Mark Williams sat alone in the left corner of the end zone as a ball from quarterback Dustin Crum zipped toward him. The redshirt sophomore dropped under the slightly underthrown ball and had the very first catch of his college career.
The reception put Kent State’s football team back in the lead, over Eastern Michigan University, with under five minutes to play.
That score would stand as the final, as Kent State defeated EMU 27-23 to open its 2020 conference-only schedule with a win. That extends to five games — a KSU winning streak that began last year.
“We found a way to win, that’s the important thing,” said coach Sean Lewis. “(But there is) a bunch to clean up. Obviously look to the penalties, the turnovers, the missed opportunities in the red zone, our inability to convert on third down. (But we) got some key stops, some key moments and obviously some big scores and moments to find a way to win."
EMU got the ball back with plenty of time, but it was stolen back as EMU quarterback Preston Hutchinson was picked off by junior safety Jeremiah Salaam.
A handful of first downs allowed Crum and the Flashes to run out the clock and defeat the Eagles.
Despite the win, Crum was disappointed with his offense, which stalled out after scoring touchdowns on three of its first four drives.
“(I am) happy to get the win, but frustrated as well,” he said. “It almost feels pathetic letting the game play out the way that it did. I feel like we are much better than we showed tonight, and we will have to be (better) in the coming weeks if we want to continue to win.”
Kent State’s offense was churning from the start of the game, scoring on its first two drives with a 26-yard Crum touchdown to Isaiah McKoy and a one-yard rushing touchdown by Crum.
Kent State would score again, a 30-yard touchdown run by Xavier Williams, and take a 20-9 lead into halftime.
But prior to the end of the first half, the moment swung in EMU’s direction when Crum was picked off in the red zone.
Then the Flashes fell victim to something that would haunt them all night: penalty trouble.
While trying to run a hurry up offense with under two minutes to play, Kent State was slapped with back-to-back penalties that completely stalled its offense.
Those struggles were a signal of more to come, as the Flashes would repeatedly kill drives through penalties in the third quarter. KSU was held scoreless in the third and would finish the game with nine penalties worth 78 yards.
Crum talked what the team needed to do to fix the penalties.
“It’s just an attention to detail things,” he said. “Whether it's in walkthroughs or in practice just constantly focusing and not having a lack of effort. Things like that show when you’re not paying attention to detail, and obviously it showed tonight.”
Luckily for Kent State, the defense stepped up to hold off the Eagles while the offense sputtered.
Though EMU was moving the ball through the air with relative ease, Hutchinson racked up 241 passing yards, but KSU completely stifled the running attack and held the Eagles to just 14 points in the second half.
The defense also provided that crucial late interception by Salaam to seal the game.
The defense was led by team captain Mandela Lawrence-Burke who had a team-high 12 total tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss; sophomore safety Dean Clark who had seven tackles and his first career interception; and senior running back-turned-linebacker Kesean Gamble who led the team in both sacks (2) and tackles for loss (3).
“I was very impressed with the way the defense flew around; they did a great job killing the run,” Lewis said. “But we gotta be better in the back end. We are gonna put those guys in a position, because we know they can do it, to cover in the back end and they need to do that.”
The offense would recover enough to score that final touchdown, and compiled solid production over the course of the game.
Crum was very efficient, finishing the game with 35 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown, 219 passing yards, two touchdowns and an interception on 21-of-29 passing (72.4%) and a quarterback rating of 151.7.
McKoy was Crum’s favorite target, hauling in eight receptions and 104 yards to go along with his touchdown. The pair had several near misses deep down the field, and is even more dangerous than their stats show.
A young wide receiver who stepped up alongside McKoy was redshirt freshman Dante Cephas, who caught six passes for 47 yards. The KSU receiving core was rounded out by Ja’Shaun Poke and Isaac Vance, who had three receptions each.
Also showing some new faces was the backfield. Kent State had young running backs break 70 rushing yards in Marquez Cooper’s 16 carries for 77 yards and Bryan Bradford’s 74 yards on 12 carries.
But the only running back to find the end zone was redshirt junior Xavier Williams, who ran 30 yards untouched to the end zone despite having only seven carries.
“We wanna utilize all the playmakers that we have,” Lewis said. “I feel like we got quite a few playmakers in (the running back) room; we had some young kids step up in the wide receiver room and obviously the tight end room too.”
Kent State showed that it has the talent to compete for a Mid-American Conference title this year, but will have to continue to clean up errors moving forward.
The Flashes’ next opponent is Bowling Green, where they will travel on Tuesday, Nov. 10.
Owen MacMillan is a sports editor. Contact him at email@example.com.
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Hi, I’m Lauren Sasala, a senior journalism student from Toledo. I’m also the editor in chief of The Kent Stater and KentWired this semester. My staff and I are committed to bringing you the most important news about Kent State and the Kent community. We are full-time students and hard-working journalists. While we get support from the student media fee and earned revenue such as advertising, both of those continue to decline. Your generous gift of any amount will help enhance our student experience as we grow into working professionals. Please go here to donate.