Big Fourth Quarter Lifts Kent State to 41-24 Victory Over Western Michigan on Homecoming
Kent State continued the dramatic turnaround of its football culture with a 41-24 Homecoming victory over Western Michigan on Saturday at Dix Stadium.
Validation of the program's transformation came in the game's last 15:48 as the Golden Flashes scored 24 unanswered points and turned a scary game through three quarters into a comfortable victory. With the win, the Flashes improved to 6-1 overall and became bowl eligible for the first time since 2006. They are also one of just four remaining undefeated teams in Mid-American Conference play at 4-0.
Past Kent State teams would have found it difficult to battle back from the frustration created by two quick Western Michigan touchdowns to open the third quarter.
With a little more than five minutes to play in the third, the Flashes' defense looked tired. They trailed for the first time all day after the second of two one-yard touchdown runs by Antoin Scrivin gave the Broncos a 24-17 lead. And their offense was trotting back onto the field after fumbling away their previous possession.
If long-time fans were mumbling "same old Kent State," that wasn't the feeling on the Kent State sideline. These are the new Golden Flashes – a team that has rattled off 10 wins in its last 12 games dating back to a 1-6 start to last season, its first under head coach Darrell Hazell.
"Last year if we were down 24-17, I think everyone is looking around waiting for someone to make a play," said senior safety Luke Wollet. "This year, everyone wants to be the guy who makes that play. That's one of the reasons we are having this success."
There was no shortage of playmakers in Saturday's comeback.
The Flashes answered the last of Scriven's scores with a long touchdown march, moving the ball primarily through the air as Western Michigan's defense stacked the box in anticipation of a Dri Archer and Trayion Durham-led ground attack.
"That answer by the offense after (Western Michigan) had scored was huge," said Hazell. "It flipped the momentum again and allowed us to gain serve at that point in time. And then the defense got rolling again and got us the ball back quickly."
After the first three-and-out of the day forced by Kent State's defense, the Flashes' offense switched to a ground attack, re-claiming the lead on a 10-yard touchdown run by Dri Archer with 12:35 to play in the fourth quarter. The score arrived just one play after Durham rumbled forr 33 yards on third-and-one. Durham finished the day with a career-best 124 yards on 24 carries, including a 19-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Archer added 62 yards on 10 carries, highlighted by a 22-yard scoring run early in the first quarter.
Just a little more than a minute later, kicker Freddy Cortez booted his second field goal of the day – a 43-yarder into the teeth of the wind to give the Flashes a two-score lead at 34-24. Cortez finished the day tied with NFL star Joshua Cribbs as Kent State's all-time leading scorer with 246 points. A congratulatory "tweet" from Cribbs awaited him in the locker room.
All of these scoring drives were made possible by a defense that finally started to figure out how to slow down a no-huddle, up-tempo attack like Western Michigan's by the end of the third quarter.
"Your backs are against the wall, and there are only a couple things you can do," said linebacker Luke Batton. "You can fight back or you can cower down."
Batton fought back with two game-changing plays. His tip of a Tyler Van Tubbergen pass early in the fourth quarter was intercepted by teammate Dana Brown. The pick set the stage for the Cortez field goal.
With 6:32 to play, Batton sealed the win with an 83-yard fumble return for a touchdown. When fellow linebacker C.J. Malauulu popped Western running back Brian Fields at the line of scrimmage, the ball shot backwards like it was fired out of a cannon. Batton picked it up in stride, the broke four tackles on his serpentine route to the end zone.
Leon Green's interception in the closing minutes handed Western Michigan its sixth turnover of the afternoon and set off a wild celebration on the Kent State sideline.
The Flashes players had avoided talking about becoming bowl eligible. But in the back of their minds, they knew a chance for the program's first bowl berth in 40 years was getting closer.
"We don't talk a whole lot about that to be honest with you," said Hazell. "We talk more about MAC championships because if you take care of that everything else takes care of itself. But there is a calmness in the locker room with these guys. There is a confidence and a calmness, and I think that has a lot to do with their preparation, their trusting each other and their really believing in each other."
Kent State goes on the road next week to face undefeated Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are 7-0 for the second time in the last six seasons and just the fifth time in 143 years of football at the school.
Junior Dri Archer scored his 13th and 14th touchdowns of the year. He combined for 115 yards rushing and receiving and was not kicked to for the second straight game. Archer had his fourth multi-touchdown game of the year. He has scored a touchdown in all seven games.
Sophomore Trayion Durham had a career-high 124 yards rushing and his third 100-yard rushing game of the season. Durham has run for six touchdowns in his last four games. He had a career-high 33-yard in the fourth quarter. Durham has four runs of 20 or more yards in the fourth quarter this season. He's run for at least 50 yards in his last 13 games and 85 yards or more in five of his last six games.
Saturday was the fourth game this game this season Archer and Durham had rushing touchdowns in the same game.
Spencer Keith threw his 39th career touchdown pass.
Senior Eric Adeyemi made a career-high four catches.
Freshman Josh Boyle made his second touchdown catch of the season and is tied with Archer for the most catches on the team with 20.
Senior Matt Hurdle matched a career-high with five catches.
Senior middle linebacker Luke Batton has made 30 tackles in his last two games, including 14 against Western Michigan. Batton recovered a pair of fumbles, returning one 83 yards for a touchdown and tipped a pass that was intercepted.
Junior Roosevelt Nix had 2.0 tackles for loss and recovered a fumble. Nix moved into third place in career tackles for loss with 48.5.
Senior Freddy Cortez tied Josh Cribbs as Kent State's career leader in points with 246. Cortez has made eight straight field goals after going 2-for-2 on the day with a season-long 46-yarder in the second quarter and a 43-yarder in the fourth quarter.
