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October 28, 2012

Golden Flashes knock off Scarlet Knights

Follow KentStateReport.com on Twitter | Givler | Birmingham

Kent State has had a football program for 90 years and yesterday in New Brunswick (N.J.) they knocked off a nationally ranked opponent for the first time ever. The Golden Flashes traveled to undefeated and 15th ranked Rutgers and left with a win and some national respect as they upset the Scarlet Knights on homecoming weekend.

It was a win that Darrell Hazel and his team knew they had in them, according to the second year head coach of the Golden Flashes. It's also the third straight win for Hazell against former employers; he was an assistant coach at Western Michigan, Army and Rutgers.

"This is a great win for our program. We came on the road against a very tough opponent. We knew they were going to be tough, and they did a great job prior to playing us," Hazell said post-game. "I thought our kids prepared like crazy this week. We made enough plays early in the game to keep those guys off balance. Rutgers kept fighting back, and our guys kept fighting them off."

Kent State (7-1, 4-0 MAC) trailed 3-0, but took a 7-3 lead after a one-yard touchdown catch by Zack Hitchens, who reeled in a Spencer Keith pass. The score would stay 7-3 heading into the second quarter, and it's at that point the Golden Flashes defense, the nation's best in forcing turnovers, made their impact.

The game shifted decidedly to Kent State started early in the second, at a time when it appeared Rutgers had taken momentum for themselves. Lorenzo Waters blocked a Freddy Cortez field goal attempt that would have given the Golden Flashes a 10-3 lead, and the Knights took over at the KSU 29. As it turned out, the field goal would have been a preferable option. On the next play, Kent State's Mark Fackler intercepted a Gary Nova pass and took it to the house, silencing the crowd and putting Kent up 14-3.

On the next Rutgers possession, Nova moved his offense into Kent State territory, but threw the second of his six interceptions - this time it was Leon Green - at the Golden Flashes seven-yard line, and Green returned it 48-yards to the Rutgers forty-five. Seven plays later, the nation's leading touchdown scorer, Dri Archer, scampered into the endzone from seven yards out and in the blink of an eye, Kent State was up 21-3 in front of a stunned crowd of 49,345.

Rutgers made it 21-10 with a score in the waning seconds of the first half, but as they have all year, Kent State found a way to bounce back. After trading three-and-outs to open the second half, the Golden Flashes dinked and dunked their way into the red-zone, and with first and goal from the Rutgers five, used three consecutive handoffs to Trayion Durham, the final a three-yard touchdown run, to push the lead to 28-10.

Nova responded with a nine-play, 72 yard drive that saw the Scarlet Knights' quarterback complete six passes, and it appeared that Rutgers offense had righted itself, and with four minutes remaining in the third quarter, the score had changed again to 28-17.

Kent State's defense made sure that the momentum was short lived. Consecutive Rutgers possessions ended with turnovers - a fumble recovery and interception by Kent's Sidney Saulter - and the Golden Flashes offense did enough to take advantage, led by their oft-maligned senior signal caller.

Spencer Keith started the fourth quarter for Kent State's offense with back-to-back carries, one for 24 yards and the next for ten, and put the Flashes in scoring range. From the Rutgers 27-yard line, it was Archer for six-yards, Durham for six-yards and then Archer for another five as the thunder and lightning backfield at Kent State took the offense to the 15-yard line. After lulling the defense to sleep, Keith found freshman Josh Boyle for a 15-yard score on the next play, and it was clear the upset was close to becoming a reality. Kent State, with 11:30 remaining in the game, held a 35-17 lead against the unblemished Knights.

Rutgers struck back just a minute later after a 6-play, 75 yard drive that took only :55 seconds off the clock, but a failed two-point conversion left them trailing by 12, 35-23. After recovering a Durham fumble with six minutes left, Rutgers hopes for a comeback ended with the final interception of a Nova pass, senior linebacker Luke Wollet getting this one inside of the Flashes 20 yard line.

Kent State ran out the clock from there, and as the scoreboard read all zeros, it also read Kent State 35, Rutgers 23. The biggest win in school history was complete, and the hard work of the week leading up to this game had paid off.

"Preparation had a lot to do with it," said Fackler, whose second quarter pick (the first of his three-year career) turned the tide Kent State's direction. "We watched a lot of film this week. We dropped some of our inside guys, and I just followed (Nova's) eyes."

Durham, who scored his eighth touchdown of the season, finished the day with a new career-high in yardage; and his 22 carry, 131 yard effort was a major reason Kent State was able to dominate time of possession. On the day, Kent State had the ball for fifteen more minutes than Rutgers.

Up next for the Golden Flashes is a home game against rival Akron for the Wagon Wheel.

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