The Kent State football team had the ball with under 10 minutes and were looking to drive down field to break the 20-20 tie against Bowling Green State University.
An illegal below-the-waist block made it first & 23 from the Flashes own 23-yard line.
It seemed like it could have been a drive killer, KSU had nine penalties on the day and several of them had stalled whatever momentum the Flashes had going.
But that’s when fifth-year quarterback Dustin Crum stepped up.
On the next play the Falcons brought the heat, and three defenders came rushing towards Crum. One even got his arms wrapped around him. But Crum managed to slip away, and rolled right before heading up field for an eight-yard gain.
After a short run, it was third & 13. Crum stepped back to throw, and a BGSU defender came gunning towards him. Crum simply side-stepped out of harm’s way and threw a 25-yard pass to junior wide receiver Ja’Shaun Poke.
“It was actually a broken play,” Crum said. “It wasn’t exactly drawn up that way. I was playing on the fly there a little bit, I was just trying to find my playmakers and let them make plays for me.”
The Flashes continued to drive down field, and faced a third & six at the 11-yard line. From the shotgun, Crum faked the handoff and ran towards the end zone. He once again side-stepped a defender and was in. Touchdown KSU.
“We gotta get some things going sooner rather than later,” Crum said. “But when it comes down to a time like that, the guys find a way, and we rely on each other. We just find a way to get it done.”
The Flashes took the lead and wouldn’t give it back, winning their Mid-American Conference opener 27-20.
KSU improves to 2-3 overall (1-0 MAC), and the Falcons fall to 2-3 (0-1 MAC) after upsetting Minnesota last week. The Flashes are tied for first in the East Division with Ohio and Miami, the only other East teams to win a conference game this week. BGSU joins Buffalo and Akron in last place.
“Every single week anyone can beat anyone,” coach Sean Lewis said. “You’re going to have to scrap and fight and find a way to win. And our kids did that today.”
Crum completed 15 of his 28 pass attempts for 134 yards. He had a season-high 93 yards rushing with one touchdown.
Crum said his rushing performance is a combination of looking to run the ball and improvising when needed.
“When things break down, you just gotta use your feet,” he said. “You have to try and extend plays, whether it’s down the field or just making sure you aren’t taking sacks.”
Lewis called Crum “wiry.”
“He’s kind of slippery,” Lewis said. “I don’t quite understand it, but he finds a way. Maybe it’s that engineering degree, maybe he understands angles better than I do. He does a great job extending plays, keeping his eyes downfield, and he does an incredible job creating and seeing completions.”
Crum was dialed in to start the game. He completed three straight passes to sophomore Dante Cephas to move the Flashes 33 yards down the field. Sophomore running back Marquez Cooper took over from there, getting three first down runs and ending the opening drive with a four-yard rushing touchdown.
Cooper led KSU’s run game with a career-high 120 yards and two touchdowns.
Graduate student running back Xavier Williams had 49 yards. Williams helped the Flashes get into the redzone to set up Crum’s winning touchdown run with 31 straight rushing yards.
Lewis said that every one of the team’s running backs are “incredibly unselfish.”
“If they were selfish individuals, it wouldn’t work,” he said. “Those kids do an unbelievable job every single day knowing that the strength of the room is all of them together. Everyone checks their ego. They drop the e so we can g-o go, go, go.”
The Flashes are the best rushing team in the MAC, with an average of about 242 rushing yards per game. They came into the game as the 14th best run team in the FBS.
The offensive line didn’t allow a sack today after the Falcons had five sacks against Minnesota.
Lewis said the team has been able to build some great depth at that position.
“[The depth] allows us to be able to move guys around,” Lewis said. “And play a lot of people. The proof is in the pudding with the work they do. At the end of the day we got a bunch of big guys up there that play the game the right way, and we’re able to lean on some guys and run and finish the right way in the red zone, which ultimately was the difference in this game.”
KSU’s defense kept the Falcons’ out of the end zone in the first half. They have held opponents to an average of about 11 points per game in the first two quarters.
The Flashes held BGSU to a field goal on its opening drive, after two false starts all but ended the drive.
Graduate student linebacker A.J. Musolino sacked senior quarterback Matt McDonald with the Falcons driving into KSU territory to help hold them to another field goal.
