Time running out on Flashes’ championship hopes


Senior running back Dri Archer catches a pass for a touchdown against Northern Illinois at the Homecoming game on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013. The Flashes lost 38-24. Photo by Rachael Le Goubin.

Nick Shook

Kent State entered the 2013 season with a lofty goal of recreating the magic and success of 2012, a season in which the Flashes went undefeated in conference play and broke the single-season win total with 11 victories. With a difficult schedule that included Mid-American Conference contender Bowling Green, Southeastern Conference power LSU, Big Ten member Penn State and two-time defending MAC Champion Northern Illinois in its first six games, it was a tall hill to climb for the Flashes.

They exited the first half of a schedule with two victories against Liberty and Western Michigan, but the second half starts with another hurdle to clear: Ball State.

Coming off a 38-24 loss to Northern Illinois, the Flashes’ schedule gets no easier Saturday, when Kent State travels to Muncie, Ind., to face the 5-1 Cardinals.

Led by standout quarterback Keith Wenning, Ball State has raced out to five early victories, its biggest coming on the road at Atlantic Coast Conference member Virginia. The Cardinals are on a roll as they return home to face the Flashes, who enter the weekend with their backs against the wall.

“I wouldn’t say it’s do or die, but we’ve got to make sure we get some wins under our belt,” head coach Paul Haynes said. “We still have a chance to reach one of our goals, to get to a bowl game, and the one thing we’ve got to do is win.”

With five conference games remaining, the Flashes will need to record as many MAC wins as possible while hoping for a little help from fellow members facing division leader Bowling Green (5-1, 3-0 MAC).

Wenning’s offense includes wide receiver Willie Snead, described by those close to Ball State as the most NFL-ready player the Cardinals have had in years. On Monday, defensive back Malcolm Pannell was quick to mention Snead’s presence on the Cardinals’ offense, but he also displayed a sense of confidence in his teammates.

“Willie Snead was a first-team All-MAC receiver,” Pannell said, “but honestly I feel like, our defensive backs, we’re coming along. We had a rocky start, but as the games go on, we get better. Honestly, I feel like we’re ready for them.”

Film has been a buzzword for the Flashes this week. First, it was the film of the NIU game that encouraged them moving forward, and now it is all about studying the nuances of Ball State’s offense. The amount of film the Flashes are viewing to ready themselves for Ball State has Haynes encouraged that his team will be set to play well Saturday.

“The attitude has been great,” Haynes said. “I judge it more off of the week, not when we’re out here (on the practice field). We’ve had a bunch of guys in the film room watching the film. That’s kind of how I judge the morale of the guys. If they’re there, they want to get better. If they’re not, it’s over.”

Kent State allowed the eighth-most total yards in MAC history in the loss to Northern Illinois, but they played well in key situations for much of the game, keeping the Huskies out of the end zone when deep in Flashes’ territory.

“We left some plays out there, but there was a ton of good things on that film,” senior safety Luke Wollet said. “You go through film and pick out a few plays, and if we just fix those plays, that game is completely different. We put a bunch of good film out and it’s good to keep building off that stuff as our defense keeps getting better.”

Wenning is a stark contrast from NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch, with Wenning being more of a pocket passer with proficiency for deep passes, a hallmark of a Ball State offense that averages more than 330 passing yards per game.

“Wenning is probably one of the top quarterback prospects going to the NFL next year,” Wollet said. “He’s got a great arm, he can make all the throws. He’s a great commander of that offense. We’re watching a lot of film on him, and we’ll be ready.”

Haynes said his players must play close to the ball and make tackles immediately after receptions in order to limit the Cardinals and give the ball back to the Kent State offense.

“You’ve just got to have great eye control,” Haynes said. “That’s the big thing. You’ve got to challenge them. You can’t overplay the deep ball, because then they get you on the short passes. They’re going to complete them, and it’s got to be a catch and a tackle. It can’t be a catch and a missed tackle (…) Make them earn every blade of grass.”

As Haynes said, his players must be quick to the football on defense and quick to rise to the occasion Saturday against Ball State. With six games remaining on the schedule, there’s no better time than the present for the Flashes to get back to winning football games if they hope to make another postseason appearance.

Honoring Helen Dix

Haynes said Wednesday that the Flashes plan to honor the late Helen Wescott Dix with stickers that read “HD” placed on each player’s helmet. Dix, a longtime civic leader in Kent and Portage County, died Oct. 2 at Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ravenna after years of declining health. She was 96.

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].