Flashes hold off late rally to clinch first win of 2011

AJ Atkinson

The Flashes dominating performance in the first half was enough to hold off a South Alabama comeback for the Flashes first win of the season, 33-25.

Leading 26-0 and controlling both sides of the ball going into halftime, the Flashes’ looked well in control of garnering their first win. They had scored on every offensive possession but its first and last till halftime.

A strong performance from the Flashes’ offensive line looked to be the difference, opening up huge lanes for the running backs to run through and giving quarterback Spencer Keith ample time to do his job.

The defense was just as striking as the offense in the first half, forcing Southern Alabama to go three and out on three of their first four offensive possessions. The Flashes also recorded two interceptions in the half.

Senior defensive back Norman Wolfe’s interception looked to be the final momentum swing and demoralizer to South Alabama’s quarterback, C.J. Bennett. The Jaguars were running an out pass towards the sideline that Wofle sniffed out. The 5-8 back jumped in front of the route, picked off the pass and returned it 19-yards to Southern Alabama’s 28-yard line.

The Flashes used one play to reach the end zone. Freshman running back Anthony Meray took the carry and found a huge hole in the left side of the line his offensive linemen created for him. Meray sprinted 28 yards to end zone to put the Flashes up 26-0, their last score of the half.

This was the first game South Alabama’s striking offense had been shut out in the first half.

At halftime, it appeared Kent State had complete control of the game. The Flashes had rushed for a total of 142 yards and passed for 56 yards, while the defense held South Alabama to only 16 yards rushing and 28 yards passing.

The Flashes came out of halftime and looked to continue their rampage on the Jaguars. The Jaguars started the third quarter handing the ball off to running back Kendall Houston. Sophomore defensive lineman Roosevelt Nix broke through the line for the Flashes and punched the ball out of Houston’s hands from behind. The ball flew up in the air and was caught by Kent State’s freshman defensive back Calvin Tiggle, who ran the ball 27 yards to South Alabama’s 11-yard line.

Two plays later, Keith threw a pass in the middle of the end zone to junior wide receiver Tyshon Goode to put Kent State up 33-0.

However, South Alabama was not done. Momentum appeared to strangely shift after this Flashes touchdown. On the Jaguars’ following possession, they moved the ball down the field 60 yards on five plays in only one minute 53 seconds.

The Jaguars’ defense played their part as well, forcing Kent State wide receiver Sam Kirkland to fumble, which they recovered. The fumble resulted in a field goal for South Alabama.

The Flashes’ offense suddenly could not get anything going, being forced to punt in their remaining five possessions, and the defense could no longer stop the Jaguars. After the Flashes’ touchdown, the Jaguars scored an unanswered 25 points.

With 3:11 left in the game, South Alabama needed a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie the game. Sophomore safety Luke Wollet helped destroy the Jaguars’ comeback hopes by intercepting a pass at South Alabama’s 49-yard-line. The Flashes killed as much of the clock as they could, giving the ball back to South Alabama with just 29 seconds left.

With no timeouts left and started at their own 20, the Jaguars had to throw deep and to the sidelines. On third and ten, Bennett completed a 23-yard pass to wide receiver Jereme Jones. Now at its own 43-yard line, Southern Alabama quickly spiked the ball.

With four seconds left, South Alabama was only left with a Hail Mary pass. Under intense pressure by Flashes’ linemen, Bennett scrambled to his left, ran 20 deep in the backfield then up 15 before completing a 34-yard pass to wide receiver Corey Besteda. Besteda took the pass, broke out of a Flashes’ defensive back’s tackle on the right side of the field and sprinted towards the left side of the end zone.

It appeared South Alabama would pull off the remarkable comeback and rare success of a Hail Mary pass until Wollet stepped in from the side and made another big play. The 6-1 defensive back brought down Besteda with no time on the clock to end the game and give the Flashes’ their first win.

Kent State coach Darrell Hazell’s first win came in dramatic fashion. Players on both sides lay on the ground after the emotionally dramatic ending.

The Flashes barely squeaked by. After outscoring Southern Alabama 26-0 and gaining 198 total yards to South Alabama’s 44, Kent State was outscored 25 to 7 and allowed 330 total yards to its 83 total yards in the second half.

The Flashes look to continue winning as they enter Mid-American Conference play against Ohio University. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. in Athens against the 3-1 Bobcats.