An injury was supposed to keep sophomore running back Eugene Jarvis out of Kent State's season opener at Iowa State on Thursday, but he entered the game when his replacement—Darren Rogers suffered a first quarter shoulder injury. All he did was rush for 113 yards and scored the touchdown that gave the Golden Flashes all the points they would need in a 23-14 victory over host Iowa State at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa.
"Really, we were planning on not playing Eugene unless we had something happen like we did with Darren Rogers," said Kent State head coach Doug Martin, who recorded his first ever win over a BCS conference opponent.
Despite his 5-foot-5, 158-pound frame, Jarvis has now run for over 100 yards in two games against BCS conference opponents.
"Eugene Jarvis is a winner," Martin said. "We knew that watching him play high school ball. I don't care how tall he is; you can win with him. I don't like to talk about their stature; I like to talk about their heart."
It wasn't just Jarvis that elevated his game in the victory. Several players made key plays and the entire squad performed the way the coaching staff hoped they would when they challenged the team to finish what it started over nine months ago when they finished the 2006 season with a 6-6 record.
"I'm really proud of our football team and really excited about our football program," Martin said. "We were knocking on the door last year and we weren't able to finish. I'm really proud of them for doing it tonight. This first step only guarantees us one win; but it's a big step."
Things didn't start out smoothly for the Golden Flashes (1-0) as they went three-and-out on their first two possessions and after recovering an Iowa State fumble at the Kent State 36-yard line, they moved all the way to the Cyclones' 11-yard line where Rogers fumbled the ball away. It was this play that forced Rogers out of the game.
After forcing Iowa State to punt on the ensuing possession, Jarvis entered the game and quickly recorded 38 rushing yards on just four carries on a drive that ended with a punt at the Iowa State 49-yard line. But Jarvis' presence sparked an offense that was limited to just 56 yards on 11 plays in the first quarter.
"I just went out and tried to help my team as best as possible," Jarvis said. "My leg bothered me a little bit, but not too much. I just came to the game as if I was going to play some quarters and I did."
After Iowa State kicker Bret Culbertson missed a 44-yard field goal, the Golden Flashes drove 72 yards in four plays capped by a 42-yard pass from quarterback Julian Edelman to redshirt freshman Leneric Muldrow, who used nothing but fingertips to score the first points of the 2007 season.
"Coach Martin tried to settle me down," said Edelman who threw an interception in the end zone and missed a receiver for another score earlier in the game. "On those throws (earlier), I under threw them a little. All camp we emphasized getting in the red zone and scoring. We practiced that a lot and feel when we are in the red zone we should get some points out of it."
Nate Reed's extra point was blocked but the Golden Flashes held a 6-0 lead with 4:33 remaining in the first half.
That lead was short-lived as wide receiver R.J. Sumrall returned the ensuing kickoff 41 yards and the Cyclones moved 56 yards in seven plays. J.J. Bass scored from 13 yards out to give Iowa State a 7-6 lead with 1:12 remaining in the half. Bass rushed for 133 yards on 22 carries in his first action at Iowa State.
Bass is the first Cyclone to rush for over 100 yards in his first career game since Sept. 9, 1989 when Blaise Bryant carried 27 times for 213 yards against Ohio University.
"I thought there were some things Bass did well," said new Iowa State head coach Gene Chizik. "I thought J.J. showed some flashes of doing good things, with it being his first college football game."
Kent State was determined to go into the break with the lead. Senior defensive back Jack Williams bolted 57 yards on the kickoff and six plays later Reed booted a 24-yard field goal with just two seconds on the clock.
"I think our kids can win regardless of what the score is or how much time is left," Martin said. "They never had a doubt tonight; they fully expected to win this game and so did the coaching staff."
Iowa State (0-1) took the opening kickoff of the second half and drove 58 yards in just five plays to recapture the lead, 14-9, with 12:59 remaining in the third. On the drive, quarterback Bret Meyer complete 4 of 4 passes for 55 yards including a 16-yard scoring strike to Todd Blythe.
Two series' later Jarvis scored from two yards out for a 16-14 lead and then the defense stepped up.
Redshirt freshman safety Brian Lainhart picked off a Meyer pass and returned it 50 yards to the Iowa State 8-yard line. Two plays later Edelman—who rushed 18 times for 81 yards—scored on a keeper from the Iowa State three.
"That was a play we went over in practice," said Lainhart, who saw his first action of his career at Kent State. "The time came and I just tried to make a play. I kind of ran out of gas, I'm not going to lie."
Reed's extra point gave the Golden Flashes a 23-14 lead with just over 15 minutes left to play.
Iowa State's last chance to score came after a fair catch interference call gave the Cyclones the ball at the Kent State 29-yard line with 6:33 left to play. But again, the Golden Flashes defense held and Culbertson's 47-yard field goal attempt bounced off the left upright.
Kent State then ran out the final 5:36 of the game.
"This was a huge win for our program," Edelman said. "We set the foundation last year with six wins, but we weren't content."
Williams, one of the elder statesmen on the team, relished the victory.
"It was a lot of hard work," he said. "It finally just paid off. We believed in each other and finally got it done."
The victory was Kent State's first win over a BCS conference team since 1987 when the Golden Flashes defeated Kansas. It was the Golden Flashes' first season opening win over a non-conference opponent since beating Northeast Louisiana in 1975.