Kent State scored 17 unanswered points in four minutes of game time, which proved to be the difference.
Sophomore Matthew Trickett added his 23rd field goal of the season to give the Flashes a 17-14 lead with about a minute left in the first half.
With less than a minute to play in the half, junior cornerback Keith Sherald Jr. plucked Eastern Michigan quarterback Mike Glass’s pass out of the air with one hand near the Kent State 25-yard line. Four plays later, junior quarterback Dustin Crum scored from four yards out on his second rushing touchdown of the half.
Senior defensive back Jamal Parker ran the second half kickoff back for a 96-yard touchdown to extend the Kent State lead to 31-14.
The Flashes went on to win 34-26 to secure bowl eligibility for the first time since 2012. The team finished the season with a 6-6, 5-3 Mid-American Conference record.
Kent State won, despite Glass throwing for a career-high 386 yards on 29-for-37 passing. He added three touchdowns, but threw two costly interceptions to Sherald.
“Glass has done a lot this season, and he’s really given opposing defenses a tough time,” coach Sean Lewis said. “Obviously, there were some times today that he got the better of us, but our kids made the necessary adjustments and continued to fight.”
Leading 31-26 with 7:53 left, Kent State’s “FlashFast” offense did something it has struggled with all season.
It slowed down and used the clock to the Flashes’ advantage.
True freshman Joachim Bangda replaced injured sophomore Xavier Williams on the drive. In the previous two games, Bangda had a combined 12 carries for 63 yards. On the final drive, he carried the ball nine times for 46 yards. He picked up three first downs, and Kent State held the ball for over six minutes and made Eastern Michigan use all three of its timeouts.
“Will [Matthews] and Xavier [Williams] both got banged up,” Lewis said. “We pride ourselves on being one of the best staffs in the country in situational football. That’s four-minute offense we had to bleed the clock.”
Trickett made a 24-yard field goal to extend Kent State’s lead to 34-26, and the Eagles got the ball back with 1:31 left.
Glass completed two passes of over 20 yards on the drive, but on 2nd-and-6 from the Kent State 24-yard line, he threw a low pass that Sherald dove for and intercepted to seal the Flashes’ win.
“[After the interception] I blacked out,” Sherald said. “I just knew we were going bowling. It’s crazy, man.”
Sherald anchored Kent State’s secondary after Parker was ejected with about four minutes left in the third quarter because of a targeting call.
“Jamal’s a big loss,” Sherald said. “After the Toledo loss, he sent us a group chat that said we were going 6-6. He left the game today. He’s an alpha on our team. We just said we needed some guys to step up, and I just made a play at the end.”
“This is a team that right now we’re given everything we’ve got, and all of our games have been close,” linebacker Matt Bahr said. “We’ve had the toughest non-conference schedule of anybody, and we’ve fought with the big dogs. There’s nobody better than Dustin Crum at quarterback in my opinion.”
From a backup quarterback on a 2-10 team last season to leading a team to three straight one possession wins, and its first bowl eligible season since 2012, Crum and the Flashes certainly have a case to play in a bowl game.
Contact Ian Kreider at firstname.lastname@example.org.