Kent State loses Famous Idaho Potato Bowl game

Kent State’s Marquez Cooper pushes off against a Wisconsin defender during first half action at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, Idaho. Kent State lost the game 52-38. Photo by Bob Christy/Courtesy of Kent State University

Jimmy Oswald Sports Editor

The Kent State football team has lived and died by its run defense this season.

And for the second straight game, the Flashes died by it in the most crucial part of their season. 

Kent State was defeated by the University of Wyoming in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl 52-38. 

“Not the outcome that we were looking for,” Coach Sean Lewis said. “Obviously a really tough locker room when it ends that way, the finality of it all. You send out a great group of seniors that gave everything to Kent State. We came up short today.”

The Cowboys rushed for 404 yards, the most given up by the Kent State defense this season. 

The Flashes are 1-6 this season when they allow 200+ yards rushing.

“Areas that have hampered us and hurt us all year long we need to clean up,” Lewis added. “We need to grow as we get better.” 

Wyoming’s sophomore quarterback, Levi Williams, became the first QB in NCAA history to rush for 200 or more yards in a bowl game. 

Williams finished with 200 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. He went 9-of-11 for 127 yards and a touchdown through the air, and he is the first QB in NCAA history to have four rushing touchdowns and one passing touchdown in a bowl game. 

“[Williams] did a really good job making decisions in their QB run game,” Lewis said. “He did a nice job breaking tackles downfield.” 

Williams came into the game with only one rushing touchdown this season, and his best rushing performance was when he ran for 116 yards against Colorado State.

Senior running back Xazavian Valladay, who entered the game third in rushing in the Mountain West Conference with 82 yards per game, finished with 79 yards and one touchdown. Graduate student running back Trey Smith was third on the team in rushing with 73 yards and one touchdown. 

“They threw a mixed bag of things at us today,” said redshirt junior cornerback Montre Miller. “We prepared all week getting ready for the game, tried to do the best we could, trying to limit [Williams] as much as possible. We didn’t get the outcome we wanted today, but it’s back to the drawing board, figuring out what we need to do going forward.” 

Kent State gave up 266 rushing yards in its loss to Northern Illinois in the Mid-American Conference Championship game.

Kent State drove into Wyoming’s territory off of several tough runs from sophomore Marquez Cooper on its opening drive. But Crum was sacked for a 6-yard loss, and his pass to redshirt sophomore Dante Cephas on fourth down was incomplete, turning the ball over on downs. 

Wyoming would drive down the field with a combination of running and passing plays, capping off its opening drive with a 5-yard touchdown run by Williams.

It was Williams’ second rushing touchdown of the season. 

The Flashes, with the MAC Championship game still fresh in their memory, immediately answered back. Crum found a wide open Cephas, who ran into the end zone untouched for an 80-yard touchdown.

It is the longest touchdown in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl’s history. 

Cephas had 116 receiving yards, his seventh game this season where he had 100+ yards. He finishes the season with 1,240 yards and nine touchdowns. He is the first receiver since 1997 to have over 1,000 yards.

Cephas said that he and Crum have a good connection. 

“[The reason we connect well is because] we just execute,” Cephas said. “Me and Crum, just practicing, keep practicing and getting reps at it. If you get more reps at it, the easier it gets.” 

Kent State’s defense forced Wyoming to go three-and-out, and Kent State’s offense took advantage of the opportunity. It leaned on the run game, with big runs by Crum and Cooper leading it into the redzone. Crum scored on a 12-yard run up the middle, and the Flashes had a 14-7 lead with less than a minute to go in the first quarter. 

The Flashes finished the day with 319 rushing yards.

Cooper led the team with 125 yards. He finishes the season with 1,205 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. 

Bradford was second in the run game with 109 yards and Crum had 70. 

Kent State’s defense continued to contain Wyoming’s run attack, which came into the game ranked second in the Mountain West conference with an average of 195 yards per game, and forced yet another three-and-out. 

The Flashes started their next drive with an explosive 54-yard run by redshirt sophomore running back Bryan Bradford. It is the longest run of his career. 

But KSU’s drive would stall after Crum lost four yards on a run and was sacked on the next play. Freshman Andrew Glass kicked a 36-yard field goal to give Kent State a two-score lead. 

The Flashes’ defense continued to put pressure on the Cowboys, sacking Williams on third down to force Wyoming’s third straight punt. 

Crum and the offense drove into Cowboy’s territory after two pass interference calls and a 21-yard pass to Cephas from redshirt sophomore quarterback Collin Schlee, who KSU brings in for trick plays. But a penalty would make it first and 15, and Kent State was unable to pick up a first. 

Glass missed the 40-yard field goal attempt, and the score remained 17-7 with seven and a half minutes left in the second quarter. 

Wyoming finally struck back on the ensuing drive, Williams faked the handoff and took the ball himself, fooling almost the entire Flashes’ defense and scoring on a 50-yard touchdown run. 

Cooper answered back with a long run of his own, taking off for a 47-yard run to put KSU to the Wyoming 28-yard line. But the Flashes couldn’t pick up another first down, and Cooper was rocked in the backfield on fourth down. 

The Cowboys scored on a 42-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Isaiah Neyor, and Kent State’s 17-7 lead was erased as Wyoming made it 21-17. 

But the Flashes came out determined to take it back. Crum fired a 22-yard pass to graduate student wide receiver Nykeim Johnson, and then Crum took off for a 37-yard run to put KSU into the redzone. 

Three plays later Crum found a wide-open junior wide receiver Ja’Shaun Poke for a 3-yard touchdown, his first of the season, and the Flashes headed into halftime with a 24-21 lead. 

