Flashes football suffers another crushing defeat

Ball+State+Universitys+senior+quarterback+Keith+Wenning+is+brought+down+after+a+run+attempt+against+Kent+State.+Photo+by+Jonathan+Miksanek%2C+Ball+State+Daily+News.

Ball State University’s senior quarterback Keith Wenning is brought down after a run attempt against Kent State. Photo by Jonathan Miksanek, Ball State Daily News.

Nick Shook

Saturday was another punch to the gut for the Flashes, who matched Ball State blow for blow in a tight contest that ultimately ended in another defeat for Kent State.

Trailing 24-20 with fewer than two minutes left to play, Cardinals quarterback Keith Wenning capped off a quick, impressive drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Willie Snead to put Ball State (6-1, 2-0 MAC) back on top for good. One last comeback attempt by backup quarterback David Fisher and the Flashes’ offense came up short, and Ball State celebrated its homecoming with a 27-24 victory in front of 16,861 at Scheumann Stadium in Muncie, Ind.

“This is a tough one because you’re right there against a very good football team on the road at their place,” Flashes Coach Paul Haynes said. “It’s a tough one. A couple plays here and there and it’s a different outcome.”

It was a crushing loss for Kent State (2-5, 1-2 MAC), which did more than enough to come away victorious. But the game of inches reared its ugly head against the Flashes, who came a yard away from taking a 28-20 lead early in the fourth.

Following a 28-yard touchdown pass from starting quarterback Colin Reardon to wide receiver Chris Humphrey, defensive lineman Mark Fackler tipped Wenning’s first-down pass. The deflection fell into the hands of defensive back Darius Polk, who returned it to the Ball State 1, gift-wrapping a golden opportunity for the Flashes.

Or so it seemed.

Kent State running back Trayion Durham, who finished with 77 yards on 23 carries, took three straight handoffs off the right side and directly into a wall of Ball State defenders, who repeatedly denied him end zone access. The Flashes were forced to settle for a 21-yard field goal from Brad Miller, who entered the game after kicker Anthony Melchiori injured his hamstring while making a tackle on an early kickoff. Kent State extended its lead to 24-20, but the feeling of a lost opportunity remained in the air.

Ball State’s Wenning then engineered a five-play, 57-yard drive that culminated in his touchdown toss to Snead, who finished the day with 10 receptions for 152 yards and two touchdowns.

Kent State lost Reardon to an unforced ankle injury late in the fourth quarter on a simple third-down handoff, and Fisher, coming in cold off the bench with the game on the line, didn’t make it any easier for the Flashes when they needed it most.

“It’s tough,” Haynes said, “but, again, it’s just like every other position — next guy up. We expect him to go out and perform.”

Fisher’s attempt to will Kent State to victory resulted in a seven-play, 13-yard drive that finished with a turnover on downs.

“There’s a lot of injuries and (players getting) banged up, and we’ve been that way all year,” Haynes said. “But the one thing we talk about is ‘no excuses.’ We’re not going to use those as excuses. We’re just going to keep preparing. It’s tough because our guys fight so hard, they play so hard, and it’s just not getting the job done. But it will come. We’ve just got to stick together, play together, which we will … we’ve just got to finish the thing out right.”

Kent State’s defense continued to show improvement, forcing a season-high three turnovers and limiting Wenning to 305 yards on 23 of 46 pass attempts. The Ball State quarterback did throw four touchdowns but also was intercepted twice and finished with a mediocre quarterback rating of 56.7.

“We knew that they were a great offense,” Fackler said. “We tried to rise to the challenge. In practice, coaches pushed us like crazy this week. The guys came together and prepared pretty well. It just wasn’t close enough.”

Fackler got a hand on three passes in the fourth quarter, including one that resulted in Polk’s interception. He was a major presence on a defensive line that not only pressured Wenning into making mistakes but also managed to bottle up Ball State’s two main rushers to just 95 yards.

“We got better, but everyone is still hungry,” Fackler said. “I mean, this sucks, but we’ve got to keep pushing. Every day, every single day of practice, film, we’ve just got to keep improving.”

Kent State stunned the crowd at Scheumann Stadium in the first quarter by rebounding from a huge mistake in a remarkable manner.

After Ball State forced Kent State running back Dri Archer to fumble deep in his own territory, the Flashes defense responded nicely. Defensive back Keenan Stalls intercepted Wenning’s tipped pass in the back of the end zone for a touchback, avoiding a major failure early on.

Kent State’s offense took the favor 80 yards on a nine-play drive that ended with running back Anthony Meray’s first rushing touchdown since 2011, a 10-yard scamper that put the Flashes ahead 7-0 with 5:12 left in the first.

The Cardinals finally answered late in the second quarter on Wenning’s 39-yard completion to Snead for the pair’s first touchdown of the afternoon. The two teams entered halftime tied 7-7 in a game that many expected to be a shootout.

Ball State opened the scoring in the second half with an efficient eight-play, 42-yard drive capped off by a 2-yard touchdown pass from Wenning to wide receiver Javond Williams. The Cardinals grabbed their first lead of the afternoon, 14-7, with 12:46 left in the third.

Archer and Reardon made sure that didn’t last long, as the two connected for Archer’s 33rd career touchdown on the ensuing drive, a 14-yard dart up the middle that knotted the game up at 14-14.

Five possessions later, Ball State jumped ahead again on a 25-yard pass from Wenning to wide receiver Jamill Smith. But the Cardinals missed their extra-point attempt, adding interest to a game that became a touchdown-trading affair in the third quarter.

Kent State’s opening possession in the fourth quarter lasted seven plays and covered 87 yards, 28 of which coming on a touchdown pass from Reardon to Humphrey, who finished with a career-high of 106 yards on nine catches. The Flashes regained the lead by the smallest of margins, 21-20, with plenty of time left in the fourth.

Miller’s field goal two minutes later extended Kent State’s lead to 24-20, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Cardinals from completing the comeback late in the fourth.

Kent State travels to Mobile, Ala., this weekend to face the University of South Alabama at Ladd Peebles Stadium, the site of the Flashes’ last bowl appearance in the 2012 GoDaddy.com Bowl. The Flashes defeated South Alabama 33-25 at Dix Stadium in 2011.

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].