Senior Dana Brown made his first career interception, forced a fumble, made six tackles and notched a sack.
Freshman safety Jordan Italiano made his first career start and had his first career interception.
Playing with a cast on his broken right arm, cornerback Norman Wolfe made eight tackles in his first game back since Sept. 8 at Kentucky.
The Flashes snapped Western Michigan's seven-game winning streak against MAC East opponents. Kent State was also the Broncos last loss in 2009 prior to the seven-game streak.
The Flashes have won five straight against the MAC West. Prior to the current streak Kent State had gone 11-23 against the West since the conference formed divisions in 1997.
Kent State is 6-1 for the first time since 1973 and only the third time since 1940.
Kent State forced four fumbles and two interceptions, raising its season turnover margin to plus-14. It was the second time this season the Flashes forced six turnovers at home.
KSU trailed in the third quarter for the first time in five games
The Flashes won on Homecoming for only the third time in the last 11 seasons.
Kent State's six wins is tied for the 10th most in school history.
The Flashes' five straight wins ties for the second highest single-season winning streak, last done in 2006.
Kent State has won 10 of its last 12 games and have won eight straight against teams currently in the MAC.
Kent State has won six straight home games. The Flashes have also locked up their third straight winning season at home (2010-12), a feat that last happened from 1986-88.
The Flashes have successfully converted their last eight, fourth-down conversions, after going 2-for-2 on Saturday.
Kent State has scored 41 or more points, four times this season, a feat accomplished just one other time in program history (1954).
Kent State Head Coach Darrell Hazell
"It was a great win for us for a lot of reasons. Our team showed a lot of poise and a lot of character. We got ourselves down, but we managed to fight back and our defense was able to stop them when we needed them to. I was proud of our guys and how they played. These guys keep working day in and day out."
On the game tying drive that ended with Josh Boyle's diving touchdown catch:
"The answer by the offense after they had gone down and scored was huge because it flipped the momentum again. The defense got rolling again and got us a big turnover on their next possession."
"The team is playing well off of each other and feeding off of each other and responding when the other team might be struggling a little bit and they give us a spark."
On the go ahead touchdown drive that ended with Dri Archer's 10 yard touchdown:
"That was a fast answer drive, that was a big drive for us because we needed a spark."
On first Homecoming win:
"It's great for everyone in the Kent community, it's nice for us to get the win for those people coming back."
On the locker room atmosphere:
"There's a confidence and a calmness in the locker room with these guys. I think it has a lot to do with their preparation and their trust in each other."
On offense's struggles early in the game"
"We knew it was going to be hard to run the ball early in the game until they got a little tired, then we thought we could pop some long runs. We knew we would have to be able to beat man to man coverage."
Kent State Freshman WR Josh Boyle
Thoughts on the touchdown catch?
"Before that play Archer got hit and left and we came back to the huddle and I just kept telling myself that I needed to make a play and I went out there and was able to do that."
What was said when the team was down 24-17 in the third quarter?
"As an offensive group after we went down seven, we stayed calm and regrouped and were able to drive right down the field and punch it in."
Kent State Junior Safety Luke Wollet
Thoughts on WMU moving the ball so well on offense?
"You have to give them credit, they game planned well for us and we had some guys banged up, fortunately we were able to cause those turnovers because it shifted the momentum back to our side."
When were you able to finally adjust?
"With about ten minutes left in the fourth quarter I believe we did. We started to get a handle on their offense and the way they ran their routes, just some of the little things that you pick up on through the course of a game."
What was said when the team was down 24-17 in the third quarter?
"I think one of the biggest differences is that last year if we were down 24-17 everyone would be looking around for someone to make a play, and I think this year everyone wants to be the guy that makes that play."
Kent State Senior linebacker Luke Batton
Thoughts on the fumble return for a touchdown?
"Malauulu made a real big hit on the running back and the ball popped out and I was in the right spot and I ran and just tried to make a big play."
What made their Quarterback so tough?
"He gets rid of the ball real quick. Anytime a quarterback can get rid of the ball that fast it's hard for the defensive line or anyone else to get to the quarterback"
What does it mean to score on defense?
"It just builds so much more momentum for our team and our fans, it's one of the biggest plays that could happen."
Thoughts on Freddy Cortez and how big he's been?
"He's clutch. Kicking is a huge part of the game and when you get points it's huge for us, Freddy has been very, very good this season and that's a credit to him and how much work he puts in."
Will the team be able to play more relaxed now that they have six victories on the season?
"No, we never really thought about that, each week we are preparing game to game and the only thing that we do talk about is getting that MAC championship and heading to a bowl game but you have to take it week to week."
Western Michigan Head Coach Bill Cubit
On the game's outcome:
"You have six turnovers and at least a half dozen dropped passes, you're not going to win any games like that. That's the way it was. The defense gave up three scores. We go down there for another one and we just drop the ball and a fumble and they take it back. Thats the whole story of the game, I mean, I never felt that we got stopped. We just ran up and down, but just to have that many turnovers. Especially with a big emphasis during the week and right before the game, we talked about it so much. It just happens."
On running backs:
"You just can't drop the ball, we can't fumble the ball. Running backs should never fumble the ball like that. Ones so crucial, that's the one that could give us a chance and another one where we just drop the ball and then they have good field position. We dropped two in a row that were touchdowns, consecutively. You know, the same thing. We lost Jamie Wilson and some other guys had the step and we didn't have anybody."
"You have to bow up and you have to stop them. That was the whole story. We jumped ahead, we're moving the ball at will. Then they go down there and they score. Then we have a bad series and they score again. Then we get another pick and they held. They did a great job, just kicking field goals. So we're only behind ten and we get a drive going and we fumble the ball and they take it back, eighty yards for a touchdown. It's just inexcusable."