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Misc The MAC The MAC Archive Kent State's Dream Ends in the Most MACtion Way Possible
Written by Thomas Moore

Thomas Moore

2012 12 kent hazellThe dream died hard for Kent State on Friday night at Ford Field in Detroit.

When Northern Illinois defensive back Demetrius Stone intercepted Spencer Keith’s fourth-down pass in the end zone in double overtime of the MAC Championship game, it was finally over.

No conference title. No BCS bowl game. No national spotlight on a program that had wandered the college football desert for 40 years.

Only the disappointment of seeing your dream end right there, so very, very close, but just far enough away to exceed your reach.

“What a great football game,” said Kent State coach Darrell Hazell. “It’s a tough one for us to swallow, but that’s a great football team we played. I was proud of our football team for keeping battling back. We just needed to make a couple of more plays at the end on both sides of the football.

“I love our guys in the locker room. They are in there hurting. This team will take a couple of days to get over this one.”

That the game was even in overtime was incredible.

Kent State found itself trailing by two touchdowns, 27-13, with a little under five minutes left in the game. But that all changed in the span of 15 seconds.

First, Keith scored on a 5-yard touchdown run to end a 96-yard drive and cut the Huskies’ lead to 27-20. On the first play of Northern Illinois’ next possession, Zack Hitchens picked up a fumble and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown.

Suddenly, inexplicably, the Golden Flashes had tied a game that wasn’t even close to being over.

The Huskies quickly moved down the field, retaking the lead on Jordan Lynch’s nine-yard touchdown run.

Kent State answered back, though, as Keith hit Tim Erjavec with a 19-yard touchdown pass on third down to end a drive that started on Kent’s own 42-yard line thanks to a strange decision by Northern Illinois to kick the ball short.

After two plays by the Huskies to run out the clock, the game was headed to overtime.

MACtion indeed.

In the first overtime it looked like the Golden Flashes were going to score a touchdown, but facing a third-and-one from the five-yard line, Erjavec (a tight end) fumbled on an end around, losing 11 yards and forcing Kent to settle for a Freddy Cortez field goal.

The Huskies answered with a Mathew Sims field goal and the game moved into the second overtime, where Northern Illinois scored a touchdown on a two-yard run by Lynch.

The Golden Flashes got as close as the Huskies’ nine-yard line, but couldn’t find one last play to put the ball into the end zone.

“They’ve had tremendous resolve,” Hazell said of his team. “We’ve been down several times this year in the second half and found ways to scrap back and make enough plays to win the football game. The character of this team has been amazing all season long. Obviously we didn’t get it done tonight.”

While it is often hard to pin a win or a loss on one play or one decision in a game, in a lot of ways this game was lost because Kent State simply didn’t have any answers for Lynch; while it was won because the Huskies had plenty of answers for Dri Archer.

Lynch ran for three touchdowns, passed for a fourth, and had 372 yards of total offense for the Huskies. It was the eighth time this season that Lynch threw for at least 200 yards and ran for at least 100 in the same game. He also rushed for more than 100 yards in 12 games this season.

“Lynch is just an extraordinary football player, and we had a lot of trouble tackling him,” Hazell said. “We’re not the first team he’s done that against.”

On the flip side, Northern Illinois contained the dynamic Archer, who finished the game with 15 rushing yards on 12 carries, caught five passes for 81 yards, and scored a touchdown.

Once you look a little closer at the numbers, you realize what a good job the Huskies did on defense. Archer’s touchdown run covered 15 yards, so he carried zero total yards on his 11 other carries. He also had a 60-yard reception on the 96-yard touchdown drive, leaving him to gain just 21 total yards on his other four receptions.

For the game, the Huskies limited Kent State to just 70 rushing yards and outgained the Golden Flashes, 524-260.

“This was a total team win,” Lynch said. “Watching the defense at the end … we had each other’s backs all night. I’m just so happy and proud. I’m just happy to be a MAC Champion.”

As disappointing as the loss is, there is certainly no shame in losing to Northern Illinois. The Huskies are a really good team and the championship game had to make the MAC and its fans happy.

“You’ve got great teams and great coaches in this league – we prove that every year – and we just went out with a huge target on our backs and won every game,” Huskies coach Dave Doeren said. “That’s a great accomplishment.”

As for Kent State, while there won’t be the bright lights of New Orleans or Miami, there is still a bowl game to be played, the first in 40 years for the team and only the third in the program’s history.

The Golden Flashes are most likely headed to one of three bowls that the MAC has a connection with: the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl or the Bowl (and we really can’t believe we just typed that out).

And despite the disappointment from Friday night’s loss, there is still so much for the team, the university and their alumni to be proud of following a season that no one expected and one that won’t fade from memory for a long time.

“The players in our locker room and the coaches in our locker room have made this entire season special with a tremendous belief system and a never quit attitude,” Hazell said. “It is a very, very tight locker room and I can’t put into words how proud I am of this football team and the organization.”

(Photo by The Beacon Journal)

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