Flashes avoid upset against South Alabama with late defensive stop

AJ Atkinson, Nathan Edwards

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KentWired Video

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Highlights and Video Provided by Nathan Edwards [email protected].

Darrell Hazell’s first career win as Kent State’s head coach did not come easy. The Flashes played a dominant first half, then sputtered and barely held onto a 33-point lead.

The game came down to a Hail Mary pass that was just a lateral away from being a disaster for Kent State. Scrambling away from multiple sacks, South Alabama quarterback C.J. Bennett unleashed a 34-yard pass to wide receiver Corey Besteda. Besteda caught it, slipped a tackle and was headed toward the end zone until Kent State sophomore safety Luke Wollet stepped in and made the tackle to save the Flashes from disaster and give them the 33-25 win.

“The message to the team from that game is we need to play for four quarters until the game is over,” Hazell said in the postgame press conference. “You can never quit. You can never slow down. You have to keep the pedal down no matter the situation. It only takes a few good plays and all of a sudden they’re excited and have confidence.”

South Alabama definitely made the plays in the second half to be excited. After the Jaguars fumbled a handoff that was recovered by the Flashes on their first drive, the Jaguars opened up their next drive with a 37-yard pass to wide receiver Besteda. The Jaguars would score their first points of the game on this drive and continued scoring.

Kent State’s defense is not responsible for all the blame. Unlike the first half when they rushed for 142 yards, the Flashes offense only rushed for 45 yards in the second half. The inability to rush for first downs hurt the Flashes’ attempt to run out the clock. South Alabama was able to repeatedly stop Kent State and force them to punt after three plays.

“I think it was a lack of execution offensively as much as it was giving up too many big plays (defensively),” Hazell said. “If we don’t give up the big plays on defense, they’re sputtering and they kick the ball back and forth.”

Hazell said he felt it was not so much the running backs’ fault for not carrying the ball as well, but more on the coaching staff’s play calls.

“I thought there were some creases in the first half that we weren’t getting in the second half,” Hazell said. “That’s why I think we probably should have ran it a little more on the outside in retrospect in the second half because the creases were getting smaller and smaller on the inside.”

Overall, Hazell said he was happy with his running backs, who rushed for a total of 187 yards. Freshman Trayion Durham took the majority of the carries, rushing 72 yards on 27 carries for an average of 2.7 yards per carry. Freshman Anthony Meray carried the ball 13 times for 64 yards for a 4.9 average yards per carry.

Meray said he expects the one-two punch of him and Durham to be a problem throughout the year for opposing defenses.

“We’re both different types of backs, but we both can bring a lot to the game,” Meray said. “Trayion is coming at you downhill at full force and bringing the pain, and then I’m come out there and am more of a speed back.”

Hazell said he was very pleased with the running game, but also impressed with the passing game with the confidence that junior Spencer Keith showed at quarterback. Keith looked calm and collected in the pocket when forced to scramble. The 6-foot-3-inch quarterback finished 10 for 19 in his passing attempts for 94 yards and one touchdown and rushed for 20 yards on three carries and one rushing touchdown.

Hazell said he was very impressed with Keith’s decisions to run, especially his touchdown run in the second quarter. Fifteen yards out from South Alabama’s end zone, Keith saw none of his men open and an open end zone.

“(South Alabama) was in man coverage and left the sideline open and (Keith) pulled it down and got us a touchdown,” Hazell said. “He also made some pretty good throws. He made a good (touchdown) throw to Tyshon (Goode) on a skinny post down there.

Good ball placement, good timing. If we can get him to play the way he did today, I really like our chances.”

The Flashes (1-3) hope to keep their momentum rolling into next weekend, as they begin Mid-American Conference play against Ohio (3-1) this Saturday at 2 p.m. in Athens.

Contact AJ Atkinson at [email protected].