Midshipmen sink Flashes’ ship

Kali Price

Junior wide receiver Najah Pruden misses a deep pass in the second quarter, while free safety No. 24 Greg Sudderth intercepts the pass at the Kent vs. Navy game on Saturday. The Flashes fell to the Midshipmen 34-31.

Credit: Steve Schirra

Kent State’s defensive backs Usama Young, 18, and Gary Ham, 23, tackle cornerback Jeremy McGown at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md. Saturday.

Credit: Steve Schirra

The last time the Midshipmen of the United States Naval Academy visited Dix Stadium in 1999, the Mids went home with a 48-28 win over the Flashes.

And Saturday, when Kent State (1-5, 0-3 Mid-American Conference) took the field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., the Flashes left with a 34-31 loss.

“I’m most proud of our football team and the way we fought today,” Kent State coach Doug Martin said.

“I think that we grew up as a football program today,” he said. “We were playing really well on both sides of the ball. I thought our kids fought as hard as they could possibly fight and as a head coach that’s all you can ask for.”

The Flashes came from behind to tie the game twice. They trailed 14-0 in the second quarter and 34-24 in the fourth, and despite key injuries nearly pulled the upset over Navy (3-2).

But Kent State had a hard time with the running game. Navy picked up 336 rushing yards, a season-high for the Mids, compared to 113 by the Flashes.

Navy’s senior quarterback Lamar Owens had his third 100 rushing yard game of the season. Owens led the team with 110 yards on 22 carries.

While the Flashes’ running game didn’t put up any significant numbers, the team’s passing game was where they had expected it to be after the preseason.

Sophomore quarterback Michael Machen was 25-of-41 for 292 yards. Machen’s second quarter, 65-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Najah Pruden was the longest play by a Navy opponent for the season and cut the lead to 14-7.

“I think we did a great job today,” Pruden said. “We answered. We went out there and did our thing.”

Even though the passing game was working, the Flashes still had a few problems to iron out.

After Pruden scored the Flashes’ first touchdown of the game with 5:10 left in the second quarter, he was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, as was freshman running back Jerry Flowers when he rushed 1 yard for a game-tying touchdown in the beginning of the fourth quarter.

“You just can’t do that,” Martin said. “Especially against a team like Navy. You can’t kick off from the 20-yard line and expect the defense to go out and stop them. And one they got on the 50 because we kicked it out of bounds.”

It was in the fourth quarter, right after the Flashes had tied the game at 24 that Navy had the ball at the 50.

It took the Mids just four plays to score. The drive was sparked by a 41-yard run by Owens. Kent State fumbled the ensuing kickoff, leading to a field goal by Navy, making it 34-24.

The Flashes responded with a 17 play, 78 yard drive, capped off by a Luke Tillman 10-yard touchdown run.

Yet the long drive left just 1:42 remaining in the game, and after two first downs by Navy, the Mids were able to run out the clock.

The kicking game was a big problem for the Flashes.

“Our kicking game hurt us today,” Martin said. “We couldn’t recover a simple squib kick on a kickoff and Reid (Macko) had a tough day kicking the ball off today. We’ve been really good in our kicking game, so that’s a little bit surprising that we didn’t perform better than that today.”

Macko kicked two of his four kickoffs out-of-bounds.

The Flashes had a problem with the defense as well – mainly injuries.

Senior linebacker Daniel Muir went in and out of the game with an injury, but the biggest blow was when senior linebacker Jon Sessler went out in the second quarter with a knee injury.

“We’re waiting for the rest of the news,” Martin said. “It looks like it (Sessler) may have (a torn) ACL, we’ll wait for the MRI. That’s what happens when you play a wishbone team, they run your legs a lot and you may get banged up. We may have lost Jon for the year, we’ll have to wait and see on the MRI.”

Not only did Sessler leave the game with a serious injury, junior offensive lineman Nate Manning left the game for the Anne Arundel Medical Center after being knocked unconscious with 4:34 left in the game.

“He was moving his arms and legs, but he was unconscious for a while on the field,” Martin said. “So as a precautionary measure, they took him just to make sure there was no spinal cord damage or anything like that. He was completely knocked out when we got to him on the field; in that case you don’t really know what’s wrong with him. It’s a scary situation, but he did have movement.”

Kent State did its best to regain its composure after the injury.

The Flashes had to rush their offense and try an onside kick after the long touchdown drive in the fourth.

“We were trying to go as fast as we could, we were still huddling,” Martin said. “But we were trying to go fast. We were still getting first downs, which was stopping the clock. We had almost two minutes left when we onside kicked and that’s about as good as you can do.”

Like the last three games, the game came down to the last quarter.

“Whoever had the ball last was going to win the game,” Machen said. “Every other game we’ve been a couple of plays away. We’re not losing confidence. We’re just going to get back to work tomorrow.”

Martin said the team was only a few plays from getting the win.

“(The coaches) can’t ask anymore from a group of guys,” Martin said. “And we’re close to breaking the door down and having a great program at Kent State. We’re going to get that done and we took a step forward today.”

Contact assistant sports editor and football reporter Kali Price at [email protected].