The Flashes’ defense would force BGSU to punt, and the special teams would force a turnover on downs after the Falcons attempted a fake punt pass that went over the head of a wide open junior defensive lineman Karl Brooks.
The failed fake would set KSU up with great field position, but freshman kicker Andrew Glass would miss a 33-yard field goal, and the score was 13-6 at halftime.
BGSU took the second half opening kickoff 76 yards, and five plays later sophomore wide receiver Tyrone Broden caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from McDonald to tie it up.
McDonald, who is second in the MAC in passing yards per game (229.8) and completion percentage (66.3), completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 263 yards and a touchdown.
Graduate student wide receiver Nykeim Johnson would have a good kickoff return of his own, and set the Flashes up on their 43-yard line. Two penalties would force KSU to go 3 and out.
“We have to give ourselves a chance to win,” Lewis said. “And when you have those big chunk penalties, that’s not the standard. We have to clean that up. That’s something we can control.”
KSU is the third most penalized team in the MAC, with 35 this season.
The Falcons then drove down the field and took the lead on a 12-yard rushing touchdown by freshman running back Nick Mosley.
BGSU was held to 55 rushing yards by the Flashes’ defense. They entered the game with the worst rushing offense in the FBS, only averaging 45.2 yards per game.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” Lewis said. “They tried to rush the ball 26 times. They only got a total of 55. A huge effort there. It starts by finding a way to stop the run, and our guys did that.”
The Flashes would respond by driving 75-yards and scoring on Cooper’s second touchdown of the day.
On the first play of the Falcons’ ensuing drive, graduate student safety Nico Bolden would rip the ball from redshirt freshman tight end Levi Gazarek and redshirt senior safety C.J. Holmes would recover.
Lewis said his defense did a “heck of a job.”
“We’re very opportunistic,” Lewis said. “We’re generating turnovers, winning the turnover battle, that’s huge. And when it came down to crunch time, we’ve been talking about opportunities. Learn from the opportunities we had, learn from those moments where we can capitalize. Our defense did that.”
KSU was unable to pick up a first down and would be forced to punt it right back.
Two sacks by the Flashes’ defense on BGSU’s next drive would help get the ball back to the offense.
Crum said seeing the defense make those types of stands is “awesome.”
“It’s a team game for a reason,” he said. “No one can do it by themselves, no one pass for the team can do it by itself. It takes three phases and that’s what it takes to win games, especially in tight games during conference play.”
KSU had a season-high five sacks, each by a different player.
The Flashes’ offense would once again fail to pick up a first down, and the Falcons had a chance to take the lead early in the fourth.
McDonald drove his team into the redzone, but Musolino would jump in front of the pass and intercept it.
“The pick was a combination of guys doing their job all game,” Musolino said. “It was a good call. The coaches put us in a good spot. And I was at the right place at the right time.”
Lewis called Musolino a smart player.
“[Musolino] knows a lot of different positions,” Lewis said. “And he’s able to step up at a big time. He did a great job disguising that look and getting right where he needed to be and capitalizing and making the play.”
KSU’s defense entered the game second in the NCAA in forced turnovers with 12. They added two more to that today.
Musolino said that turnovers are “something the team emphasizes in practice.”
“We did it all of fall camp,” he said. “It’s not like we just come out to games and create turnovers, it’s something we’re doing in practice.”
After Crum’s incredible drive to take the lead, the KSU defense held strong after letting the Falcons move into the Flashes’ territory, turning the ball over on downs.
BGSU would get the ball back with under two minutes to go, but the defense once again stopped them on fourth down to get KSU its first conference win of the season.
“We want to win the fourth quarter,” Lewis said. “We want to go harder, longer and be a tougher team, both mentally and physically. We want to wear out our opponents, and the defense did a great job doing that. We shut them out, and we’re able to fly to the football. They’re going to run to the football, and they’re going to give relentless effort and great things are happening because of that.”
The Flashes next play the University of Buffalo, which is 2-3 overall (0-1 MAC), at Dix Stadium on Saturday Oct. 9 at 7 p.m.
Lewis said he can’t wait for next week’s game.
“We’re looking forward to getting this thing packed and getting the corners filled for the first ever primetime MACtion football game on a Saturday.”
Jimmy Oswald is a sports editor. Contact him at email@example.com.