Football beats Miami, advances to MAC Championship

Quarterback Dustin Crum (7) runs the ball into the end zone during the football game against Miami University on Nov. 27, 2021. Kent State beat Miami University 48-47 in overtime.

Jimmy Oswald Sports Editor

Miami had immediately struck back after the Kent State football team’s overtime touchdown on a booming throw from sophomore quarterback Brett Gabbert to redshirt junior wide receiver Jalen Walker for a 25-yard touchdown to make it 48-47 KSU. 

Pending the extra point, the Mid-American Conference East Division title game was heading to a second overtime. 

But Redhawks’ coach Chuck Martin didn’t send out his field goal unit. He kept his offense on the field, and he stuck with the decision following the Flashes timeout. 

“I was about as nervous as you can be,” graduate student Dustin Crum said. “One of the best parts about being the quarterback is that, even though you get all the blame or all the credit, you always have a lot of the game in your hands. Whenever you have to be on the other end of that, it kind of stinks..”

Gabbert snapped the ball, faked the end around to his receiver, and threw it to redshirt senior wide receiver Jack Sorenson, the MAC’s second-best receiver. 

Redshift junior cornerback Montre Miller stepped in front of the ball, knocking it to the ground and thwarting Miami’s attempt to steal the win from the Flashes. 

The stadium erupted, and the entire Kent State sideline came rushing onto the field as snowflakes fell from the sky. 

“It’s hard to put into words,” Crum said. “From day one, when I got here, to where we are now is just hard to imagine. But it’s why I came here. I couldn’t be happier for the guys, and what we’ve been able to do for this program is just amazing.

“Two teams that didn’t have much quit in them. With something on the line like that, they’re going to go back and forth in a heavyweight fight. I couldn’t be happier for the defense. The ups and downs they’ve had this year, for them to be the guys on the last play of the game and to get it for us.” 

Lewis called Miller’s play a “heck of an individual effort.”

“[Miller] wasn’t in an ideal position,” Lewis said. “But the resiliency, the attitude and the effort to go make a play on the ball and to get it down on the ground. I didn’t believe it until it hit the ground and it was done. You kind of look up and say ‘Wow, that really happened.’ Sam Allan was right behind me, and he picked me up off my feet. He put me down, then big A picked me up. To share those moments with those guys, those moments will never go away.”

Kent State is the MAC East Division champion for the first time since 2012. 

The Flashes will head to Detroit to play Northern Illinois, which they beat in a similarly thrilling game earlier this season, in the MAC Championship game. They will be looking to win their first MAC title since 1972. 

Lewis described the locker room as “jubilant” after the game.

“It was exciting,” he said. “It was a lot of fun. The guys have put in a ton of work. A lot of guys came here, from the very beginning, for this moment. They made it a reality through their hard work. It’s really, really special.”

Miller said that “it’s exciting, man.”

“Coach put in a great game plan,” Miller said. “[The coaching staff] just put us in a great position today. I made plays when they came to me. My coach always tells us, make the play, don’t let them play.”

Miller added that he wasn’t surprised they went for two.

“At the beginning of the game it was kind of chippy,” Miller said. “They didn’t respect us, so it didn’t surprise us at all. My coach told me he was going to put me in man against their best receiver, he said ‘Go and make a play.’ So that’s what I did.”

“I had an idea of what they were going to run. We were in a certain coverage, and they tried to isolate me on the back. I told my teammate ‘Scoot over, I’m going to take him. They’re going to throw it to him and I’m going to do my thing.’”  

KSU got the ball first in overtime. After a 2-yard run by sophomore running back Marquez Cooper, that would have set up a third and four, Redhawks sophomore linebacker Ivan Pace grabbed Cooper’s helmet, which had come off during the hit, and threw it a few yards down the field. 

Pace was penalized with unsportsmanlike conduct, and the Flashes had first down at the Kent State 9-yard line. A defensive pass interference two plays later set them up for a first down on the 2-yard line. 

Back-to-back runs by Cooper only gained a yard, and KSU faced third down from the one. 

Crum kept the football off an RPO, ran to the goal line and plowed into his own lineman into the endzone. 

“[Miami] is really good up front,” Crum said. “As soon as I saw enough where I could get a yard, I was just putting my head down, not being denied. I kept the feet moving and tried to get North to South as fast as I could and just lean in there and get it.”

