Watch party 2
Kent State football fans sat in front of Water Street Tavern’s big screen to watch the beginning of the first quarter of the 2021 MAC Championship game against Northern Illinois University on Saturday, Dec. 04, 2021.
 

For the second time in the last nine years, the Kent State football team won the East Mid-American Conference and advanced to the MAC Championship Game to play Northern Illinois.

To celebrate the team’s conference success, Water Street Tavern, located at 132 S. Water St., opened its doors at 11:30 a.m. Saturday to about 25 Kent State students and fans eager to watch the game's kickoff at noon.

“I’m glad they had this event,” senior Alyssa Tallarico said. “If you couldn’t make it to the game, at least you could come here and have somewhere to watch it. Everyone looked like they were having a great time.”

“Our owner, Mike Beder, planned this event, and he works closely with Kent State, so he’s the one who sets everything up,” said general manager Dan Friend. “It’s been great watching the team play. Every Thursday coach Sean Lewis and sometimes some players come to get interviewed. They’re all great people, and I really enjoy talking to them.”

 

The bar shared an ad for the event on social media, promising “drink specials, giveaways and more.” During the first half of the game, Friend handed out Christmas Ale glasses from Great Lakes Brewing Company.

Northern Illinois University started with the ball in the first quarter and was on the board six minutes in with a field goal. Only twenty seconds later, patrons stood up to cheer and clap after the Flashes fought back with a 75-yard touchdown.

But the mood sank when the referees called an ineligible receiver downfield penalty on the play, which was met with many yells and boos as fans hit the tables and roughly sat back onto their chairs. 

The Huskies led 10-0 by the end of the first quarter, but spirits remained high in the bar.

“Kent still has a chance,” senior Olivia Stark said. “This was definitely a bad start, but I think we have the potential to win. I predict that Kent is going to come back and pull through with a win.”

Jack Murphy, who graduated in 2017 and arrived halfway through the first quarter, said the team’s performance this season has been the best he has seen since his time at Kent.

“I wish the team played this way when I was in college,” Murphy said. “This is pretty exciting to watch.”

Almost 20 more people filed into the bar throughout the second quarter and filled the tables around the big screen in the back.

Northern Illinois controlled the ball for most of the second quarter and rushed a second touchdown with eight minutes to go, expanding Kent’s deficit to 17-0. 

It was looking like another scoreless quarter for Kent, but then with 19 seconds left of the quarter, safety Nico Bolden intercepted a pass from Northern Illinois quarterback Rocky Lombardi.

Watch Party Brewing

During the first half of the game, general manager Dan Friend handed out “Merry Christmas Ale” glasses from Great Lakes Brewing Company. The event was advertised on social media to have “drink specials, giveaways and more.”

Many fans in attendance sat on the edge of their chairs or stood up to watch the final plays of the first half, waiting to see if KSU would put points on the scoreboard.

But the clock ran out before the Flashes could get into Northern Illinois territory. 

Kyle Cheney, a '94 graduate, hoped Kent would carry this momentum into the second half of the game.

“We had some mistakes in the first half and a few opportunities for long passes that we just barely missed,” Cheney said. “But if we can clean up our mistakes, we’ll be alright.” 

Kent State scored its first points of the game after Andrew Glass kicked a 41-yard field goal four minutes into the third quarter. 

The Huskies had possession of the ball until four minutes were left of the fourth quarter. Quarterback Dustin Crum’s first pass after Northern Illinois' punt was intercepted and ran in for a touchdown.

Now, patrons’ predictions for the game’s winner began to change, and people even started to leave the bar.

“The game is looking rough,” said Water Street Tavern bouncer and Kent State senior Tyler Hare. "During the first couple drives of the game, people were really excited. But as the scores have gotten progressively worse for us, more people have started to leave.”

The Huskies led 24-3 going into the final seconds of the quarter, but the Flashes were able to get their first touchdown of the game with a 17-yard pass to wide receiver Nykeim Johnson.

The energy in the bar changed again as the possibility for a Kent State win opened up.

“The game is not over yet,” Tallarico said. “I have faith we can come back. We may win, but it will be tight.”

About 30 people were left watching the game at the beginning of the final quarter.

Lombardi rushed five yards to score a touchdown with eleven minutes left in the fourth quarter, bringing the score to 31-10. Four minutes later, he rushed for another touchdown. 

Kent did come back with its second touchdown of the game ten plays into its next possession. 

With no time left in the quarter, Kent State ended the afternoon with a seven-yard touchdown pass to quarterback Collin Schlee.

Northern Illinois won the championship 41-23. 

Despite the final results, fans congratulated the Flashes on their strong performance all season.

“Making it to the MAC Championship is a really big deal,” Cheney said. “The team has had a super successful season, and they should be proud of themselves.”

Isabella Schreck is a reporter. Contact her at ischreck@kent.edu

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