Kent State to play in MAC Championship game



Tim Dorst, Jon Jankowski

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio — The Kent State football team held a seven-point lead with 31 seconds left in Saturday’s game and the Bowling Green Falcons threatening to tie the game up. Falcons quarterback Matt Schilz dropped back to pass on fourth down, felt the pressure from the Flashes’ defense and made one last desperate throw into the end zone.

Junior safety Luke Wollet read the pass perfectly and jumped in front of it for an interception before running out of the end zone for a touchback. Players on the Kent State sidelines began to celebrate as the Flashes ran the rest of the clock down. When the time ran out, the Flashes officially punched their ticket to Detroit.

The Flashes held on to defeat the Falcons 31-24, to clinch the Mid-American Conference East Division title and to ensure a spot in the MAC Championship game for the first time in team history.

Kent State also extended its winning streak to nine games and earned its 10th win of the season, breaking a team record for regular season wins. Head coach Darrell Hazell said this was a wonderful win for the program and anyone who has ever been associated with it.

“To think what this team has accomplished here this season and the end of last season is just mind-boggling to me,” Hazell said. “It just tells you that when guys put their minds to something, so much can be accomplished. I can’t be more proud of our players and our coaches. I’m extremely happy for our guys.”

The game remained close for a majority of the afternoon, with both teams exchanging scores and leads throughout the game. Hazell said he knew it would be a hard-fought game from the start.

“That’s a good football team we just played,” Hazell said. “We knew it was a good football team, and we knew they weren’t going to go away.”

After the first quarter ended with a scoreless tie, the Flashes put points on the scoreboard in the second quarter with a 32-yard field goal by senior kicker Freddy Cortez. Kent State’s defense forced Bowling Green into a quick punt, and it didn’t take long for the Flashes to strike again.

Seconds later, junior running back Dri Archer busted through the middle of the defense on his way to a 79-yard touchdown run that put the Flashes up by 10 points.

On the very next play from scrimmage, the Falcons responded when Schilz found wide receiver Chris Gallon for a 72-yard touchdown pass. Bowling Green followed that up by forcing and recovering a Kent State fumble. The Falcons converted the turnover into a 30-yard field goal to tie the game.

The score remained tied at halftime, and the second half began on a positive note for Bowling Green. Schilz lobbed a high pass to receiver Shaun Joplin, who made the catch in the end zone for a 27-yard score, giving the Falcons their first lead of the game, 17-10.

Kent State wasn’t about to be outdone, as senior quarterback Spencer Keith snuck a throw past the defense and into the hand of senior wide receiver Eric Adeyemi. Adeyemi ran 32 yards for the touchdown to tie the game at 17 with the game moving into the fourth quarter.

Hazell said with the game as close as it was, he looked to one player in particular to elevate his game to another notch.

“I told Dri, ‘I don’t care how many times you have to carry the ball, you have to just go,’” Hazell said. “I told him we need his best in the fourth quarter.”

Archer rose to the challenge. With the game still tied, Archer took a handoff from Keith and ran it to the left, dodged tacklers and made a mesmerizing move as he cut across the field.

Archer then used his speed and agility to outrun the remaining defenders and got to the end zone. Archer said the coaches told him before the drive to hold on to the ball and to not go down.

“The whole time, I was thinking in my head to just hold on to it,” Archer said. “A guy jumped on my back, and I just sort of ducked him and cut across the field. I saw Spencer [Keith] running up the field, so I just cut behind his block and ended up in the end zone.”

Archer finished the game with a career-high 241 yards on 17 carries, and his two rushing touchdowns put him ahead of former Kent State quarterback Julian Edelman for the most rushing scores in a single season with 14.

For the second time in the game, Bowling Green responded immediately to an Archer touchdown. Schilz swung a pass to Gallon, who broke a couple of tackles and sprinted 81 yards into the end zone. The Falcons closed the gap once again and tied the contest at 24.

Later in the fourth quarter, Schilz’s pass over the middle was tipped by junior defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix and intercepted by junior defensive end Richard Gray. The Flashes capitalized on the field position and moved the ball down inside the Falcons’ 10-yard line.

On second down and goal, Keith faked a handoff to Archer and ran the ball into the end zone himself for a seven-yard touchdown to give the Flashes a 31-24 lead. That score would ultimately stand as the final.

Keith said after three years of having a 5-7 record, it feels great to win a division title with his team.

“We need one more win for a MAC Championship,” Keith said. “This is one of our steps forward. We knew Bowling Green would give us a fight, and our goal was to win this game and win the MAC East. So that’s what we did.”

The Flashes will take on the Ohio Bobcats at 11 a.m. Friday in Dix Stadium, with the game being televised on ESPNU. Hazell said clinching the division was a great feeling, but the team still has work to do.

“We still have a big game against Ohio next Friday,” Hazell said. “And obviously we’re going to play a great Northern Illinois team in a couple weeks. They’re all challenges for us.”

Contact Tim Dorst at [email protected].