KENT, Ohio - As it seems with every game this year, the fate of the Kent State football game came down to the last play of the game.
Eastern Michigan quarterback Alex Gillett dropped back, scrambled in his backfield and unleashed a Hail Mary pass from his 45-yard line. The ball fell out of play behind the end zone. Incomplete. The Flashes won a back and forth match 28-22 and improved to 5-6 on the year and 4-4 in the Mid-American Conference.
"It's been fun, to say the least," Kent State head coach Darrell Hazell laughed. "My heart is in my throat. It's hard to get in those situations when close games can go either way. Our team just keeps battling. It's fun to watch...once it's over."
Good and bad special teams was the story of this game, which included an Eastern Michigan's punt return, a blocked Kent State punt and a blocked Kent State field goal. Ironically, none was more profitable for the Flashes than their blocked field goal.
Junior kicker Freddy Cortez lined up to tie his field goal long of 46 yards for the third time when Eastern Michigan's Brandon Slater blocked the kick. Eastern Michigan's Dominique Rouse rushed to the ball that was rolling towards the Eagles' end zone.
Senior wide receiver Chris Gilbert said he followed the ball just to make sure Eastern Michigan did not pick up the ball up and return it. Inside Eastern Michigan's 10-yard line, Rouse made contact with the ball, creating a fumble. Gilbert dove on it, putting Kent State three yards out from a touchdown. The following play, Spencer Keith ran it three yards for the touchdown.
Gilbert said he knew the rule that the ball is live after a field goal block from watching a NFL game.
"I remember a couple years ago-I think it was the Raiders-he tried to fall on the ball," Gilbert said. "I forget who they were playing, and they picked it up. That was playing through my head."
The turnover was the boost the Flashes needed to wake them up from their sluggish first quarter.
It was not the only encouragement the Flashes received. Junior quarterback Keith may not have played his best statistical game, but did play show his grit in the third quarter. Sprinting for the first down marker, Keith was tackled by his legs. Keith's momentum carried him forward, crashing his head into an Eastern Michigan's player's knee.
Keith only missed one snap before strapping on the helmet and jogging back out to the huddle.
Tyshon Goode said seeing Keith come back out gained his respect for Keith.
"It meant a lot and showed a lot of character for him to come back and finish the game like that," Goode said.
A couple possessions later, Keith threw a 70-yard touchdown pass to put Kent State ahead 20-19. The drive totaled 96 yards on three plays, Kent State's longest offensive drive of the season.
Hazell said he has been telling Keith all year to take a lick of the chin and that his team would rally around him. Hazell said he was proud of Keith, and sure enough, his team did rally around him, getting ahead of Eastern Michigan and denying them of coming back.
The Flashes need a win Friday in Philadelphia against Temple to become bowl eligible. Kickoff between Kent State and Temple is scheduled for noon at Lincoln Financial Field.
Junior quarterback Spencer Keith completed 11 of 25 passes for 176 yards, one touchdown and one rushing touchdown.
Junior wide receiver Tyshon Goode led the team with five receptions for 129 yards and one touchdown. With the 129 yards, Goode moved into 5th as most career receiving yards for Kent State receivers.
Sophomore Roosevelt Nix played an impressive game with four of his six tackles for a total loss of nine yards. Roosevelt now has a career total of 37 tackles for a loss, moving him to ninth among Kent State all-time leaders. Roosevelt also had a sack, moving his career total to 14.5 (ranked seventh in Kent State history)
The Flashes are now on a four game winning, their first since 2006 and first four game-winning streak through conference games since 2004.
If the Flashes win next week to become bowl eligible, it will be their first time eligible since 2006.