road in their lives they’ll look back and cherish that more than the misery they’re in right now.”
Michigan won its 17th straight at home for the longest streak among BCS-conference teams and its best since winning the same number in a row from 1976-78.
Akron has lost 28 straight road games, the longest skid for visitors in the top tier of college football since Kansas State dropped 30 in a row from Nov. 9, 1985 to Nov. 2, 1991, according to STATS LLC.
The Zips, though, thought this would be their day.
“I knew we could beat them,” Pohl said.
The Wolverines said the right things about respecting and focusing on Akron after beating rival Notre Dame in front of an NCAA-record crowd last weekend, but they didn’t look like they prepared very well and failed to make adjustments during the game.
And, Gardner led the way.
He ran for a 36-yard score and threw a 33-yard pass to Jehu Chesson in the third quarter to put Michigan up 21-10, but was 16 of 30 for 248 yards with a lot of mistakes.
Gardner had turnovers on three straight drives late in the first half and the last two set up Akron for field goal attempts — both of which were missed — as Michigan had a tenuous 7-3 lead at halftime.
The fourth-year quarterback, who accounted for five TDs in the 41-30 win over the Fighting Irish, threw his third interception in the fourth quarter and it was returned 27 yards by linebacker Justin March to let the Zips pull within four points.
“I made a lot of bad decisions, probably my worst game ever,” Gardner said.
After Michigan went three and out, Pohl drove the Zips to the Michigan 2 and they came away with nothing because he was picked off in the end zone by Jarrod Wilson.
The Wolverines could only get one first down on their next drive, then Pohl gave Akron a 24-21 lead on a pass to Tyrell Goodman.
The Big House, which was eerily quiet for much of the afternoon when fans weren’t booing, erupted in a collective cheer when Toussaint’s plunge put Michigan up 28-24.
It got quiet again as Akron picked apart Michigan’s defense, which failed to pressure Pohl very often, before the maize-and-blue clad followers were able to exhale when the clocks had zeroes and the football was on the turf.
“Yeah, we won the game,” Lewan said, sounding and looking furious in a postgame news conference. “We’re 3-0, that’s great. It was embarrassing.”