After the extra point, the Flashes led 48-41. 

Miami’s defense, the best in the MAC, looked as advertised to start the game. On KSU’s first play from scrimmage, Cooper was hit hard at the line of scrimmage. On the next play, pressure from the Redhawks’ defensive line forced Crum to throw a pass that was tipped and intercepted by junior defensive lineman Kameron Butler. 

It was Crum’s first interception since week one against Texas A&M, where he threw two. 

KSU’s defense, coming off of a shutout of rival Akron, shut down Miami’s offense, which had the ball in the red zone following the pick. The Redhawks only gained two yards, and they were forced to settle for a field goal. 

The Flashes’ offense went to work on its second drive. Three first down passes to fifth-year wide receiver Keshunn Abram and a long run by Cooper put them into the redzone. Kent State scored on a 17-yard pass to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Dante Cephas off a free play following a Miami offsides. 

Cephas leads the team with eight touchdowns, and he finished the game with 79 yards on nine receptions. He has 1,022 yards this season, becoming the first KSU receiver to have over 1,000 receiving yards in a single season since Eugeune Baker in 1997.

“He gets better day in and day out,” Crum said. “I can’t say enough about where he was, coming into camp, to where he is now. He’s a completely different receiver. And he’s done a great job improving.”

Miami drove all the way to the Kent State 7-yard line, but for the second straight drive the Flashes’ defense kept the Redhawks out of the end zone and forced a field goal. 

KSU drove into Miami territory, but on a third and long, Crum threw his second interception of the game. Cedric Boswell made a nice grab along the sideline for the pick. 

The Redhawks capitalized on the turnover, moving down the field with a 33-yard pass to freshman running back Kenny Tracy and scoring their first touchdown on a 19-yard pass to Sorenson. 

The KSU secondary kept taps on Sorenson, who came into the game second in the MAC in average receiving yards per game with 110. Sorenson only had 81 yards and one touchdown. It was the first time in six weeks he was held to under 100 yards receiving. 

“Our coach told us to just lock in,” Miller said. “Do what you can. You know you’re going to give up plays when you’re playing corner. You just have to come back, clear it and just make the next play.” 

The Flashes once again got into Redhawks’ territory, but the drive would stall and KSU was forced to punt. 

Miami once again threatened to make its way into the endzone following a 39-yard pass to redshirt junior wide receiver Mac Hippenhammer. But Kent State’s defense would bend not break for a third time, and the Redhawks kicked a 26-yard field goal to go up 16-7 with just under eight minutes left in the first half. 

KSU came out in a trick formation on its next drive, with Schlee at QB and Crum lined up as a wide receiver, Schlee threw a 14-yard pass to Cephas and had an 8-yard run. The Flashes methodically moved down the field with a combination of pass and run before getting into the end zone on a 5-yard run by Cooper. 

Cooper finished with 126 yards and a touchdown, his sixth game rushing for 100 or more yards.  

Lewis said that the team’s offense has a “balanced attack.”

“Our kids are unselfish,” he said. “They have tremendous resiliency. However we need to get it down, our kids find a way. The O-Line, again, played phenomenal. That front four that [Miami] has is one of the best in the league. And the way that our five kids played together, cohesively, and the job that [offensive line coach] O’Boyle has done with all the different units up there. The big guys up front made everything happen.”

Kent State’s defense forced a three and out to get the ball back with time before halftime. Cooper had a big 38-yard run, a play that put him over 1,000 yards for the season. KSU’s offense would stall inside the 10-yard line, but a 21-yard field goal by Glass gave the Flashes a slim one-point lead at halftime. 

Miami started the second half with a big 30-yard pass to Sorenson, but an unsportsmanlike penalty on a Redhawks offensive lineman would bring the ball back 15 yards. Miller forced an incompletion on third down, a familiar sight as he had 3 pass breakups, and Miami punted. 

Graduate student running back Xavier Williams would break for a 79-yard touchdown run on the second play of the Flashes’ first second half drive, and the Flashes were up by eight points. 

It was the longest run by a Flash since 2018 against Toledo. 

After the two teams exchanged punts, Miami would pull back within one point following a 24-yard pass to redshirt freshman tight end Jack Coldiron. 

The Flashes would answer back quickly when Williams took off for a 50-yard sprint into the endzone, his second of the half. 