Crum went 16-of-26 with 265 yards and four passing touchdowns in his last game as a Flash. He added 70 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Crum ends his Kent State career with 55 touchdowns, the second most in KSU history. He is the first Flashes’ QB to ever throw for over 3,000 yards in a season, throwing for 3,187 yards and 20 touchdowns. He only had six interceptions. 

Lewis said what we saw from Crum today is what fans saw from him all season.

“He’s a warrior,” Lewis said. “He got a little bit banged up halfway through the season. He’s continued to push through that. He’s always done what he needs to do to get ready for game day. When he steps in an arena, there’s not a better competitor in all of college football. To the very end, he’s going to continue to fight, he’s going to continue to compete.”

“He’s an elite decision maker, an elite leader. When one of your best players is your hardest worker, goes about the process of winning and holds it in really high regard, that spills off on everyone else, right? For him to go out and have another day like how he did speaks to who he is, the way he prepares, and more importantly the character that he has. The team that decides to bring him in their camp is going to make the best decision for their organization and they’re never going to regret it.” 

The Cowboys took the lead back on the first drive of the second half. Neyor had a 22-yard catch from Williams, and Williams scored on a 27-yard run.

The Flashes drove to midfield, but the drive stalled after a false start penalty on third down. 

Penalties continued to kill Kent State on the next drive, with a facemask and targeting penalty both giving Wyoming 15-yards and automatic first downs. Graduate student cornerback KJ Sherald was ejected for the targeting call, a premature end to his KSU career. 

The Flashes had 12 penalties for 95 yards during the game. 

Lewis said that the team has to control the controllables. 

“​​There’s a fine line we want to have with our guys,” Lewis said. “They’re going to be extremely physical and toe the line, but we have to have great discipline about us and make sure we don’t step over that line. There’s other things we have to do to be so good that those zebras don’t matter.” 

The Cowboys pounded the rock to move to the Flashes’ 3-yard line where Vallady capped off the drive with his only touchdown of the day.

Kent State was in trouble as the end of the third quarter grew near. A holding penalty on the kickoff and an ineligible receiver downfield penalty made it first and 15 from the KSU 6-yard line. Crum was sacked on the next play, and Bradford had a run for no gain to set up 3rd and 18. Down 11 points, the Flashes needed a first down to stay in the game. 

Bradford sprinted up the middle for a 23-yard first-down run. He had a 10-yard run on the next play, and a personal foul on Wyoming put KSU into Cowboys’ territory. A 23-yard pass to Abram put the Flashes into the redzone, but the drive once again stalled there.

Lewis shouldered the blame for the Flashes frequent trips into Wyoming territory that didn’t result in touchdowns.

“I got to be better in the low red situations with the amount of total yards that we have,” Lewis said. “For us to not have a higher output of points, that’s on me as a play-caller. That’s part of the process we have to refine, I got to get in the lab, put our guys in better positions to be successful.”

Glass missed his second kick of the day when his 29-yard attempt hit the left upright.

“Anytime you get an opportunity to get points, you love to capitalize on that,” Lewis said. “ I think it comes back to my play calling, put our kids in better positions so that they are PATs and not field goals.”

It was only the second time this season that Glass missed more than one field goal. 

The Cowboys would put the dagger into the game on the first play of the ensuing drive. 

Williams broke free for an 80-yard touchdown run, tying the bowl record that Cephas had set earlier in the game, and Wyoming took a 42-24 lead with just under 13 minutes left in the game. 

Kent State refused to go down quietly, opening the next drive with a 51-yard bomb to Johnson. Three plays later, KSU cut the lead back to 11 points with a 6-yard touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore tight end Hayden Junker on his first career catch. 

Wyoming, as they did all game, ran the ball into KSU territory, but the Flashes’ defense held them to a field goal to give the Cowboys a 14 point lead with seven and a half minutes left.  

Kent State needed a touchdown in order to attempt a comeback, and they got the ball to the Wyoming 31-yard line. But on fourth down, Crum’s pass to Poke in the end zone was defended by a Cowboys’ cornerback.

Wyoming scored on a 49-yard touchdown run a few plays later, crushing any hope of a comeback by KSU. 

The Flashes outgained the Cowboys in yardage 656-531. 

KSU finishes the season 7-7, and it has three consecutive non-losing seasons for the first time since the 1970s. 

Lewis had a simple message for his team after a tough end to the season. 

“I love them,” he said. “Without them we wouldn’t be here. I’m really, really proud of them. I’ll do anything for them.”

“The guys that are coming back, obviously there’s some work to do. Luckily the guys that are coming back know our culture, know that work works. We are going to roll up our sleeves, have a little bit of time off here. We will hit phase one of winter conditioning, refine the plan, get back at it, we’ll be better than ever.” 

Lewis wraps up his fourth season with only the second MAC East Division title in KSU history. He has taken the team to its second bowl game in three years. 

Kent State is now 1-4 in bowl games. 

Lewis said that the future is looking bright for the Flashes. 

“I’m very proud of the work our kids put in,” Lewis said. “We asked them to do a lot of crazy, hard things. That’s what life requires. This outcome is not what we wanted. But I know our young men, because of the time spent in our program, they’re going to be better for society going forward. 

“I’m eager and excited to get back to work as we continue to build a great program that Northeast Ohio, Kent State, Kent State community can be very, very proud of, that our kids can be proud of. There’s no reason for anyone that’s a Golden Flash fan or wearing Flash gear today to hang their head whatsoever. Playing in bowl games is going to be the norm.”

Jimmy Oswald is sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]