BUFFALO: When Freddy Cortez’s fourth-quarter field goal hit the right upright but somehow managed to curl inside the post for three points, it was the break Kent State needed in a 23-7 victory over host Buffalo on Wednesday night.
The game featured 10 penalties for 100 yards and so many missed offensive opportunities for KSU (2-1, 1-0) that backup quarterback David Fisher took over for Spencer Keith for the majority of the second half.
But when Cortez, the Golden Flashes’ senior kicker, managed to push KSU’s lead to 16-7 with just less than 10 minutes left in the game on the 21-yard field goal, it led to a win that erased some of the night’s frustrations.
“There’s a lot of things we have to fix,” KSU coach Darrell Hazell said. “But being able to come on the road and find a way to win the game, that’s the most important thing.
“It was like going to the dentist on a Wednesday night. Like pulling teeth at times.”
In the Mid-American Conference opener for both teams, Kent State’s defense rebounded from an embarrassing showing at Kentucky with a four-turnover performance against Buffalo.
In addition to coming up with three interceptions (two by Darius Polk) and a fumble recovery, the defense limited the Bulls to one touchdown — on a Hail Mary pass on the last play of the first half that cut KSU’s lead to 10-7.
“Obviously, we gotta get the ball out of the air on that play,” Hazell said. “But I told the guys at halftime, ‘It’s over. There’s nothing you can do about that play. We’re playing great defense, we just gotta move forward.’ ”
The defense was back to being opportunistic, but the offense continued to struggle.
The passing game is still a work in progress, producing just 165 yards, but the Flashes finally established a running game that produced its first two 100-yard rushers since 2008. Dri Archer led the way with 127 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, and Trayion Durham rushed 23 times for 112 yards and getting some of his best runs late in the game.
“I was just getting warmed up for real,” Durham said. “It was late, the game was handed to me and it had to be on my back.”
After a scoreless first quarter, Archer set up the Flashes’ first touchdown with a career-best 57-yard run. Four plays later, he sprinted into the left corner of the end zone for a touchdown on an 11-yard run. He was sprung by a key block from tight end Kyle Payton.
Initially, it wasn’t ruled a touchdown, but replays showed that Archer did not step out of bounds as was ruled on the field.
Midway through the second quarter, KSU’s defense came away with its first turnover when Roosevelt Nix knocked the ball loose from Buffalo running back Branden Oliver, and Sidney Saulter recovered.
But the Flashes didn’t go anywhere and were forced to punt.
KSU extended its lead to 10-0 on a 23-yard field goal by Cortez with 5:51 to go in the half.
Just over four minutes later, Kent State’s defense came up with its second turnover of the half, a Luke Wollet interception. The interception was the eighth of Wollet’s career, with six coming in his past 12 games.
Once again, the Flashes’ offense couldn’t turn the gift into points under Keith, who completed 6-of-15 passes for 72 yards.
“We were flat offensively and needed a spark,” Hazell said of turning to Fisher. “I thought we were just milling around and didn’t have much energy. I knew if nothing else, David would bring some energy.”
Fisher completed 7-of-13 passes for 93 yards and threw an interception in Buffalo’s end zone.
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.