Kent State's MAC Championship Hopes Fall Just Short In 44-37 Loss To Northern Illinois In Double Overtime
Kent State battled Northern Illinois into two overtimes but saw its hopes of claiming the school's first Mid-American Conference football title in 40 years and an improbable BCS bowl berth fall just short at Detroit's Ford Field.
Huskies quarterback Jordan Lynch ran for 160 yards and three touchdowns to lead Northern Illinois to a 44-37 victory over Kent State in Friday night's Marathon MAC Championship.
Even with Lynch backing up his selection as the conference's offensive player of the year, the Golden Flashes battled their way into overtime with three touchdowns in the final 4:53 of regulation.
The first two of those scores arrived just 15 seconds apart.
"What a great football game," said Kent State head coach Darrell Hazell. "It's a tough one for us to swallow, but that's a great football team we played. I was proud of our football team for keeping battling back … We just needed to make a couple of more plays at the end on both sides of the football.
"I love our guys in the locker room. They are in there hurting. This team will take a couple of days to get over this one."
While there will be no trip to the Orange Bowl or the Sugar Bowl, this week's No. 17 team in the BCS ranking and No. 18 team in the Associated Press Poll can take the heart it showed in its fourth-quarter comeback into its first bowl appearance since 1972.
The announcement of where Kent State will play in December will be made Sunday night.
Trailing 27-13 on Friday with a little less than eight minutes to play, Kent State marched 96 yards in just eight plays and pulled to within just one score on a five-yard touchdown run by Spencer Keith. The senior quarterback delivered several clutch throws on the drive, including a 60-yard heave to Dri Archer.
"We had the one big play to Dri," said Keith. "He ran a post and got behind (the Northern Illinois safeties). I just threw it up there for him to go get it. And we had our quick passing game going well (in the second half). Guys were getting open and catching the ball, and I was hitting the target."
Keith completed 8-of-14 in the fourth quarter for 122 yards to lead the Kent State comeback. He finished the night with 182 yards on 14-for-31 passing.
The Golden Flashes defense wasted no time in deadlocking the game after the Keith touchdown run. On the very next play from scrimmage, Kent State defensive end Zack Hitchens picked up a fumbled handoff by Lynch and raced 22 yards for a game-tying score with just 4:38 to play in regulation.
When Northern promptly untied the game on a quick drive capped by a six-yard Lynch scoring run, the Golden Flashes counterpunched again. Kent State stormed back down the field again with Keith sending the game to overtime on a 19-yard touchdown pass to Tim Erjavec.
Rolling to his left, Keith spotted his tight end breaking open in the end zone. Erjavec pulled in the throw with just 40 seconds remaining on the clock.
According to Hazell, the fourth quarter rally by the Golden Flashes demonstrated "what this team has been about all year."
"They've had tremendous resolve," Hazell said. "We've been down several times this year in the second half and found ways to scrap back and make enough plays to win the football game. The character of this team has been amazing all season long. Obviously we didn't get it done tonight."
The two teams traded field goals in the first overtime.
Northern Illinois re-claimed the lead on one final two-yard plunge by Lynch in the second overtime, then kept Kent State out of the end zone. Cornerback Demetrius Stone intercepted Keith's desperation fourth-down heave from the nine-yard line to secure the victory.
Lynch lived up to his billing as the MAC's offensive player of the year. Most of Northern Illinios' 10-for-19 on third down came courtesy of his legs. The junior also passed for 212 yards on 19-of-34 passing, including a 14-yard touchdown pass to Martel Moore to tie the score, 10-10, early in the second quarter.
Kent State jumped out to an early 10-0 lead on a 15-yard touchdown run by Archer and 37-yard Freddy Cortez field goal in the first 10 minutes of the first quarter. Northern answered with 17 unanswered points, including a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Akeem Daniels that gave the Huskies a 17-10 lead heading into the break.
Northern appeared to take control with with a 1-yard touchdown run by Jordan Llynch and a 29-yard Mathew Sims field goal in the third quarter, but Kent State battled back.
Unfortunately for the Golden Flashes, that comeback fell just nine yards short.
"The players in our locker room and the coaches in our locker room have made this entire season special with a tremendous belief system and a never quit attitude," said Hazell. "It is a very, very tight locker room and I can't put into words how proud I am of this football team and the organization."
Junior Dri Archer scored his 22nd touchdown of the season. Kent State's previous single-season record was 18. Archer's 15th rushing touchdown ranks alone in second place among KSU's single-season leaders. His five catches were his most this season.
Senior quarterback Spencer Keith threw his 45th career touchdown pass, tying him with Josh Cribbs for second place among Kent State's career leaders. He also scored his fourth rushing TD in the last four games.
Junior Zack Hitchens scored second touchdown of the season, following a fumble recovery. His first was a catch at Rutgers.
Junior tight end Tim Erjavec made his first touchdown catch of the year. His three catches were his most since the second game of the season.
Senior Luke Batton led both sides with 13 tackles. He's totaled 29 tackles in his last two games.
Junior Luke Wollet recorded a sack and nine tackles
Junior Darius Polk forced and recovered a first-quarter fumble and recorded a sack on a third down.
Sophomore Trayion Durham had 70 yards rushing for the 10th time in 12 games.
Freddy Cortez went 3-for-3 on field goals and has made 14 of his last 16 attempts. He had five kickoffs for touchbacks.
Senior running back Larry Dawson got his first carry of the season.
Kent State will play in its third bowl game in program history (1954, 1972) and first in 40 years.
The Golden Flashes scored their fifth defensive touchdown of the season.
Kent State scored 21 fourth-quarter points for the first time this season.
The defense totaled four sacks, giving them 12 in the last two games.
Kent State's program-record 10-game winning streak came to an end as did six straight wins away from home, 12 straight wins against current MAC teams and five straight wins against the MAC West.
KSU reached the 35-point mark for the eighth time this season, a program best.
The Flashes fell to 0-2 this season, when being outgained on the ground.
Kent State is now outscoring opponents 93-30 in the first quarter.