The MAC East champions have exhausted the national supply of superlatives as a 31-24 win at Bowling Green puts them at 10-1 on the season, nine wins in a row. The problem is, they're not done yet.
Today was Kent State's 10th win of the season, which is a thing they've never done before in their history. It's Darrell Hazell's 15th win as Kent State head coach in two seasons. By comparison, Kent State won 15 total games in the 1990s. You'll need to go back to 1987-88 for the last time Kent State had more than 10 wins combined in back-to-back seasons.
And now they're going to play in their first-ever MAC Championship Game. Northern Illinois, your playdate awaits.
You may have noticed — and some did — that writing and posting ranged from light to nonexistent both here and on our stupid Twitter account, mostly because I had to make the trip to this game at Doyt Perry Stadium, keep the phone in the pocket, and just enjoy the experience. It was the correct choice, in retrospect, because that may have been the best pure football game in the MAC this season.
It featured everything: teams making plays, then mistakes. Leads were built and crumbled to the earth. Fans of both schools attended in numbers. About 150 miles from home, Kent State's fans either packed into cars or busses or hovercrafts or got a piggyback ride from Trayion Durham or hid inside Tim Erjavec's hair. We sat a couple sections next to them, on the Kent State side, because more seats were available there, and our area was still mostly orange and brown. Scattered about our area were some parents of KSU football players. And not to make this sappy and sentimental, but sitting there was also the right call, in retrospect.
The last time I attended a big game for BGSU was the 2003 MAC Championship Game. Ben Roethlisberger broke my heart and my spirit. In this game, Dri Archer effectively ruined BGSU's season, and perhaps my mood a little bit, but as I sat in close proximity to Flashes faithful, most who never enjoyed a team like this, I couldn't feel sad or crushed. I don't think it made television, but one sappy image was that of Jake Dooley, senior defensive end, who fell to his knees in joy following Luke Wollet's game-winning, division-clinching interception in the end zone. Alas for my team, but excelsior to theirs.
Perhaps the fact that both teams played extremely well also helped my mood, and hopefully those of Falcons fans too. Games with championship implications played at a high level on regional TV and (ESPN3 for the rest of the country) can only improve the conference. Sure, they could've made this catch, or not fumbled this ball, or made a better tackle in that situation ... but they did "hold" Kent State to 31 points, their lowest mark in five games, and rally from a 10-0 deficit to take the lead.
It wasn't the sheer amount of points, but the method by which they ran downfield, sideways, and seemingly through tacklers to score instant touchdowns. This run by Archer was not the game-winning play, but it became apparent what KSU was going to do with a player like this. Bowling Green could not and would not match the running game. 241 yards on 17 carries was a career high for Archer. They didn't even need Trayion Durham to bust through the defensive line to move the chains, nor was he really able to.
And forget about what I said yesterday regarding the X-factor of the game being whoever passes better. Kent State passed for 91 yards; BG 355. All that means is I don't know anything about football.
But speaking of passing ... where'd that air game from BG come from? Looking back at Schilz's numbers, three INTs is a lot, none were his fault. One was tipped at the line, one was bobbled by a receiver and the third was a last-ditch effort at the end of the game. Chris Gallon was open all day, hauling in 10 balls for 213 yards and streaked for touchdowns of 72 and 81 yards, and both were plays immediately following a long Dri Archer touchdown run. So even if #1 for Kent State made the difference, to say the least BGSU countered with an equally impressive score.
The other Falcon that impressed me was Shaun Joplin. Looking more like his old man every day, not only did he bring in a great long fade route pass, but served as the reason Bowling Green had a chance to tie it in the final minute. He made some really tough catches, including a leaping grab in the middle of the field in which he needed every inch of that vertical to reach Schilz's pass. He gave them a glimmer of hope.
But a glimmer was all it would be. Now at 7-4, Bowling Green will play a weird game in Buffalo next Friday in Columbus Crew Stadium in an effort to beef up the bowl resume. With that defense they oughta be able to hang with anyone ranked in the 20s and finish off a season that surpassed my expectations and certainly remove any residual heat from the seat of Dave Clawson's coaching chair. With games like this, even though BG has lost the last four times I've seen them in person, it makes me realize I need to go to more games in person, because they're cheap and accessible, and they don't really suck anymore.
But for Kent State, the only bad thing that can happen next week is if they lose to well-bandaged Ohio and have their ranking revoked. But it's a game they don't need as more pressing is preparation for Northern Illinois. However ... why are we looking at the worst-case scenario for the Golden Flashes? Perhaps it's habit. This is the new Kent State football. They will keep going until the season tells them there is no more football, and even then they might sneak in some wins.