There could only be one winner in this much-anticipated clash of MAC East leaders, and at the end of the day, it was the Kent State Golden Flashes (7-5, 6-2 MAC) who defeated the Miami RedHawks (6-6, 5-3 MAC) by a final score of 49-48 in overtime, granting the Flashes a ticket to Detroit for the first time since 2012, when they entered the MAC Championship Game vs. NIU ranked 17th in the Associated Press poll.
The game had intrigue from the start, as Kent State’s senior QB Dustin Crum made an ultra-rare mistake on his first pass attempt of the day, throwing an interception in the range of Miami defensive end Kameron Butler, who tipped the ball directly into his hands to steal a possession. Miami turned the quick turnover into a 33-yard field goal from Graham Nicholson to take the 3-0 lead just two minutes into the contest.
Kent State responded back right away, with an 11-play, 75 yard drive culminating in a 17-yard touchdown strike to Dante Cephus to push the margin in favor of the Flashes 7-3. Miami took over possession and once again found themselves in the Kent State redzone, getting as far as the KSU five-yard line before stalling out and once again opting for a field goal from Nicholson to cut the lead down to 7-6 in favor of KSU.
The Miami defense stood tall once again, forcing Crum into another interception, this time on a throw directly into the hands of a waiting Cedric Boswell. Miami would take that turnover and convert it into points once again, with Jack Sorenson jumping for the 19-yard touchdown pass to put Miami up 10-7 over the hosting Flashes early in the second quarter.
Miami leaned on their defense once again on the next possession, forcing a punt from their own 45 after the Flashes started off with back-to-back long gain plays from Keshunn Abrams (14 yard reception) and Xavier Williams (15-yard run) to set themselves up in favorable territory. The RedHawks would take the ball at their own 11-yard line, and take over five minutes off the clock on a 14-play drive over 81 yards to have Graham Nicholson kick his third field goal of the day, this time from 26 yards out, to get the score up to 13-10.
Kent State finally got their legs under them on their second possession of the second quarter, marching down the field on an uncharacteristically long 13-play, 73-yard drive lasting over four minutes to get in the endzone on a strong five-yard run from Marquez Cooper to cut the Miami lead to 16-14. The Flashes would tack on three additional points after forcing a Miami three-and-out thanks to a 21-yard field goal by Andrew Glass to take the halftime lead as time expired at 17-16.
The Flashes’ momentum continued into the third quarter, forcing Miami into a punt after the latter team committed an early unsportsmanlike conduct to put themselves in suboptimal position, turning it into a 79-yard Xavier Williams rushing touchdown to go up 24-16 early.
Miami looked to their defense once again to try and stay in the game, and the unit once again delivered after allowing KSU a 21-point unanswered advantage, forcing a 19-yard Kent State punt after giving up a quick possession of their on offense, taking the ball at their own 46-yard line.
The RedHawks offense didn’t need long to convert on the shanked punt, with Brett Gabbert finding Jack Coldiron down the seam for a 24-yard touchdown to get the KSU lead down to one point. KSU back Xavier Williams responded just over a minute-and-a-half later, gashing the Redhawks defense with a scorching 50-yard drive to get the lead back up to a 31-23 margin.
The wheels looked like they were falling off the RedHawks wagon after the defensive stop, with Brett Gabbert overthrowing his intended receiver down the sidelines and finding Montre Miller instead on the very next possession as the third quarter drew to a close, but once again, the RedHawks defense stepped up when called upon, and limited the potential damage to an Andrew Glass field goal from 37 yards out to make the gap a more manageable 34-23.
Brett Gabbert threw an ill-advised ball early in Miami’s next possession, with Mandela Lawrence-Burks getting in front of the pass to give KSU the ball at Miami’s 19-yard line, once again forcing the Miami defense into a position to save the game. They would do exactly that, forcing a three-play drive ending in a field goal attempt from 37 yards out, which was blocked by Ben Kimpler and recovered by Matt Salopek.
Gabbert would come out firing after his back-to-back mistakes, firing off two long missiles to Jack Sorenson, one for an 18-yard completion and another which drew a defensive pass interference flag to set up Miami on the KSU 49-yard line. The penalty turned out to be a major advantage, as Gabbert found halfback Kenny Tracy on the backfield route for a 49-yard touchdown on the very next play. A two-point conversion to Jack Coldiron later, and suddenly, the 34-23 KSU lead was slimmed down to 34-31.
