Remember 2020 Kent State, the team which finished first in the country in points per game? The team that averaged over 600 yards per game and ranked in the top 10 of the FBS in both rushing and passing offense?
That Kent State team finally arrived in the 2021 season on Saturday night under the lights at Dix Stadium. Behind masterful showings from quarterback Dustin Crum and wide receiver Dante Cephas, the Golden Flashes outgunned Buffalo in a shootout, 48-38, to become the only 2-0 team in the MAC East.
Crum was selected as the First Team All-MAC quarterback a season ago with a fair share of stellar performances under his belt. Yet, the star senior never registered more passing yards than he did on Buffalo’s defense Saturday night, attaining 407 yards and three touchdowns on 22/36 passing. Crum also added a pair of rushing touchdowns to complement his 72 yards on the ground, and was responsible for five of Kent State’s six touchdowns.
Cephas broke out for a career-highs with 13 catches and 186 yards and operated as Crum’s preferred target. The fleet-footed receiver dominated man coverage all night with speed and agility. He burned his assignment in the first quarter on a streak for a 41-yard touchdown reception. Then, when the Golden Flashes briefly trailed and needed a spark, Cephas stepped up with two fourth quarter touchdowns on quick slants. The first was a 5-yard slant in the end zone to provide Kent State a 41-38 lead. The latter slant went for 40 yards and ultimately secured a double-digit victory for the Golden Flashes with 8:24 remaining.
The Golden Flashes were in control for most of the night in their 10-point victory, but not for the entire game. Touchdowns on four of their first five drives catapulted Sean Lewis’ squad to a 31-10 lead at halftime. But just like Kent State roared back from down 21 in the 2019 matchup between these teams, Buffalo launched a comeback of its own.
The Bulls’ running backs changed gears at halftime and were unstoppable out of the gate in the second half. Buffalo rattled off four touchdowns on four consecutive possessions to manufacture a 38-34 advantage at the end of the third quarter. Kevin Marks, Dylan McDuffie, and Ron Cook Jr. were the ringleaders of this comeback, and the halfback trio combined for 239 yards and three touchdowns, as the Bulls couldn’t be tamed by the Kent State run defense.
But when Cephas responded with his fourth quarter touchdowns, Buffalo’s retort was field goals. However, those field goals were not sinking through the uprights. The Bulls shanked a 24-yard attempt in effort to tie the game with under 10 minutes remaining. Later, when Buffalo trailed 48-38, a promising Bulls drive faced a major setback when quarterback Kyle Vantrease took his second sack of the contest — the first time the Bulls allowed multiple sacks in a game since Sept. 28, 2019. The rare sack set up a 3rd and 18 at the Kent State 39-yard line, but Buffalo wide receiver Quian Williams gained 12 yards back on the ensuing play.
In a pivotal moment in the fourth quarter, Buffalo surprisingly sent out the field goal unit for a redemption shot rather than trust the offense. Alex McNulty missed the 45-yard attempt which would have closed the gap to one possession, and the Bulls fell to 6-of-12 on field goals for the season.
The Bulls earned one more opportunity deep in Kent State territory, but outside linebacker Matt Harmon picked off Vantrease to seal it for the Golden Flashes. Harmon’s interception marked the first takeaway of the game by either team in a game where offenses controlled the story from kickoff to final buzzer. Buffalo gathered 549 yards of offense, while Kent State collected 633 — both season-highs vs. FBS competition this year.
Buffalo did the majority of its damage on the ground while Kent State maintained a solid balance. While the Crum-to-Cephas aerial connection served as the offense’s featured act, Marquez Cooper surpassed the 100-yard rushing mark for the third time this season to guide Kent State to 226 team rushing yards to go along with three touchdowns.
With the victory, Kent State (3-3, 2-0 MAC) has reverted back to .500 after a brutal non-conference schedule initially set them at 1-3. The Golden Flashes have not qualified for the MAC Championship Game since 2012, but they currently control the East the only 2-0 team in the division. Kent State carries its perfect league record into Kalamazoo next weekend for a battle with Western Michigan.
Meanwhile, Buffalo experienced déjà vu from last week’s Western Michigan defeat. The Bulls once again entered the final frame with a lead but the defense couldn’t sustain it. Buffalo has been outscored 31-7 in fourth quarters through two games of MAC play, and Maurice Linguist will look to alter that trend as the Bulls return home to face Ohio next Saturday.