Northern Illinois ends Kent State’s Senior Day with 10-point win

Northern Illinois University senior running back Joel Bouagnon gets tackled while running for a touchdown during the second half of the game against Kent State University on Friday, Nov. 25, 2016.

Nick Buzzelli

The final Kent State football game of the 2016 season didn’t go the way head coach Paul Haynes had hoped. There were the 473 yards of total offense his team surrendered, and then 12 third downs they couldn’t convert.

And then there were the six times the Flashes were penalized, including a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct issued to redshirt freshman defensive end Nick Faulkner at the beginning of the fourth, which shifted the momentum in favor of NIU.

But even though Haynes was unable to send his seniors off with a win in their final collegiate game — falling to NIU, 31-21 — he has a lot to be proud of despite a 3-9 record.

“(We) didn’t finish it the way that we wanted to with them, but love (the seniors’) fight, love their grit,” said Haynes, a 1993 Kent State graduate and former football player. “(I) love the things that they meant to this program and also this university. We’ll get back to work and we’ll get better. But again, (I’m) proud of these guys for what they did for this program and this university.”

Though Kent State came into Friday’s game with an eight-game losing streak to NIU, the first half was a back-and-forth affair, with neither team gaining an edge.

NIU quarterback Daniel Santacaterina put the Huskies on the board first courtesy of a three-yard touchdown run.

Six minutes later, NIU was threatening to add to its lead, facing a second-and-eight on the Flashes’ 12-yard line.

However, wide receiver Christian Blake muffed Santacaterina’s handoff and Kent State senior safety Elcee Refuge recovered the fumble.

Two plays later, sophomore George Bollas — starting for injured junior quarterback Nick Holley — ran 85-yards for the score.

With 46 seconds remaining in the half, the Flashes had an opportunity to break the tie after freshman cornerback Jamal Parker returned a Santacerina interception to the 41 and Bollas completed two consecutive passes to get Kent State into field goal range.

But sophomore placekicker Shane Hynes’ 56-yard attempt fell short, ending the first 30 minutes of play.

The Huskies regained the lead early in the third after Santacaterina hit wide out Kenny Golladay — a candidate for All-American — for a 34-yard strike, which set up a Jordan Huff touchdown run from one yard out.

During the catch, however, Golladay fell awkwardly on his arm after being tackled by Kent State junior Jerrell Foster and did not return, finishing with four receptions for 91 yards.

Kent State responded with a 57-yard touchdown pass from Bollas to fifth year Ernest Calhoun. But NIU’s Christian Hagan gave his team the lead for good with a 34-yard field goal late in the third.

And the Huskies added two more touchdowns in the fourth — both coming on runs from Joel Bouagnon.

The Flashes cut the deficit to 10 with 2:05 remaining in the game courtesy of a 10-yard fifth year Brice Fackler touchdown reception, but were unable to recover the ensuing onside kick.

Despite playing in his final game, linebacker fifth year Nick Cuthbert was satisfied with the way he ended his career.

“I got nothing to look back on. I had a good run, did everything I could to do. I’m happy with what happened and wouldn’t change a thing,” said Cuthbert, who finished with 19 total tackles. “No matter the record, we were still a family, brothers. And we have bonds that are going to last a lot longer than the season.”

Even though Haynes has only won 12 games in his four seasons as coach, he’s not worried about what the public thinks of him as a coach. Rather, he said his main concern is where the program is headed.

“All I can do is go grind it out, day to day, and make these kids better young men. That’s what the program is about. And if you don’t think that I’m doing that, then I shouldn’t be the head coach,” Haynes said. “Anybody who thinks that Kent State football is not a long process is crazy. It’s been 94 years and 26 winning seasons. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s a process.”

Nick Buzzelli is a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected]