One game at a time

Nick Walton

Flashes have singular focus despite playing rivals in Akron

How much do you know about Kent State’s chief antagonists, the Akron Zips, and the Wagon Wheel Rivalry? Take the QUIZ and find out.

During Mid-American Conference play, the Kent State football team has had a slogan-play every game like a championship game.

Even winning the Wagon Wheel is secondary to gaining ground in the MAC East.

The Game:

Kent State vs. Akron

Where: InfoCision Stadium

When: 3:30 p.m. tomorrow

Radio: WNIR 100.1 FM

Television: Fox Sports Net Ohio

Live blog:

This mentality has the Flashes tied for second place in the division at 4-1 in conference play for just the fifth time in 50 years.

The last time Kent State was in a similar position was the last time it beat Akron in 2006, a season that ended with a 6-6 overall record and 5-3 conference record.

The Flashes look to improve to 5-1 in conference play when they face Akron tomorrow for the first time at InfoCision Stadium.

In their inaugural season at the stadium, the Zips are 1-7. They haven’t won a game against a Football Bowl Subdivision team in over a year. Akron’s only win this season was against Football Championship Subdivision opponent Morgan State.

Kent State coach Doug Martin said this team’s mentality is a result of what happened the last season the team beat Akron.

“I think we learned a lot from that as coaches and as players,” Martin said. “I remember at that time (2006) our players talked about ‘well if so and so beats so and so and we do this and they do that.’ Well we don’t control any of that, and I think we learned a valuable lesson from that, hopefully.”

The Flashes started conference play 4-0 before a 17-7 loss against Ohio in 2006. After losing to the Bobcats, Kent State went 1-3 for the remainder of the season.

“As the season went on and we started winning, which maybe we weren’t used to doing here, we may have gotten complacent towards the end,” senior defensive lineman Kevin Hogan said. “At the beginning you saw great practices, great work ethic, and as you started winning, people maybe got a bit complacent and forgot that the process is how you get there.”

Hogan said the mentality of the team changed after the 2006 season because players expected good things to happen, but were overconfident. With the Flashes still in contention for the division championship, Hogan is enjoying this season.

“You definitely have a lot more fun when you’re playing for something,” Hogan said. “We’re having more fun out here practicing – it’s not like you’re in a position where you’re trying to figure out what went wrong . you’re playing fast having fun, and it makes coming to practice easy.”

Senior defensive lineman Aaron Hull said the difference between this season and previous seasons is the improvement of leadership and the impact of younger players.

“If one person goes down, we’re focusing on (underclassmen) to step up big,” Hull said. “If I was to go down (freshman defensive lineman) Dana (Brown) would step up, and he already knows everything.”

Underclassmen have impacted Kent State on offense this season as only two seniors are currently starting on offense. Freshman quarterback Spencer Keith and freshman wide receiver Tyshon Goode have combined for 553 yards and five touchdowns to help lead an offense that dealt with adversity earlier in the season.

Hogan said he hopes this season has a positive impact on the younger players.

“(2006) was a really great experience for me because there’s a lot of people in here who had a great work ethic and wanted to win,” Hogan said. “When you’re talking about the freshmen, they weren’t here for some of those tougher times, so that’s not something that they’ve experienced-hopefully, they can take this season and move forward in helping this program.”

Despite playing in their first game against rival Akron tomorrow, the underclassmen are not getting caught up in the hype.

“We’re just taking it one game at a time like we have been the whole year,” Keith said. “Not a whole lot has changed, we’re just going to act like it’s a normal game, which it is, and just go out there and play like we have been.”

Martin has been adamant about the team not getting caught up with the hype, but said he understands it will be hard to stay focused on the team’s goal.

“They’re going to hear stuff around town and in the media and those type of things, and it’s going to be everything that we don’t need to talk about,” Martin said. “All of that stuff is going to take care of itself.what’s important is us just staying in the moment.”

Contact sports reporter Nick Walton at [email protected].