Flashes football upsets Rutgers 35-23

Tim Dorst

The Kent State football team prepared to face the No. 15-ranked Rutgers Scarlet Knights on homecoming in Piscataway, NJ. The Flashes had not won six games in a row since 1940 and had never beaten a nationally ranked opponent in the 90-year history of the team.

In one afternoon, the Flashes rewrote their own history books.

Kent State forced a season-high seven turnovers and upset Rutgers 35-23 Saturday at High Point Solutions Stadium in what was arguably the biggest win in school history.

Head coach Darrell Hazell told his players all year that they shouldn’t focus on one particular opponent over another, but he couldn’t deny the importance of this win for the team and the program as a whole.

“We take each game for what it is, but this was a huge game for our program,” Hazell said. “We came in on the road against a very tough opponent, and we knew they were going to be tough. Rutgers kept fighting back and our guys kept fighting them off.”

Hazell said there was a significant focus on the defensive side of the ball before the team took the field against the Scarlet Knights.

“One of the goals coming out of the locker room today was we had to be plus-one in the turnover ratio,” Hazell said. “I think we accomplished that.”

The Flashes reached that goal and then some, finishing the game with a plus-five turnover ratio. The team is now plus-19 in turnovers, which leads the nation.

The defense didn’t waste much time making an impact on the game. On Rutgers’ first drive of the game, junior defensive end Mark Fackler tipped and intercepted a pass from quarterback Gary Nova, giving the Flashes solid field position for their first drive.

The Scarlet Knights forced sophomore running back Trayion Durham to fumble on the second play of Kent State’s first drive and turned the fumble into points. A 42-yard field goal by Rutgers kicker Nick Borgese put the Scarlet Knights ahead early.

The Flashes responded immediately on their next drive. Senior quarterback Spencer Keith ran a play-action fake and tossed the ball to junior defensive end Zack Hitchens, who lined up in the backfield as a fullback. Hitchens caught the pass in the end zone for a one-yard touchdown, giving Kent State the lead, 7-3.

Senior kicker Freddy Cortez made the extra point on the touchdown, moving him ahead of former Kent State quarterback Joshua Cribbs for first on the Kent State all-time scoring list.

Early in the second quarter, Fackler picked off another pass by Nova and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown. Fackler said he felt his preparation this past week helped contribute to his two interceptions.

“Preparation is a big part of it, and I felt like I prepared a lot this week,” Fackler said. “It helped us out a lot.”

On the next Rutgers possession, Nova threw his third interception of the first half, this time in the direction of senior safety Leon Green. Kent State made Rutgers pay on the next drive, and junior running back Dri Archer finished the drive with a seven-yard touchdown run to put the Flashes up 21-3.

The Scarlet Knights weren’t about to be outdone, as Nova hit Tim Wright for a 19-yard touchdown pass to cut into the Flashes lead going into halftime. Hazell said he told the players in the locker room not to panic and to show poise in the face of adversity.

“That’s what we’ve been talking about all week,” Hazell said. “When you play a good football team, you better have some poise because they’re going to make some plays. Our guys weren’t rattled. They were mad but they weren’t rattled.”

After forcing Rutgers to punt in the third quarter, the Flashes drove down the field for a three-yard touchdown run by Durham. Rutgers answered on the very next drive when Nova threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Brandon Coleman. Kent State held a 28-17 lead going into the final quarter.

The fourth quarter began much like the first quarter did. Senior cornerback Sidney Saulter nabbed Nova’s fourth interception, setting the Flashes up with the ball on the Rutgers 39-yard line.

Freshman wide receiver Josh Boyle caught a pass from Keith and ran 15 yards for a touchdown, making the score 35-17 in favor of the Flashes. Rutgers scored another touchdown later in the quarter, but Nova threw two more interceptions, one to senior linebacker Luke Batton and another to junior safety Luke Wollet.

Batton said forcing turnovers always helps the team build momentum and added that the team didn’t look at Rutgers as a team that couldn’t be beat.

“We’re just trying to go out there and prepare every week as hard as we can,” Batton said. “It doesn’t matter the opponent, we’re going to come out and prepare the same way. It was a huge win for us. It’s exciting.”

Kent State went to Durham on many of the plays in the fourth quarter to run down the clock. Durham, who continuously barrels over people with his power running style, led the team in rushing with 131 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.

“He continues to get better each week,” Hazell said. “He had two fumbles today that you never want to have, but he runs so hard that guys go backwards.”

After this historic game for the Flashes, Hazell said the team will relish this win for awhile.

“I can’t say enough about the guys in our locker room right now,” Hazell said. “I’m just so happy for those guys.

Contact Tim Dorst at [email protected].