Bulls outmatch Flashes in MAC opener

Buffalo defenders tackle Kent State quarterback George Bollas during a run in the third quarter Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017.

Scott Lendak

High emotions dominated Kent State football players as they ran out of the tunnel, jumping up and down to hype up the crowd for their second home game Saturday. The Flashes began conference play at Dix Stadium against the Buffalo Bulls (3-2, 1-0 Mid-American Conference).

The Flashes (1-4, 0-1 MAC) got off to a hot start defensively as they forced a punt after three plays, but then the Bulls forced Kent State to punt three plays later.

Freshman Dustin Crum started the game at quarterback. He completed his first pass of the day to Justin Rankin out of the backfield before the Bulls sacked him on third down.

The Flashes responded defensively with an interception for sophomore safety, Mandela Lawrence-Burke. It was his first career interception.

The Flashes couldn’t capitalize on the turnover.

The Bulls ran the ball down the field with a 55-yard run by Emmanuel Reed. He followed that up on the next play with an 18-yard touchdown run.

After a few first downs, Kent State punted the ball to Buffalo again. The Bulls sacked Crum three times on the first three Kent State possessions. 

The Bulls marched down the field once again and made the score 14-0 with another touchdown from Reed from one yard out. 

“We had a lot of blown assignments defensively,” coach Paul Haynes said. “They were mostly mental mistakes. When you try to make plays like that, you end up screwing it up. I have to give them credit too.”

The Flashes responded quickly with a 75-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the drive from Crum to sophomore wide receiver Kavious Price.

After an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Flashes, the Bulls started their next possession with good field position. 

“The unsportsmanlike conduct penalties are the ones that kill you,” Haynes said.  “The pass interferences can go either way, but the personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties are the ones we have to make sure to eliminate.”

The Flashes stepped up defensively and forced a three-and-out from Buffalo.

After another third down stop, the Bulls blocked a punt from sophomore Derek Adams and took over at the Flashes’ eight-yard line.

“Anytime you get a kick blocked, it’s tough to win a football game,” Haynes said. “Statistics show that unless you double up the turnover margin, it’s tough to come back from a blocked kick. That’s why we say it’s the most important play in football.”

The Bills took advantage of the field position with another Reed touchdown from five yards out. After Buffalo failed to make the PAT, they led 20-7.

Junior George Bollas led the Flashes on the next possession at quarterback.  They put together a 59-yard drive that ended with a Shane Hynes 32-yard field goal. 

“Whoever starts the game, the next guy will get in around the third or fourth series,” Haynes said. “After that we just stick with whoever is playing the best.” 

Bollas finished the day with 242 passing yards. 

“Individually, I don’t care what kind of numbers or stats I get,” Bollas said.  “I’m all about the team, and there are certainly things we need to work on.” 

After a missed field goal by the Bulls, the Flashes went right down the field and finished the drive with a 20-yard field goal from Hynes to make it 20-13 at half.

Kent State opened the second half by driving 74 yards, only to be stopped at the one-yard line on fourth down.

“The team needs to find a way to get the ball in the end zone,” Bollas said. “We were within five yards several times and couldn’t get a push.  We need to score there.”

Buffalo then answered with a 99-yard touchdown drive highlighted by a five-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Drew Anderson to tight end Zac Lefebvre.

A number of penalties allowed the Bulls to run out a lot of the clock in the second half.  They gave up 99 yards on penalties in the game.

“The penalties seem to be happening in crucial situations,” Haynes said.  “The crazy thing is that we aren’t getting a whole lot of them, but they are coming at crucial times. We’re killing ourselves, so it’s something we’ll need to address in practice.”

The Bulls missed a field goal after a 74-yard drive, followed by a turnover on downs by the Flashes. 

The Flashes ended the game with a 27-13 loss to Buffalo.

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