Williams only had 17 yards in the first half. He had 151 yards in the second, finishing with a career-high 168 yards and two touchdowns in his last game at Dix Stadium.  

The Flashes had 303 rushing yards, their fourth 300+ yard performance of the season and their third in the last four games. 

Miami had not allowed a team to rush for over 150 yards the entire season. Williams did it single-handedly. 

Montre Miller, who had three pass breakups on the day, intercepted Gabbert to give KSU the ball back with the opportunity to go up by two scores. 

Miller has a team-leading four interceptions, he had three in week two against VMI. 

The Flashes capitalized on the opportunity, moving into the red zone before settling for a 37-yard field goal to take a 34-23 lead with around 14 minutes left in the fourth quarter. 

Kent State’s defense, which came into the game eighth in the FBS with 22 forced turnovers, had its second of the game when Mandela Lawrence-Burke picked off Gabbert, setting Kent State up at its own 20-yard line.

It was Lawrence-Burke’s second career interception. 

The Flashes’ offense was unable to pick up a first down on the ensuing drive, and Glass’ 36-yard field goal was blocked by Miami.

The Redhawks capitalized off the block, scoring a touchdown on a 49-yard pass to Tracy. The 2-point conversion try was good, and just like that Miami was down by three points. 

KSU’s offense would make up for the lack of points off turnovers on the very first play of its next possession. Crum found Abram for a 70-yard touchdown to once again go up by two scores. 

The touchdown was the 50th of Crum’s career. 

Crum bounced back nicely from his two interceptions, going 24-of-33 for 325 yards and two touchdowns. 

“We knew they had some guys banged up in the backend,” Crum said. “We wanted to be able to establish the throw game early and get some things going. To be able to fall back, constantly, on our run game and lean on the big boys up front were huge moments in the game for us.”

It was Crum’s fifth 300+ passing yards game of the year, and his third in the last four games. 

“He’s such a resilient kid,” Lewis said. “His demeanor, never too high and never too low, when he makes things happen, he doesn’t overreact. He doesn’t overreact when things don’t go his way. He’s almost stoic in his approach. He keeps going and learning from each one.”

The Redhawks came into the game as the fifth-best passing defense in the MAC, allowing 211.5 yards per game. 

Abram led the team in receiving yards with 138. It was his second 100+ yard game of the season and his first since KSU’s loss to Iowa in week three. 

30 yards of Flashes’ penalties helped Miami drive downfield in just over a minute, and a 9-yard touchdown run by Gabbert, the game’s third touchdown in the last minute and a half, made it 41-38 Kent State.

“They scored, and then we answered with a score,” Lewis said. “That was kind of the tone of the second half.”

Gabbert finished with 405 passing yards and four touchdowns. He had 32 rushing yards and one touchdown. 

The Redhawks’ run game was held to 144 yards.

Freshman running back Kevin Davis was the team’s leading rusher, finishing with 56 yards. 

KSU got into the red zone quickly with the help of a 41-yard pass to Poke, but the Flashes turned the ball over on downs after Williams was walloped behind the line of scrimmage on 4th and 1. 

With four minutes and 37 seconds left in the game, Miami started to move down field in an attempt to take the lead and win the game. Gabbert threw his way into the redzone, overcoming a first and 20 after a holding call. 

Miami had the ball at the one-yard line with under 40 seconds left in the game. Down 41-38, a touchdown would give the Redhawks the lead. 

Tracy tried running the ball twice, but was stopped short of the goal line both times by Kent State’s defensive line. A third down throw by Gabbert was broken up by Elvis Hines, and the Redhawks sent out their field goal unit. 

“That’s character and toughness that’s been built over four years,” Lewis said. “One of our core beliefs is toughness. The odds are stacked against you, your backs against the wall. And if you are an emotionally, physically, mentally tough team, you dig in, you get a stop and you find a way.”

The 20-yard field goal was good, and the MAC East Division title game was headed to an insane overtime.

The Flashed will play in the MAC Championship Game against Northern Illinois on Saturday, Dec. 4 at Ford Field in Detroit. Kickoff is at noon, and the game will be broadcasted on ESPN. 

“We have to lock in,” Miller said. “This is new for us, it’s the first time we’ve been there. We’re going to be riding high off of these wins, but at the end of the day we have to come in there and play. We’re going there for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to win a MAC championship.”

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