Coach says Flashes have plenty of room for improvement


Philip Botta

Towson player Spencer Wilkins runs into Kent player Luke Wollet during the Aug. 30 at Dix Stadium. Kent State won the game 41-21. Photo by Phil Botta.

Tim Dorst

Going into Saturday, the Kent State football team had never beaten an opponent from the Southeastern Conference.

Performing well and getting a win against a team from the toughest conference in the country were the two biggest goals for head coach Darrell Hazell and the Kent State Golden Flashes as they prepared to face the University of Kentucky Wildcats.

From the opening kickoff, it seemed like the Flashes were about to give the Wildcats the fight of their lives. Kent State’s defense looked strong and prepared as it held the Wildcats in check for

the first few drives of the game. Meanwhile, the offense struck first as junior running back Dri Archer showcased speed that would normally be seen from an SEC running back. Then, the game made a complete turnaround, and Kentucky took away the lead, the momentum and any hope of a Kent State victory.

Following Saturday night’s 47-14 loss to the Wildcats, Hazell was more than disappointed with the end result of the game, and he said while he knew the Flashes were in for a challenge, the performance he saw from his team was not what he had expected.

“I thought we gave up way too many big plays,” Hazell said. “I didn’t think we’d give up as many as we did. Obviously, we need to get a lot better as a football team.”

The night began nicely for the Flashes, when Archer followed up a 15-yard scramble by senior quarterback Spencer Keith with a lightning-fast 47-yard touchdown run to give his team the first lead of the ball game. As Archer celebrated his fourth touchdown of the year, spirits and hopes around the team were high. The mood changed quickly as the Kentucky offense began going to a no-huddle offense that kept the Flashes’ defensive unit guessing. In a matter of minutes, the Wildcats tied the game on a

14-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Maxwell Smith to wide receiver Aaron Boyd.

“I thought there were a couple situations where they did a good job with the hurry-up offense and keeping our defense off-balance,” Coach Hazell said. “It seemed like they were hitting us

with a lot of quick reads and bubble screens, and we just couldn’t keep up.”

The Flashes had a chance to retake the lead in the second quarter, but senior kicker Freddy Cortez’s 50-yard field goal attempt fell short and banged off the crossbar, giving Kentucky the

ball back on their own 33-yard line. The Wildcats wasted no time in snatching the lead away from Kent State. Kentucky running back Raymond Sanders found a hole in the middle of the Flashes’ defensive line and sprinted 67 yards for the score to gain a 14-7 advantage at the 8:00 mark in the second quarter.

Cortez missed another field goal — this time from 33 yards out — and Kentucky got the ball back deep in their own territory with 47 seconds left in the first half. Instead of taking a knee and

heading to halftime, the Wildcats used their fast-tempo offense to move down the field quickly and put kicker Craig McIntosh in position for a 47-yard field goal. The kick was good, and

Kentucky took a 17-7 lead into the locker room.

Hazell said he felt his team missed a couple opportunities to build a lead and put pressure on the Wildcats.

“We needed to make those field goals,” Hazell said. “The first one fell a little short, but the second one should’ve been made. Those could’ve put us in a good position early in the game.”

In the second half, the Flashes appeared to take some momentum away from the Wildcats. Sophomore running back Trayion Durham ran to the left, shook off potential tacklers and

rumbled his way for a 28-yard touchdown, cutting the lead to three. However, Kentucky responded immediately with an 18-yard touchdown pass to receiver Gene McCaskill, essentially erasing the Flashes’ previous score. Momentum was suddenly back in the Wildcats’ corner.

Things started to fall apart for the Flashes as Archer took a huge hit on an option play and fumbled the ball, allowing Kentucky to recover it deep in the Flashes red zone. It was the first

time this season that the Flashes had run that particular play, and Hazell said a missed block by a receiver caused Archer to get hit and subsequently lose the football. The Wildcats tried to take advantage of the favorable field position but couldn’t get past the Kent State goal-line defensive, which stopped them on all four downs and gave the Flashes’ offense the ball.

On the very next play, Archer tripped over Keith’s foot after a handoff and fell into his own end zone, awarding Kentucky a safety and a 26-14 lead. About a minute later, Kentucky’s offense

scored another touchdown to start to pull away and dash Kent State’s hope of a victory. Kent State had no answer to the Wildcats’ hurry-up offense, and as senior defensive end Jake

Dooley noted, it was not the level that has come to be expected from the Flashes’ defensive unit.

“Mostly, it’s just disappointing,” Dooley said. “That wasn’t Kent State defense. [The Wildcats] just played a very fast tempo. We tried to drill for it in practice, but you just can’t do it at the same speed they do. We need to just take a look in the mirror and really evaluate ourselves. We need to be a lot better than that.”

While the Flashes offense stalled in the red zone a few times in the second half, the Wildcats tacked on two more touchdowns to put the game completely out of the Flashes’ reach. When the

game was over, Kent State’s defense had allowed 539 total yards.

Before the Flashes’ next game against Buffalo on Sept. 19, Hazell said his team will take along, hard look at the tape of this game and work on ways to stop teams with speedy offensive


“We need to be able to defend against those kinds of fast-tempo offenses,” Hazell said. “Other teams will watch that tape and try to figure out what they need to do to beat us. The biggest

thing we need to do is find the solution to that. We’ll get it figured out.”

Contact Tim Dorst at [email protected].