KENT: Quarterback Spencer Keith entered the fourth game of Kent State’s football season Saturday afternoon without a touchdown pass and once again in jeopardy of losing his starting position.
Shaking off a slow start against visiting Ball State, Keith finally showed the kind of veteran response KSU coaches, players and fans have been hoping for all season — throwing for 295 yards and making up for lost time with three touchdown passes, tying a career high.
But the Golden Flashes’ third-year starter was most impressive in engineering a final game-winning, 86-yard scoring drive — without the aid of a timeout — to set up Kent State’s 45-43 victory.
“We were confident because of how well we played on offense all day,” Keith said. “We knew we were going to go down and score.”
Despite his string of eight games without an interception coming to a halt on a tipped ball that resulted in an interception on the previous drive, Keith confidently took the ball one last time with just over two minutes remaining on the clock.
Methodically, he drove Kent State (3-1, 2-0 Mid-American Conference) down the field on 15 plays that featured one key pass play after another. Included in the stretch were clutch third- and fourth-down throws to receiver Matthew Hurdle, who finished with a career-high five receptions.
With 21 seconds to go, sophomore running back Trayion Durham provided the final boost, rumbling for 20 yards on a steam-rolling run in which the 6-foot, 250-pounder shook off three would-be tackles and carried a fourth with him down to the 5-yard line to set up the game-winning field goal with six seconds left.
Ball State (3-2, 1-1) called a timeout in an attempt to ice Flashes kicker Freddy Cortez. But the senior calmly booted a 25-yarder that handed Kent State its first 3-1 start since 1987.
Keith’s big game couldn’t have come at a better time. Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning had led the Cardinals to back-to-back victories over Indiana and South Florida with accurate air attacks.
His strong arm was on display from the start Saturday. Wenning went 32-of-43 for 445 yards and five touchdowns – the final score a 6-yard touchdown pass to Connor Ryan that handed Ball State its first and only lead of the game at 43-42 with 5:38 remaining.
Despite Ball State’s gaudy offensive numbers, the Flashes used a 21-point second quarter to maintain a lead most the afternoon before the defense allowed the Cardinals to get back in the game with 17 points in the fourth quarter.
Durham jump-started the Flashes with his first of two 1-yard touchdown scores early in the second quarter. Then, do-it-all junior Dri Archer tacked on a 99-yard touchdown on a kickoff return.
“We put that return in this week,” Archer said. “We knew we could gash them with it … I wasn’t even touched.”
Archer followed up the special-teams score with a 23-yard touchdown reception in the end zone on a perfectly lofted ball by Keith. Keith and Archer hooked up for a similar score in the third quarter on a 33-yard touchdown.
“It’s called deuce right pinch, ricky 64, Y post,” Flashes coach Darrell Hazell said with a grin, noting he copied the play that Archer scored on twice while watching the Philadelphia Eagles’ game on TV last week.
Archer increased his touchdown total to eight Saturday, while compiling a MAC-best 350 all-purpose yards that included 174 on kickoff returns and 104 on receiving.
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.