KENT: After a euphoric 45-43 home victory over Ball State on Saturday, Kent State coach Darrell Hazell kept exhaling, almost as if he needed CPR.
“I don’t need it now,” he said, responding to that suggestion, “[but] with six seconds on the clock … .”
His voice was raspy, long gone before senior Freddy Cortez hit a 25-yard game-winning field goal with just six ticks left.
The shootout was exciting, the ending dramatic, with the Golden Flashes starting at their own 6 and out of timeouts when they took over with 2:05 to play.
But it wasn’t just how they won and what happened on a perfect-for-football afternoon. The implications were far greater than that.
It meant that a season that opened with expectations of a bowl trip, which would be the first since KSU won the 1972 Mid-American Conference championship and played in the Tangerine, was still on track.
It meant that Kent State started 3-1 for the first time since 1987, when Glen Mason coached the Flashes to a 7-4 record.
It meant that they improved to 2-0 in the MAC for the first time since 2006, when the Doug Martin-coached team led by quarterback Julian Edelman (now with the New England Patriots) and running back Eugene Jarvis started 4-0 in the league.
It meant that a squad with a starting quarterback on the verge of losing his job scored 40 points for the second time this season, also totaling 41 against Football Championship Subdivision foe Towson in the opener. Before that, it had been two years since the Flashes hit 40.
It meant that the vision of director of athletics Joel Nielsen and deputy athletic director Tom Kleinlein of staging an event on football Saturdays more along the lines of the Big Ten was building steam.
The attendance of 21,657 was the 10th largest in the program’s history, and the number still in the stands in the fourth quarter had to be the highest in years. The crowd included 1,200 freshmen and their parents and 250 faculty members, who benefited from a corporation’s ticket donation. An hour before kickoff, the lot in front of Dix Stadium was nearly full, making Nielsen wonder if students who park there regularly will eventually have to be cleared out for games. There was a line for tickets and at the concession stand just inside the gate.
“That was a great crowd. When we drove up on the buses from the hotel, it felt like a big-time college atmosphere,” said Hazell, who spent 2005-10 years as an assistant at Ohio State. “People were tailgating. The parking lots were filled. Walking through the fieldhouse, there were people in the fieldhouse. It’s great for our guys to be able to experience that.”
Since Monday, Hazell had been touting it as a big game. The season seemed at a turning point, its great promise ready to evaporate.
The MAC is loaded with impressive quarterbacks. Miami’s Zac Dysert, Akron’s Dalton Williams, Ohio’s Tyler Tettleton and Western Michigan’s Alex Carder (who sat out this weekend with an injury to his passing hand) are all on the Golden Flashes’ schedule. In Hazell’s mind, there had to be a sense of urgency to get his passing game going, especially with the rival Zips piling up points under first-year coach Terry Bowden.
Kent State’s Spencer Keith did not seem to belong in the aforementioned class. During a 23-7 victory at Buffalo on Sept. 19, it was 100-yard rushing games by tailback/receiver Dri Archer and tailback Trayion Durham that carried the Flashes.
Earlier this week, Hazell seemed committed to playing two quarterbacks. Keith, a senior now 16-19 as a starter dating back to his freshman year, came in without a touchdown pass. Transfer David Fisher relieved him at Buffalo and provided a spark.
If Hazell was trying to convince Keith that he had a legitimate backup who could take over as a motivational tactic, it worked. Keith threw three TD passes against the Cardinals, two to the speedy Archer, who also returned a kickoff 99 yards for a score.
When it was over, Hazell wasn’t sure if he’d just witnessed the season’s turning point. He did concede that the last drive would do a lot for the Flashes’ confidence.
“They’re all so big,” Hazell said. “I’m not sure it’s a statement game or not. Our guys prepare well and believe they can win any time they step on the field.”
But in another breath, he said, “This is a huge win for a lot of reasons.”
By that point, there was no longer a need for CPR, for Hazell or the Golden Flashes. It felt as if the season had been resuscitated, the bowl dream revived, whether Hazell wanted to admit it or not.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at https://ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.