‘72 Flashes look back on anniversary of most-successful team

Nick Shook

The stands were nearly full and the sun was setting across the field. Kickoff was just minutes away, and an electricity filled the atmosphere at Dix Stadium.

College football was back in Kent, Ohio.

Kent State began the 2012 season by hosting its most successful team in school history, the 1972 Mid-American Conference champion Flashes. Members of the 1972 team filled the pavilion outside the Varsity K room in the northwest corner of the stadium to reunite with former teammates and coaches and reminisce about successes of the past.

Led by head coach Don James, the 1972 Flashes bucked the trend of finishing near the bottom of the MAC standings. Kent State started the season by losing three of its first five games. An injury to starting quarterback Larry Hayes thrust freshman Greg Kokal into the spotlight, where he would make the most of his opportunity.

“We all believed in our program and we obviously got off to a slow start that year, but we picked up a lot of momentum,” said Skip Hall, former Kent State assistant under James. “ … [Kokal] was kind of our spark plug that really got us going.”

The Flashes found a way to turn around their slow start and won five of their final six games, including a victory at Toledo to finish as MAC champions with a 6-4-1 record.

“It all started to come together and we started believing, ‘Hey, we can do this thing,’” Hall said. “ … The confidence just got better and better as we went along.”

Kent State’s conference title earned them a bid to the Tangerine Bowl. It was the Flashes’ second and last bowl berth in the history of the program.

“Our players deserved [the bowl berth],” Hall said. “We had never been to anything like that, so it as a big deal to Kent State at the time, and still is.”

The university’s athletic department decided that the 40th anniversary of its last conference championship in football would be the perfect time to bring back its best team, but it was up to the 2012 Flashes to entertain on the field — and did they ever.

Kent State took the field against visiting Towson of the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) and immediately excited the fans in attendance, thanks to junior Dri Archer’s 57-yard opening kickoff return.

The Flashes scored less than five minutes later on senior quarterback Spencer Keith’s 5-yard touchdown run, and after forcing a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, the Flashes were again in position to score.

Archer took a handoff off the left tackle, ran wide toward the sideline and used his pure speed to sprint past a defender and into the end zone for his first touchdown of the season.

The play of the night came just before halftime, when Archer raced 98 yards up the field untouched through the entire Towson kick-coverage team to score a touchdown just before halftime.

But Archer wasn’t finished. In the third quarter, he completed his hat trick with an 18-yard run off right tackle for his third and final touchdown of the night.

Kent State wrapped up a convincing 41-21 victory over Towson, an encouraging start to a season that holds plenty of potential and excitement. With their storied predecessors in attendance, the Flashes exceeded expectations by forcing plenty of turnovers and taking advantage of their opponents’ mistakes. But even before kickoff, at least a few of those former Flashes were pleased with what they saw.

When asked if he saw any similarities between the 1972 MAC champion Flashes and the 2012 team, Hall was emphatic with his response.

“I do, I do,” Hall said. “As I’ve met the staff members and seen what kind of program they run, the organization and the discipline, [it is] very similar to what we had. I think they’ve got some good talent, and of course you’ve got to have that. If they can put it all together now, it’ll be interesting.”

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].