The Western Michigan Broncos (5-4, 3-2 MAC) and the Kent State Golden Flashes (2-7, 1-4 MAC) met in Kalamazoo for a combined Senior Night and Salute to Veterans night. Each team face about a dozen injuries each, but the incredible level of competition seemed to prove otherwise. Kent State had every intention of denying Western Michigan bowl eligibility, but the Broncos prevailed 48-20.
Reece Goddard took over the reigns from the injured Jon Wassink, who will be out the remainder of the season. Whether it was inaccurate passing or receiver drops, Goddard had a rough game. He completed just eight of his 19 attempts, including missing each of his first five passes. The Broncos netted 97 passing yards, most of which came from Keishawn Watson. Watson caught three passes for 33 yards. Alex Mussat and Brendan Tabone stepped in for a few quarterback reps each, but neither attempt any passes.
Western Michigan looked downright scary running the ball, despite missing Jamauri Bogan, Davon Tucker, and LeVante Bellamy. Jarvion Franklin burned through the Golden Flash defense with 191 rushing yards on 22 carries, including a touchdown. Franklin was relieved by Matt Falcon, the highly-touted red-shirt freshman. Ra'Sean Davie also saw playing time as the third-string running back, earning himself a touchdown.
Josh Grant was superb on special teams, making all five of his extra points and two field goals. He made 22- and 42-yard field goals,but missed from 38 yards away. Austin Regan made the sixth extra point. Derrick Mitchell punted for the Broncos, nailing four of his seven punts inside the 20-yard line. Mitchell averaged over 45 yards per punt. Darius Phillips did manage another 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, but his return was called back for holding. On the punt defense, Western Michigan’s Najee Clayton forced a fumble from punter Derek Adams, which A.J. Thomas returned for a Bronco touchdown.
George Bollas proved to be an efficient passer for the Golden Flashes. Bollas completed 11 passes for 102 yards on 22 attempts. He threw two interceptions and no touchdowns to the correct team. While most of Kent State’s passing yardage came from short, quick passes, George Bollas was unafraid of throwing the deep ball. Mike Carrigan led the Golden Flashes with 42 yards on a single receptions.
Kent State was surprisingly good running the ball as well. Putting up a collective 162 yards on the ground does not give credit to the impact those yards had on the game. Justin Rankin and George Bollas double-teamed for a highly potent option attack. Kent State seemed to will the ball down the field on each carry. Justin Rankin finished with 67 yards on 14 carries. Dustin Crum checked into the game for some garbage time at quarterback, but used his legs for a few big gains and a touchdown. Crum led the Golden Flashes with 80 rushing yards on three carries.
Kent State showed excellent awareness on special teams, limiting Darius Phillips to short gains on kick and punt returns. Erik Simpson recovered Phillips’ fumble on a punt return, setting Kent State up for a touchdown. Shane Hynes converted two of his three extra points for the Golden Flashes, but did not attempt any field goals. Derek Adams covered punting duties seven times for Kent State, placing one punt inside the 20-yard line. George Bollas attempted two other punts, netting only 58 collective yards.
Western Michigan opened the game with a 92-yard drive, capped off with a one-yard sneak from Reece Goddard. Kent State did not have any time to respond, as Robert Spillane intercepted a George Bollas pass. Spillane took the interception 35 yards into the endzone to extend the Bronco lead. Darius Phillips fumbled a crucial punt return, giving Kent State prime position for a 21-yard touchdown run by Justin Rankin. Justin Rankin would strike again shortly with a four-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 14 each. To close out the first quarter, Jarvion Franklin broke free on a 72-yard touchdown run to regain the lead.
The second quarter was a closely-matched defensive battle. Late in the quarter, Western Michigan’s Josh Grant nailed in a 22-yard field goal. Darius Phillips denied Kent State any points on a 43-yard pick-six of his own. Western Michigan took a 31-14 lead into halftime.
After more tight defense coming out of the halftime break, Josh Grant hit another field goal for the Broncos from 42 yards out. Kent State’s attempt to score came up short again on a fumbled hand-off attempt. Drake Spears recovered the ball for the Broncos. Early in the fourth quarter, Western Michigan pressured and stripped the ball from punter Derek Adams. A.J. Thomas recovered the ball and ran in 23 yards for a Bronco touchdown.
Western Michigan’s Ra'Sean Davie scored on a 46-yard touchdown run near the end of the game. Kent State proved they were not finished when Dustin Crum scampered 58 yard for a touchdown.
Western Michigan (6-4, 4-2 MAC) will be on the road for their next two games against the Northern Illinois Huskies (6-3, 4-1 MAC) and Toledo Rockets (8-2, 5-1 MAC). The Broncos are still in the running for the MAC West title, although they will need some help. Western Michigan is now bowl eligible, although another win will go a long way to ensuring a bowl bid.
Kent State (2-8, 1-5 MAC) will only have two games remaining, the next of which will be hosting the Central Michigan Chippewas (5-4, 3-2 MAC).