Kent State secures comeback in Homecoming victory against Miami (OH)

Running back Justin Rankin gets tackled during the second quarter against Miami (OH) Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017.

Scott Lendak

As the Flashes bounced around the tunnel while its introduction played on the scoreboard, the crowd was on their feet in anticipation for the team to take the field. Kent State hoped to come back after a four-game losing streak to give the home fans a Homecoming win.

Kent State started fast defensively with an interception from defensive back Elvis Hines, which put the Flashes in Miami territory.

With quarterback Dustin Crum starting for the Flashes over George Bollas, they stalled on the first series and were held to a missed field goal attempt.

“We go into these games saying that both of our quarterbacks deserve to play,” coach Paul Haynes said. “It’s just a matter of when but both of these guys are going to play because they both deserve to play.”

Kicker Shane Hynes attempted the kick from 41 yards away, but missed wide right. The Flashes couldn’t take advantage of the good field position.

After trading a pair of empty possessions, Kent State punter Derek Adams pinned the RedHawks inside the 10-yard line.

The RedHawks responded with a 48-yard drive, which would flip the field position. A Miami punt inside the Kent State five-yard line capped off the drive.

At the end of the first quarter, the game was in a scoreless tie. Both teams combined for 106 total yards.

“It’s huge when you can get four-man pressure without sending five or six,” Haynes said. “Any time you can get pressure from four guys and let our secondary guys cover, it’s good for us.”

The Flashes were in their own territory, but after a 61-yard run from wide receiver Mike Carrigan, Kent State earned a first down on the Miami 12-yard line.

The RedHawks managed to hold the struggling Flashes’ red zone offense to a field from Hynes. This time he connected from 23 yards out to make it 3-0 Kent State.

Miami took no time to answer as they marched 70 yards on just seven plays when quarterback Billy Bahl connected with receiver James Gardner for a 13-yard touchdown catch to put the RedHawks up 7-3.

After the Flashes’ three-and-out, cornerback Jamal Parker intercepted a pass from Bahl to put Kent State in Miami territory once again.

“Our defense is awesome,” Bollas said. “We rely on and trust our defense. As an offensive player, you don’t want to put your defense in that situation, but it happened and we trusted them.”

After a first down, the Flashes were stopped on a third down and short.

Kent State came up empty again after another missed field goal from Hynes from 37 yards out.

“It’s always frustrating when you come away with no points off turnovers,” Haynes said. “But we don’t sit there and dwell on it. Us as coaches and players talk about playing the next play. We just keep fighting and keep going.”

Miami took over and drove down the field during a four play, 56-yard touchdown drive. A two-yard touchdown pass from Bahl to Ryan Smith completed the drive just before half.

The RedHawks led 14-3 at half. The Flashes had just seven passing yards in the first half.

“There was a lot of pride coming out of halftime,” Haynes said. “There was a lot of passion about wearing this blue and gold, and we were going to see what kind of fight this team had.”

To open up the second half, Haynes decided to turn to Bollas. Bollas led the Flashes to a 75-yard scoring drive. Running back Justin Rankin caught a four-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead 14-10.

“We were super excited,” Haynes said. “We look at that drive coming out of halftime. That was an unbelievable drive by our guys and now we know that we can do it, so we expect it.”

After holding the RedHawks scoreless on their next possession, the Flashes exploded for an 84-yard touchdown on a pass from Bollas to Carrgian. The Flashes took the lead, 17-14.

“Mike was my first read and it was open,” Bollas said. “You talk about getting it into the hands of a guy that can make a play. I threw a five yard pass, and he took it the distance.”

The Flashes had 135 passing yards in the third quarter.

“Our offensive staff did a great job of adjusting,” Haynes said. “When they began to sit there and load the box, we started to throw the ball in the pocket a little bit more and start hitting some of those corner routes. We had good halftime adjustments.”

The fourth quarter opened with a pair of punts from each team, but the RedHawks drove right down the field on their next possession in the final quarter.

Kent State held defensively and stopped the RedHawks from taking the lead. Miami did have an opportunity to tie the game with just a 26-yard field goal.

After a clean snap and hold, Miami kicker Samuel Sloman missed the short game-tying attempt. 

The Flashes were unable to do anything with the next possession, but they flipped the field after a 46-yard punt from Adams.

Down three, with fewer than six minutes to go, Miami took the field. 

Bahl threw a strike to Smith for a 22-yard gain on the first play of the drive, but then the Flashes forced two incomplete passes.

On third down, Kent State defensive lineman Theo Eboigbe and Theo Majette sacked Bahl, forcing the RedHawks to punt.

“There’s a lot of things that we’ll see on tape that you can see in the stats,” Haynes said. “It was good to see our defense play great and finish it out, but it was an overall team win.”

With Kent State’s next possession, Haynes elected to burn the clock. On a crucial third down and four, Bollas rushed for five yards to give the Flashes a first down.

Miami was forced to use its final two timeouts.

The Flashes punted back to the RedHawks with 45 seconds remaining. After spending 43 seconds to get one first down, Miami was facing 41 yards with just two seconds on the clock.

Defensive end Nick Faulkner sacked Bahl for the final play of the game, which sealed the victory for the Flashes.

“I love this team’s resilience and perseverance,” Haynes said. “About 20 captains came in to speak to the team. They made me proud today as a former captain too. It was a big win for this football team.”

The Flashes will look to build on this win next week when they travel to Ohio University to take on the Bobcats Saturday at 2 p.m.

Scott Lendak is the sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected].