KENT: Five weeks.
That’s what the 2013 football season has come down to for Kent State; five games remaining on the schedule that require victories in each in order for the Golden Flashes to repeat last season’s goal of being bowl eligible.
Despite playing well on the road against No. 23 Northern Illinois (6-0, 2-0) and Ball State (6-1, 3-0), the two best teams in the Mid-American Conference, the Flashes (2-5, 1-3) have little to show for their efforts.
Still, the Flashes had little to hang their heads about following Saturday’s heartbreaking 27-24 loss to the host Cardinals in Muncie, Ind.
“It was one of our better games in a couple areas,” coach Paul Haynes said at his weekly news conference. “I’m proud of our locker room and proud of our kids.”
KSU’s defense forced a season-high three turnovers to keep the high-powered Ball State offense grounded for a majority of the game. On offense, the Flashes nearly doubled the Cardinals’ rushing output at 223 yards to 118 en route to their second-highest output of the season with 407 total yards.
“There’s a lot of good things that happened in the game,” Haynes said. “We established the run and ran the football very well. Our receivers did a good job of catching the ball when they had the opportunities, I know Chris [Humphrey, whose nine catches were the most for a KSU receiver in two seasons] had a big game for us. We also had a couple chances, a couple times, where we needed to make a play and it didn’t happen.”
Haynes was referring to the Flashes having the ball on the 1-yard line on first down with seven minutes to go. Despite three consecutive attempts to bulldoze his way into the end zone, junior fullback Trayion Durham came up empty.
“[Running the ball] is a big part of who we are and what we need to be successful at,” Haynes said. “It’s just unfortunate that at the time we needed to run it from the 1-yard line, it didn’t happen for us.”
Given two days to mull over the call, Haynes said he’d still opt to run the ball three times.
“If I had the situation over again, I call the same play because that’s our best play,” he said. “They just made a play and we didn’t. They dug it out and got underneath our [offensive linemen] and made a play. If I’d have called a timeout and called the guys over and said, ‘alright, what do you want to do?’ They would have said, ‘do the same thing. Call 26 Power.’
“It’s our best play, it just didn’t work. I’m not going to second-guess doing it again. It’s not about the play, it’s about executing the play.”
More troubling to Haynes is traveling to South Alabama on Saturday without quarterback Colin Reardon and kicker/punter Anthony Melchiorri.
Both were injured at Ball State and Haynes said Monday they probably won’t play against the Jaguars (2-3).
“As far as their health goes, they’re beat up,” Haynes said. “We’ll see how they go during the week. But as of right now, they’re probably doubtful.”
Melchiorri, a sophomore, injured his right hamstring during the second quarter while making a touchdown-saving tackle following a punt. In his absence, junior Andrew Horning took over punting duties and redshirt freshman Brad Miller moved into the starting kicking role.
The left ankle injury suffered by Reardon came late in the fourth quarter. After handing the ball off, an untouched Reardon stepped awkwardly and rolled his ankle. He was helped to the sideline and was on crutches after the game.
Fifth-year senior David Fisher replaced Reardon with 1:25 to go and Kent State trailing by three points. With the drive starting at KSU’s 33-yard line, Fisher maneuvered the Flashes to Ball State’s 49-yard line. But he was unable to get the team into Miller’s field-goal range in order to force overtime.
“It was a crucial situation and I had faith in Fisher,” Humphrey said. “Even though we weren’t able to get it done, I felt what we could have done better maybe was slow it down a little bit and keep our composure. I felt like we might have rushed some things. But in the future, now we’ve been in that type of situation and we know how to act.”
For Fisher and the other reserves stepping into starting roles, the future is now. Kent State has just five games to turn around its season.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. 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.