Bowl invite on line as Flashes return to site of 2012 loss

Kent+State+celebrates+after+defeating+Akron+in+last+years+Wagon+Wheel+game+for+the+third+year+in+a+row+Thursday%2C+Nov.+1%2C+2012%2C+at+Dix+Stadium.+Photo+by+Hannah+Potes.

Kent State celebrates after defeating Akron in last year’s Wagon Wheel game for the third year in a row Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, at Dix Stadium. Photo by Hannah Potes.

Nick Shook

Kent State’s backs are against the wall.

Five games remain in the regular season, and the Flashes need to win all five in order to have a chance of securing a bowl invitation.

After losing for the second consecutive week, Kent State travels to Mobile, Ala., to face South Alabama Saturday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. The Flashes will pack their bags as usual, and while it is essentially do-or-die for them in every remaining week, they aren’t changing a thing.

Faced with a first-and-goal situation early in the fourth quarter at Ball State, Kent State elected to line up in a Maryland I formation — two fullbacks lined up ahead of running back Trayion Durham — and run the ball three times off the right tackle. And three times, the Flashes were stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. But to coach Paul Haynes, the run-first mentality will not change, regardless of what happened in Muncie, Ind.

“If I had the situation over again, I’d call the same play,” Haynes said. “Because that’s our best play. They just made a play, and we didn’t. (…) But that is who we are.

“If you’d have called a timeout and brought all the guys over and said, ‘All right, what do you want to do?’ They would have said, ‘Do the same thing. Call 26 Power’,” he said.

The Flashes eventually fell to the Cardinals 27-24 on a late Ball State touchdown, but they didn’t spend the following week hanging their heads.

“Every game is a big game for us right now, and our guys understand that,” Haynes said. “The beauty of this team is we’re hurt, because we had chances to win it, but we talked about (it, and) there’s no reason to sulk about it. It is what it is. Now, we’ve got to move forward. We’ve got five games to go that we’ve got to win.”

The sprint to bowl eligibility starts Saturday against the Jaguars, which is a relatively young program, but its 2-3 overall mark is rather deceiving.

All five of South Alabama’s games have been decided by seven points or fewer, which has made for exciting football for the Jaguars’ faithful supporters, and has also likely kept their confidence up, knowing victory was very close in their three losses.

Kent State’s level of confidence, meanwhile, is high by default because if they believe anything else, one loss is all it will take to officially derail a season that started with historically high expectations.

“South Alabama doesn’t care how we’re feeling,” Haynes said. “We can’t sit there and sulk around and think about what happened. You just move forward, go to work and prepare like crazy.”

A return to work makes each Sunday brighter for Haynes, who is well aware of the need to win, but also very pleased with his locker room, knowing that a few plays reversing course and ending in Kent State’s favor could have had the Flashes sitting with a winning record in the middle of October.

“When I get to the office, when I get around these kids, get around the rest of the coaches, you feel rejuvenated,” Haynes said. “When you get in front of them and they’ve got a look in their eye like they can’t wait to get out there … Any time I get around these guys and see the look in their eye like they want to continue to fight and go, that’s how you stay positive.”

It seems rather appropriate for the Flashes to begin their quest for a five-game winning streak at the stadium where they played their last postseason game: the 2013 GoDaddy.com Bowl, a 17-13 loss to the Arkansas State Red Wolves in which Kent State came tantalizingly close to winning the game on the final drive but ultimately came up short.

Although Haynes and his players will quickly refute any references to the 2012 season — and rightfully so — that theme appears to have followed them into 2013, and it has caught on with South Alabama as well.

So close, and yet, so far.

When the clock runs out Saturday afternoon, one of the two teams will feel the joy of fighting for 60 minutes and, finally coming away victorious, no longer snake-bitten by late comebacks.

For Haynes and his players, they can only hope it is them heading to the locker room with smiles on their faces.

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].