Edelman, Burrell help Flashes hold off Buffalo in final game

Thomas Gallick

The Kent State football team that struggled to prove it could compete in the Mid-American Conference all year closed the season Saturday with a 24-21 win against MAC East champion Buffalo.

The Flashes (4-8, 3-5 MAC) stopped a charging Bulls team in position to score with less than two minutes remaining by recovering a Buffalo fumble. Senior linebacker Derek Burrell hit Buffalo wide receiver Brett Hamlin as he attempted to score, and the Flashes recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchback.

The Bulls’ offense looked poised to score a second fourth-quarter touchdown to take the lead for a fourth time in the game until the fumble. Senior quarterback Julian Edelman rushed for a first down on the ensuing Kent State possession, allowing the Flashes to run out the clock.

Kent State coach Doug Martin said he was pleased to see the team find a way to close out the game, something the players have struggled with all season.

Season Notes:

&bull Here we go again: Don’t worry, the Flashes’ season may be over, but we’re pretty sure the team won’t disband before next season. Kent State is scheduled to start the season with Big South Conference “powerhouse” Coastal Carolina Sept. 5, 2009.

&bull BCS conference bullies: Perennial underdog Kent State takes on three Bowl Championship Series conference teams next season. The Flashes will play Boston College of the Atlantic Coast Conference at Chestnut Hill, Mass., Baylor of the Big 12 Conference at Waco, Texas, and Iowa State of the Big 12 at home.

&bull Sayonara seniors: The Flashes will have to fill the cleats of 13 seniors next year, including quarterback Julian Edelman, linebacker Derek Burrell and offensive lineman Augustus Parrish. The senior class combined to play 408 games for the Flashes, including 245 starts.

&bull Offensive Flash of the year: Edelman was the man this year. The quarterback finished fourth in the Mid-American Conference in total offense per game and third in the Mid-American Conference in rushing per game behind running backs MiQuale Lewis of Ball State and James Starks of Buffalo. Edelman was the main reason the Flashes led the conference in rushing offense, averaging more than 30 yards more than any other team at 230.6 yards per game. Edelman also showed great heart and determination in all four of the Flashes’ victories and even in the team’s losses.

&bull Defensive Flash of the year: Burrell deserves credit for his workmanlike play at linebacker, but sophomore safety Brian Lainhart not only did all the little things right, but made all of the game-changing plays too. Lainhart finished second on the team in total tackles behind Burrell and recorded six interceptions, putting him in a tie for second place in the NCAA on the season in that category. Lainhart should be a force on the Kent State defense for the next two seasons.

“Really, I was thinking more about the future of the program,” Martin said. “I thought (this game) was a great way for our guys to learn how to win. We had our backs against the wall. Our defense was playing hard, they were trying to make plays and they didn’t quit.”

Edelman powered the Flashes’ offense all game with a team-high 167 yards rushing for an average of 8.8 yards per carry. Edelman also passed for 114 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown strike to sophomore tight end Jon Simpson, to take the lead for the final time in the fourth quarter.

Game Notes: n The dynamic duo: The finale marked the third time this season junior running back Eugene Jarvis and senior quarterback Julian Edelman both rushed for more than 100 yards in the same game. Edelman and Jarvis also accomplished the feat against Miami and Temple.

n Reed bends, doesn’t break: Junior kicker Nate Reed missed his first field goal attempt against Buffalo, but his make on a second attempt was the difference in the game. Reed missed a 41-yard attempt in the first quarter, but nailed a 40-yard kick into the wind to put the Flashes up 10-7 at halftime.

n Offensive Flash of the game: Edelman played the role of Houdini once again for the Flashes in his final game. No defensive look the Bulls tried could contain the shifty scrambler, and no Buffalo defender could lay a tackle Edelman could not escape from. Oh yeah, and he averaged 8.8 yards per carry and threw the game-winning touchdown pass.

n Defensive Flash of the game: The consistent senior linebacker Derek Burrell made the play of the game when he forced a Buffalo fumble in the end zone for a touchback. Burrell played well all game, leading the team with 10 total tackles and finishing the season with 4.5 sacks after taking down Buffalo quarterback Drew Willy.

Junior running back Eugene Jarvis bounced back with two touchdown runs after rushing for a season-low 15 yards against Northern Illinois last game. Jarvis rushed 22 times for 150 yards in the game Friday.

Jarvis opened the scoring for the Flashes with a 50-yard touchdown run on the Flashes’ first possession. Jarvis’ run, which evened the game at 7-7, was the longest touchdown run of his career.

Edelman said the Kent State football program needs to take its cues from a program like Buffalo’s if it wants to become successful.

“You look at a team like Buffalo and you have the utmost respect for them,” Edelman said. “That’s the kind of program you want to model yourself (after). To be in the MAC championship after the (losing) history they’ve had.”

The Bulls, who suffered their first loss to a MAC East team against the Flashes, will go on to play MAC West champions Ball State in the conference championship game.

Martin said he hopes this victory shows returning players they have enough talent to become MAC champions.

“Buffalo’s got a great football team, and they certainly have earned the MAC East championship this year,” Martin said. “For us to come up here and beat them, I’m hoping that will prove to our team that down the road we can be the champion.”

Though the Bulls already earned their place in the championship going into the game against the Flashes, Buffalo’s coaching staff did not pull their starters or do anything to make it easier for Kent State. Senior quarterback Drew Willy played the entire game for the Bulls, as did junior running back James Starks.

Willy went 21-for-31 passing for 240 yards, including a touchdown pass to junior receiver Naaman Roosevelt. Starks rushed for 136 yards, including one touchdown, and became Buffalo’s all-time single-season rushing leader.

Jarvis said the team needed to find a way to neutralize the MAC East champions in order to send the senior Flashes off with a win.

“It’s been a long year, but at the same time, you’re only as good as your last game,” Jarvis said. “Today’s game was all about the seniors leaving in a good way.”

Contact sports reporter Thomas Gallick at [email protected].