If you didn’t see this one, you have to catch the replay.
A more hard-fought battle you will never see. All players from both schools left it all out on the field in an effort to win this game, a game which was so quintessentially college football throughout, right up to the triple zeros.
Both quarterbacks were fantastic but Kent State’s Dustin Crum took his game to a new level tonight, completing 21-of-26 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns. Crum also ran the read-option expertly and added scrambling yards to finish with 147 yards rushing and another touchdown, en route to winning offensive MVP honors.
It’s a night of celebration for Kent State (7-6, 5-3 MAC), a program that secured a bowl game for the first time in its storied 99-year history, and clinched its first winning season since 2012 in their most complete football game of the season. Contributions could be found in all three phases; it was, all told, a total team victory against a very good Utah State squad.
Utah State started the contest sharp on its opening drive, using tempo and a variety of runs and quick passes to march the ball on a ten-play, 75-yard scoring drive, capped by a four-yard touchdown run by Gerold Bright.
Kent State responded quickly, when, on the third-play of the Flashes’ first possession, QB Dustin Crum hit Isaiah McKoy for a 78-yard touchdown pass on a go route. Kent State went on to score 17 points on its first three drives to take a 17-10 first quarter lead.
Kent State’s defensive back Keith Sherald Jr., listed at five-foot-nine, 174 pounds, played as big as anyone one the field in the first quarter. Sherald Jr. played with a physicality and determination that led to some big plays.
After Utah State carved up Kent State’s defense on the first drive, Sherald Jr. stopped Utah State in its tracks on the Aggies second drive by fighting through a block to stop Utah State on a wide receiver screen on third-and-short, forcing a punt.
On Utah State’s third drive, Sherald Jr.’s perfectly-timed, jarring hit on a Utah State wide receiver popped the ball in the air where it was intercepted by Kent State’s Mandela Lawrence-Burke. The interception resulted in a field goal, extending Kent State’s lead to 17-7.
Defensive linemen Theo Majette got into the act on the next drive. With Utah State driving, on a 3rd and 1 from Kent State’s 22-yard line, Majette broke through the line to blow up the Aggies leading rusher Gerold Bright for a 2-yard loss, which held Utah State to a field goal.
Utah State tied the score at 17 in the second quarter by stopping Kent State on 4th and 4 at the Utah 34-yard line, then driving 68-yard for a score on a 25-yard pass from Jordan Love to Siaosi Mariner.
The Aggies were gaining momentum, forcing a Kent State punt at mid field but the ball was muffed by Jordan Nelson and recovered by the Golden Flashes Jamal Hines at the Utah State eight-yard line. Kent State capitalized on the turnover.
Kent State added three more at the end of the second quarter to take a 23-17 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, with the game 26-24 Kent State, Flashes QB Woody Barrett fumbled and the ball was recovered by Utah State, killing a promising drive inside Utah State’s territory. Dustin Crum had left the game two plays earlier after his helmet had come off.
After a Utah State FG, the team traded punts but Utah State’s punt was a disaster as the snap got by the punter, who, in the scramble for the ball, was able to only get off a 12-yard punt. Kent State turned its good fortune into points, capping a two-play, 57-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown run by Will Matthews after Crum hit Antwan Dixon for 53 yards on the drive’s first play.
Kent State made the two-point conversion to take a 34-27 lead.
It’s at about this time that the track meet began in earnest, with the scoring coming in bunches.
Utah State responded with a 57-yard touchdown on a sweep by WR Deven Thompkins which was keyed by two of the best blocks you’ll see, both by Aggie running back Jaylen Warren. Warren blew up a Kent State defender to allow Thompkins to get to the edge and then sealed the edge by walling another Kent State defender.
Not to be outdone, Tropical Smoothie MVP Dustin Crum lead the Flashes on an eight-play, 54 yard touchdown drive.
Utah State committed its third turnover of the contest on the next series when defensive lineman Zane West chased down the play from behind and punched the ball free which was recovered by Kent State.
The fair, physical play continued. Not to be outdone by by Jaylen Warren’s blocking, Kent State’s RB Will Matthews led the blocking on a sweep for Kent State and threw a devastating block of his own, helping to lead Kent State to Trickett’s 5th field goal of the day.
Up 44-41 with, Flashes Jamal Parker and the kickoff return team set up excellent field position with a 46 yard kickoff return. On fourth and one from Utah State’s four yard line, Kent State put the ball in Dustin Crum’s hands to seal the game. Crum pulled the ball on a read-option and scampered around the left end for the game-clinching touchdown.
Utah State’s QB Jordan Love was excellent in defeat, finishing the night with 317 yards passing and three touchdowns. Love finished the night breaking several program records including the most total yardage and the most completions in a career.
Kent State’s win was part of a great day in MAC postseason history, as the Buffalo Bulls, with a 34-9 win over the Charlotte 49ers, also earned thier first bowl win.
The MAC is now 2-0 to begin bowl season, ssecuring the league’s first multiple-win postseason since 2015. The MAC will have their next chance at a victory on Satuday afternoon, when the Central Michigan Chippewas take on the San Diego State Aztecs in the New Mexico Bowl.