KENT: Western Michigan’s offensive line features four players weighing at least 300 pounds. Add that to quarterback Tyler Van Tubbergen’s quick three-step drop, and it’s tough for any defender to get close enough to disrupt the Broncos’ strong-armed quarterback.
Those were two big obstacles standing between Kent State and a victory that would make the Golden Flashes bowl eligible.
It took 3½ quarters, but the Flashes’ defense finally got a grasp on how to slow Van Tubbergen down — jumping routes to force turnovers. By the end of the game, the Flashes (6-1, 4-0 in the Mid-American Conference) had forced six turnovers that led to 20 points and a 41-24 win Saturday at Dix Stadium. It was the Flashes’ fifth consecutive victory and the all-important sixth overall that makes them eligible for postseason play.
A majority of the Homecoming crowd of 16,128 left during a rainy halftime, so not many were around to witness the players taking turns ringing the victory bell and receiving hugs from coach Darrell Hazell, who made the final tug on the rope.
“I thought our team showed a lot of poise, character and toughness,” Hazell said.
“We got ourselves down and managed to fight back.”
But it took a strong fourth-quarter effort to erase a 24-17 deficit midway through the third quarter and get the job done.
“Last year if we were down 24-17, I think everyone is looking around for someone to make a play,” safety Luke Wollet said.
“This year, everyone wants to be the guy who makes the play. That’s one of the reasons we’re having this success.”
KSU scored first with a four-play drive that took less than 90 seconds. Dri Archer took a handoff on a misdirection play and bolted 22 yards through the Western Michigan defense to make it 7-0.
The Broncos (3-5, 1-3) tied the score on an 81-yard touchdown pass from Van Tubbergen to receiver Josh Schaffer later in the first quarter. It was the first points the Flashes have allowed in the first quarter this season.
Kent State took advantage of the first of three fumbles by Van Tubbergen to take a 10-7 lead on a 46-yard field goal by Freddy Cortez.
Nose tackle Dana Brown sacked Van Tubbergen and linebacker Luke Batton recovered the ball with 1:40 remaining in the quarter. Cortez’s kick came 15 seconds into the second quarter and was a season-long effort.
Before halftime, the Flashes came up with another turnover when Wollet forced a fumble and Roosevelt Nix recovered. Trayion Durham cashed in with a 19-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-1 to put KSU ahead 17-7.
Western Michigan cut the lead to 17-10 at the half and came out strong in the second half.
Running back Antoin Scriven scored on the Broncos’ first two possessions of the third quarter to give Western Michigan a 24-17 lead.
“[Van Tubbergen] gets rid of the ball real quick,” said Batton, a Nordonia graduate who led the Flashes with 14 tackles and two fumble recoveries. “And any time a guy can rid of the ball that fast, it’s hard for the D-lineman or even blitzes to get to him.”
The Flashes tied the score on a 17-yard pass from quarterback Spencer Keith to freshman receiver Josh Boyle, who made an acrobatic grab in the corner of the end zone just before the end of the third quarter.
“On the play before the touchdown, Dri got hit really hard,” Boyle said. “It was third-and-long when I went in and I told myself, ‘I have to make a play right here.’ ”
It was right about then that KSU’s defense finally got a handle on Van Tubbergen, who finished 30-of-57 for a career-high 333 yards.
“It was going real fast at first and we had some guys filling in for some banged-up players,” Wollet said. “Once we got adjusted, we started doing better against the three-step drop. Even through they were driving, we started making some bigger plays by jumping more routes.”
Kent State’s defense held WMU to 69 yards in the fourth quarter, and the Flashes’ offense scored 17 points to pull away for good.
Running backs Durham and Archer combined to lead the Flashes to the touchdown that put KSU ahead for good.
A five-play, 85-yard drive was capped by a 10-yard touchdown by Archer with 12:27 left in the game.
On the Broncos’ next possession, Batton deflected a pass and Brown caught it for another turnover that led to a 43-yard field goal by Cortez. The defense sealed the victory with two more turnovers.
The fifth came when linebacker C.J. Malauulu forced the ball out of a running back’s hands and Batton scooped it up and slipped past four would-be tacklers and rumbled 83 yards for a touchdown.
In the final minutes, safety Leon Green added his name to the list, making the defense’s third interception.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.