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One more time: Football aims to double season win total in final game

Brittany Lucia
The Kent State football team celebrates during the 1st quarter of the homecoming game against Buffalo on Oct. 21, 2023.

It has been over two months since Kent State football earned its last win.

However, the team has a chance to get one last victory before the season closes Saturday in its home against Northern Illinois.

KSU could also get its first win against a Mid-American Conference opponent this season – the Flashes are the only team in the MAC without such a win.

In its most recent game, Kent State was poorly beaten by Ball State in a 34-3 defeat.

Coach Kenni Burns said that the level of play last week “was unacceptable.”

“I am disappointed with how we played,” he said. “We didn’t play up to our standard when we talk about energy and effort – it just wasn’t there. We cannot play like that; it was unacceptable. In this program, it is never okay to lose, obviously, but then also to lose the way we did was not acceptable at all. The players know that.”

Last week marked the fifth time this season that Kent State scored single-digit points in a game.

The Flashes have barricaded the cellar door of the MAC from the inside and are refusing to come out, with its 1-10 overall and 0-7 conference records, to go along with its eight-game losing streak.

“We didn’t protect the ball well enough,” Burns said. “We didn’t execute, and we didn’t play to our standard at all. The coaches are working diligently to address that and to fix it, but we have to move our program forward.”

The Huskies will come into Dix Stadium riding high after a 24-0 shutout against Western Michigan.

NIU’s four wins in its last six games have propelled them into second place in an already-decided MAC West with a 5-6 overall record to go along with its 4-3 record against conference rivals.

Player matchups


Northern Illinois’ offense will be led by redshirt senior Rocky Lombardi.

  • Transferred from Michigan State before the 2021 season
  • Has played college football since 2017
  • Last week vs. Western Michigan: 9-17, 92 passing yards, seven carries, 32 rushing yards (season-high)
  • Season Stats: 162-280, 1,891 passing yards, nine touchdowns, five interceptions, 60 carries, 89 rushing yards
  • Burns: “When you look at their team, it’s led by their quarterback, Rocky. He’s a phenomenal player, a guy who stands for all the right things. You see that with how he plays, he plays aggressive, plays hard, he’s definitely the leader of the football team and does a great job.”

Regular starter sophomore Tommy Ulatowski suffered an injury late in the first half of the game against Ball State. Burns said he and Mike Alaimo are both game-time decisions on Monday, but the coach is fully prepared to hand the keys to the offense over to sophomore Devin Kargman.

  • Appeared in six games last season for the Flashes
  • Last week at BSU: 5-12, 52 passing yards
  • “If it is Devin, he has to take advantage of the opportunity. He’s won games here before, he’s a good enough quarterback, and we believe in him. He has to go out there and just do it now.”

Running back

Junior Antario Brown has done much of the heavy lifting for the Huskies’ running game.

  • Leads the team in carries, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns
  • Last week vs. WMU: 21 carries, 159 rushing yards, two touchdowns
  • Season Stats: 176 carries, 1,075 rushing yards, nine touchdowns, 12 receptions, 52 receiving yards, one receiving touchdown
  • Burns: “They have a really good running back who does a great job getting vertical and running behind his pads.”

Redshirt senior Jaylen Thomas continues to start in the backfield for the Flashes.

  • Leads the team in carries and is tied for first in rushing touchdowns
  • Last week at BSU: 11 carries, 24 rushing yards
  • Season Stats: 123 carries, 438 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns


Northern Illinois’ best receiver this season is redshirt junior Trayvon Rudolph.

  • Leads the team in receptions and receiving yards
  • Last week vs. WMU: five receptions, 22 receiving yards
  • Season Stats: 44 receptions, 461 receiving yards, two receiving touchdowns, 19 carries, 142 rushing yards, one rushing touchdown

Senior wide receiver Luke Floriea continues to dominate in the passing game without redshirt freshman Chrishon McCray.

  • Second on the team in receptions and receiving touchdowns
  • Last week at BSU: three receptions, 38 receiving yards
  • Season Stats: 30 receptions, 322 receiving yards, three touchdowns


The Huskies’ defense will be led by junior safety Nate Valcarcel, a unit that has allowed 17 or fewer points in five of its last six games.

  • Named most improved player on defense following spring practices
  • Leads the team in interceptions
  • Last week vs. WMU: two total tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks
  • Season Stats: 39 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, one fumble recovery (scored a touchdown on the play), three interceptions, one quarterback hit, one pass breakup
  • Burns: “Defensively, they play hard, they play physical, they play fast, they do everything that you want the defense to do. They’re going to do everything they can to create turnovers, tackle, and limit explosive plays.”

The struggling Kent State defense will be anchored by graduate student safety Bryce Sheppert.

  • The unit has given up 40 or more points four times this season
  • Leads team in tackles
  • Last week at BSU: eight total tackles
  • Season stats: 69 total tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception, two quarterback hits, six pass breakups

How do they stack up?

*For rankings, there are 12 teams in the MAC

NIU’s defense only gets stronger as the team is third in the MAC in scoring defense, allowing only 20.6 points per game.

The Kent State offense has only been able to muster up 20 points or more in two games this season.

Burns explained that the first step to winning against a defense as suffocating as Northern Illinois’ starts with having a “good game plan.”

“We have to be way better at just putting our guys in situations to be successful, and when you’re playing a really good defense, you need to get creative, you have to have a scheme that can get them off their heels and playing fast,” he said. “We have to do a good job as coaches of putting our guys in great situations and creating confusion for them and making it simple for us.”

After the poor offensive performance last week, Burns is expecting great growth from his players in its last game.

“Our guys have done a good job at responding,” he said. “We didn’t play well on offense last week, at any position, and we have to challenge them to play better this week.”

The offense stays at its 16-touchdowns mark after failing to score one against Ball State, which is five less than the next worst team in the MAC, Akron, who has scored 22 touchdowns.

Nonetheless, the Flashes will take the field for the final time this season at Dix Stadium on Saturday.

The kickoff will be at noon, and the team will observe Senior Day.

Burns wants to do everything he can to give his seniors a worthy goodbye for all the work they have done for him.

“We have to be on point, we have to play well, execute, and we have to improve from last week and find a way to change our best and really take our seniors out on the right note,” he said. “The seniors have done a lot for our program – establishing the Kent GRIT culture, being the face of it, and leading it. They’ve done a great job, and they have not been the problem; they have done everything right to me.”

John Hilber is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
John Hilber, Reporter
John is a sophomore majoring in journalism with a minor in psychology. This is his second year with the KentWired team as a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected].

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