The early scene Thursday night at Dix Stadium lined up perfectly for a successful evening for Kent State in its season-opening game against Liberty University.
A record-throng of 7,000-plus students had already packed into the student section behind the Golden Flashes bench before kickoff. Loads of other fans were still filing through the gates during introductions.
Outside, local police were busy directing long lines of waiting cars into overflow parking behind the stadium in the fieldhouse lot, with the main parking lot filled to capacity.
With all the excitement, the Golden Flashes responded instantly to the rare show of student and community support.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Colin Reardon led a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive on Kent State’s opening series and then later pieced together a quicker eight-play, 88-yard drive late from behind in the fourth quarter to send the Flashes faithful home happy with a 17-10 victory.
The end result may have been positive, but the Flashes had to endure their share of setbacks before the come back was secured.
For starters, Heisman hopeful Dri Archer suffered a first-quarter ankle injury that left him a second-half bystander. There was also nine penalties for 70 yards to endure as well as an offense that mysteriously went missing for the two middle quarters as the Flashes trailed the Football Championship Series Flames in the fourth quarter by three points before rallying for 10 late.
The Flashes impressive first series was capped by Reardon’s 6-yard pass to receiver Casey Pierce after surviving a review by officials. Kicker Anthony Melchiori tacked on the extra point to give the Flashes the early lead.
But all the feel-good energy spurred by last season’s record 11-win campaign and GoDaddy.com Bowl game appearance that halted a 40-year bowl drought came close to quickly being deflated when Archer came up gimpy on the opening drive.
The Flashes popular do-it-all running back/reciever/kick returner was denied the opportunity to return Liberty’s first kick due a touchback. Thus, the first time he touched the ball came on the second play of the first drive – a rush for no gain.
Six plays later, Archer injured his left ankle on second-and-four, after gaining six yards out of a surprise Wildcat formation. Archer gave it a go one more time when he rushed four yards on the Flashes first play of the second quarter.
The Flashes 5-foot-8, 175-pound speed demon spent the rest of the first half on the sideline being attended to by trainers, with a white towel wrapped around his neck. When Kent State’s players and coaches sprinted from the sideline across the field towards the lockeroom with a 7-3 halftime lead, Archer followed with an excruciatingly slow stroll.
When the second half commenced, Archer was again on the sideline - this time without pads and sporting a dreaded walking boot on his left foot.
With Archer sidelined, the Flashes had settled into a mode of conservative offensive play calling coupled with little use of the team’s other playmakers in running back Trayion Durham and fifth-year senior receiver Tyshon Goode.
With the Flashes stallled, Liberty took a 10-7 lead midway through the third quarter, converting an 11-yard touchdown on a pass from quarterback Josh Woodrum to reciever Gabe Henderson with 7:25 remaining in the third quarter.
But the Flashes offense jolted back to life midway through the fourth quarter with a 74-yard drive capped by Melchiori’s 39-yard field goal that tied the game, 10-10 with 10:57 to go.
Six and a half minutes later, KSU capped an 88-yard drive with a 42-yard touchdown reception from Reardon to receiver Chris Humphrey down the Flashes sideline that gave the host a little breathing room once again with a late seven-point advantage that would hold up.
The most impressive showing of the night came from Reardon, who finished with a veteran-like stat line that belied his inexperience: 21-for-28 for 194 yards and two touchdowns and the former Poland Seminary standout also rushing 10 times for 38 yards.