Kent State Clinches First-Ever MAC East Championship With 31-24 Win At Bowling Green
BOWLING GREEN, Ohio - Kent State will play for a Mid-American Conference championship for the first time since 1972.
Two more long touchdown runs on a career day by Dri Archer helped the No. 25 Golden Flashes secure their first ever East Division title and punch their ticket to the Marathon MAC Championship Game in Detroit with a 31-24 win at Bowling Green on Saturday.
Archer finished with 241 yards on just 17 carries, including a 79-yard sprint to the end zone in the second quarter and a sideline-to-sideline 74-yard score early in the fourth.
Even after those electrifying runs, the Golden Flashes still needed a late seven-yard touchdown keeper by quarterback Spencer Keith to claim the lead before holding off one final drive by Bowling Green.
The Falcons bid to either win or force overtime reached the Kent State 17-yard line. That last chance came up empty as safety Luke Wollet secured the Kent State win with a fourth-down interception of Bowling Green quarterback Matt Schilz in the end zone with just 21 seconds left on the scoreboard clock at Doyt L. Perry Stadium.
One kneel-down later and the celebration was on, complete with a lemon-lime Gatorade bath for head coach Darrell Hazell amid chants of "Detroit, Detroit, Detroit."
"This is definitely the biggest game of my life, especially with the way it ended," said Archer, "It was just wild."
And there is still much more to come.
Kent State (10-1, 7-0) will try to complete a perfect MAC regular season when it hosts Ohio University in an 11 a.m. home finale on Friday, Nov. 23. The Golden Flashes will then pack their bags for a Friday, Nov. 30 meeting with Northern Illinois in the Marathon MAC Championship game at Ford Field. Then, on Dec. 2, the team will learn where it will go for its first appearance in a bowl game since 1972.
The Golden Flashes have now won 14 of their last 16 games since tinkering with their offensive line during the bye week of the 2011 season.
"To think what our team has accomplished this season and at the end of last season is mind boggling," said Hazell. "It tells you when guys put their minds to something and they work the plan, so much can be accomplished."
With confidence growing every week during a nine-game win streak that is now the longest in program history, the Golden Flashes have reached a point where they believe they will win every time they take the field.
"We definitely had some doubt before this year, and that's just because of our history," said Keith. "Now every game there is never any doubt in our minds. We go into every week believing we will win."
Doubt never crept in on Saturday even as Bowling Green took advantage of a string of rare Kent State mistakes.
Blown coverage led to easy touchdown passes of 72 yards in the first quarter and 81 yards in the fourth quarter by the tandem of Schilz and tight end Chris Gallon. The first connection cut into some second-quarter momentum after Kent State grabbed a 10-0 lead. The second Schilz-to-Gallon touchdown re-tied the game at 24-24 with 14:11 remaining in the game.
The Falcons scored their other 10 points by capitalizing on a pair of Kent State fumbles. The Golden Flashes rebounded from each error.
After falling behind for the first time on a Schilz-to-Shaun Joplin touchdown pass of 27 yards early in the fourth quarter, the Golden Flashes answered with a six-play, 76-yard drive that ended with Keith finding Eric Adeyemi on the sideline for a 32-yard score. Kent State's lone touchdown pass deadlocked the game again, 17-17 at the 7:47 mark of the third quarter.
Keith threw for just 91 yards on a 9-for-17 passing afternoon that included one interception. The senior quarterback was an important complement to Archer in the running game, however, with 39 yards on 12 carries, including the game-winning score.
Keith also delivered a key block at the tail end of the 74-yard Archer touchdown that vaulted Kent State back into the lead in the fourth quarter at 24-17. Bowling Green appeared to have Archer stopped at midfield, but the elusive back somehow slipped out of a tackle by Ted Oulett near the left sideline before reversing his field.
"That was probably the most exciting run I've ever had," said Archer. "I just did not want to go down."
Archer's per-carry average of 10.3 yards is the best in one season by any in Division I college football player since at least 2000. Houston's Anthony Alridge is the only runner to average better than 10 yards per carry in a season in the new millennium (10.09 in 2006).
"He made our guys miss, just like he makes everybody miss," said Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson.
Despite giving up three touchdown passes, Kent State's pass defense managed to come up with several key stops. Defensive lineman Richard Gray and cornerback Norman Wolfe joined Wollet with tipped-ball interceptions of Schilz.
Roosevelt Nix got his hand on the ball that Gray intercepted. He also dropped into coverage and batted down a fourth-down throw by Schilz to force a turnover on downs late in the fourth quarter.
The three interceptions increased Kent State's season total to 21.
• Junior Dri Archer ran for a career-high 241 yards on 17 carries with a pair of touchdown runs over 70 yards. His 241 yards rushing broke a Doyt Perry Stadium record. Already Kent State's single-season record holder for touchdowns, Archer scored his 20th and 21st TDs of the season. He now has four TD runs of 60 yards or more. Archer had his third straight 100-yard rushing game. Archer now has touchdowns in all 11 games and six multi-touchdown games. On the season, Archer is averaging 10.3 yards per carry on 125 attempts.
• Senior Luke Batton reached 300 career tackles and passed 100 tackles on the year.
• Redshirt freshman Nate Terhune gained 31 yards on his first career carry, which came on a fake punt.
• Senior cornerback Norman Wolfe made his 10th career interception in the second quarter, which led to a field goal.
• Junior Luke Wollet made his 10th career interception in the fourth quarter and made a game-high 13 tackles, tying a career-high.
• Senior Eric Adeyemi made his second touchdown catch of the season.
• Spencer Keith threw his 43rd career touchdown pass. Keith also had his third rushing touchdown in as many games and the 11th rushing touchdown of his career.
• Richard Gray made his first career interception, becoming the 12th different Kent State player with a pick this season. It was also the sixth interception by a defensive lineman this year.
• Freshman Anthony Melchiori had three punts inside the 20.
• Freddy Cortez has made 11 of his last 13 field goal attempts and his last 50 extra points.
The Flashes clinched their first MAC East title since the conference split into divisions in 1997 and will play in the MAC Championship Game, Friday, Nov. 30 at Ford Field.
Kent State extended the longest winning streak in program history to nine games and ended Bowling Green's six-game winning streak.
Kent State's 10 wins are the most in its 90-year history.
The Flashes are 7-0 in the MAC for the first time in program history.
Kent State has defeated Bowling Green in three straight seasons for the first time in the history of the series.
Kent State has won 14 of its last 16 games.
The Flashes have won 11 straight against teams currently in the MAC.
Kent State has won six straight road games in a season for the first time in program history.
Bowling Green became the eighth KSU opponent to be held scoreless in the first quarter.
KSU improved to 13-1 since last season, when outgaining opponents on the ground.
The Flashes ran for over 200 yards for the seventh time this season and over 300 for the third time.
Kent State has converted its last 12 fourth down attempts.
The Flashes outgained the Falcons on the ground 334-83.
The Flashes have now forced 33 turnovers in 11 games on the year.
Saturday was only Kent State's 19th program win against Bowling Green, who leads the all-time series 55-19-6.