Unforced turnovers, penalties plague the Flashes in conference opener

Kent State wide receiver Antwan Dixon high-steps as he runs into the end zone during the first half of the Flashes’ matchup against Illinois at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 1, 2018. The Flashes lost 31-24. 

Ian Kreider

Sophomore quarterback Woody Barrett took off for what appeared to be an easy first down during the first play of the fourth quarter in Kent State’s conference-opening matchup against Ball State — but he was brought down on a shoestring tackle a few yards shy.

That summarizes Kent State’s (1-4, 0-1 Mid-American Conference) performance.

A plethora of “almost” or “should have” plays in a 54-24 defeat.

The Flashes had 17 penalties for 142 yards, with many of them negating positive plays that would have shifted momentum.

The offense, led by Barrett, gave Ball State’s (2-3, 1-0 MAC) defense fits with the RPO (run-pass option). The only problem was penalties.

Kent State had a few ineligible receiver penalties that negated deep completions.

The team also struggled to hold onto the football. They lost two fumbles over the course of the game, both during promising drives.

The defense felt the effects as they gave up 52 points. Ball State junior quarterback Riley Neal and junior tight end Riley Miller carved the Flashes’ defense up for most of the afternoon. Miller finished with 208 yards receiving and a touchdown, while Neal finished the game 30-for-50 passing for 402 yards, four touchdowns and an interception.

“We needed to do a better job of closing the space on the edge and tackling,” coach Sean Lewis said. “It comes down to basic fundamentals and executing our jobs to the best of our abilities.”

Barrett finished with a career-high 314 yards through the air and a 68.2 percent completion rate.

However, he felt the pressure for most of the day, as he was sacked five times.

He also showed the most composure of the season throwing the ball deep. He completed three passes of 20 yards or more, with a few more completions negated by penalties.

“When we are right, we are executing, we are focused and we are locked in, and we as coaches are putting the kids in the best position to succeed,” Lewis said. “We’ll be just fine.”

Junior wide receiver Mike Carrigan appeared to have a connection with Barrett all day. He finished with four receptions for 85 yards, including a 40-yard connection on a deep ball. 

The team appeared to gain some momentum at the end of the first half when junior running back Justin Rankin pounded in a six-yard touchdown to cut the Cardinals’ lead to 28-17, but Ball State drove right down the field after Neal took off on third down for a big gain. The team scored on a short run from junior running back James Gilbert to push the game to 35-17.

The Flashes struggled to stop Neal on the ground as he finished the game with 61 yards and a touchdown.

The team will look to regroup after the 52-24 blowout as they take the field on Saturday against Ohio (2-2) inside Dix Stadium for Homecoming. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.

Ian Kreider is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].