It didn’t take long for Kent State to widen the gap once again, needing just one play for Keshunn Abram to find the endzone from 70 yards out to get the touchdown and give KSU a 41-31 lead with 11:17 remaining.
Needing a score desperately, Miami came out attacking, with Gabbert finding Sorenson for a 19-yard reception to get the RedHawks to the KSU 46-yard line. Gabbert continued to look in Sorenson’s direction, drawing a defensive holding penalty on KSU on one play, then doing so again on an incompletion on the next throw. After the incompletion forced second-and-10, Gabbert once again had a pass fly into the hands of a Kent State defender, this time Keith Sherald Jr. However, what could have been the game-ending interception was instead called back on a second defensive holding penalty, granting Miami new life at the KSU 26-yard line.
The RedHawks took advantage, with Gabbert finding Kenny Tracy for seven yards and Mac Hippenhammer for another 10 yards on consecutive plays before calling his own number on a broken play scramble to score a rushing touchdown and bridge the gap to 41-38.
Kent State got the ball back with 9:57 remaining, and once again, managed to get deep into Miami territory, getting up to the Miami 15-yard line before stalling out on third-and-one. Kent State head coach Sean Lewis, knowing a field goal wouldn’t prevent Miami from taking the lead, opted to go for the conversion to run down clock and get the touchdown with just over four minutes remaining. The RedHawks were ready for the run up the middle, with Ivan Pace Jr. penetrating the backfield before the handoff could be facilitated for a three-yard loss to give Miami the ball back.
The RedHawks grinded down the clock on their last possession of regulation, setting up for the Grant Nicholson field goal from 20 yards out with a 17-play, 80-yard drive lasting 4:33 of game clock to tie the score with four seconds remaining to force overtime at 41-41.
Kent State possessed first in overtime, and initially struggled to get the ball moving, with gains of four yards and two yards on the first two plays. But an inexplicable penalty committed by Ivan Pace Jr. for throwing a helmet after the play granted KSU field position on the Miami nine-yard line. After forcing a three-yard loss, the Miami defense once again made a mistake by drawing a defensive pass interference in the endzone on second down, moving the ball right in front of the endzone. Dustin Crum would punch it in three plays later to get the initial 48-41 lead.
Miami didn’t need as much drama for their first overtime possession, with Brett Gabbert finding Jalen Walker down the right sideline for the touchdown on the first play from scrimmage to get what seemed to be the tying score.
Instead, Miami head coach Chuck Martin saw an opportunity to win the game and opted to go for the two-point conversion instead of the point-after attempt.
Miami set up for a passing play from shotgun, with an unbalanced line heavy to the right, and ran a fake jet sweep handoff motion to the outside receiver, leaving Jack Sorenson as the lone receiving option on the left side slant route from the slot position into the endzone. Gabbert kept the ball on the fake and threw in the direction of Sorenson, who was covered by Montre Miller. Miller jumped the route, got his hand on the ball, and would regroup with his teammates on the other side of the endzone as MAC East divisional champions.
It wasn’t the prettiest day for KSU QB Dustin Crum, who started his afternoon with two early interceptions, but he managed to recover and finish 24-of-33 for 325 yards and two touchdowns to go with his game-winning rushing score. Collin Schlee also saw some time in sub-packages, completing his lone pass attempt for 19 yards and picking up 11 yards on two carries.
Rushing was the name of the Kent State offensive game, with Xavier Williams leading all rushers with 168 yards on 13 carries for two touchdowns, while Marquez Cooper led all rushers with 24 carries for 126 yards and a touchdown. Keshunn Abrams led all receivers with 138 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions, while Dante Cephus was second on the team with 79 yards and a touchdown on a team-leading nine carries.
Nico Bolden led the Flashes on defense, with 10 total tackles. Mandela Lawrence-Burke had a hell of a Senior Day send-off, with seven tackles, 1.5 tackles-for-loss, one interception and a pass break-up. The hero of the day, however, was Montre Miller, who logged three pass break-ups, an interception and four tackles on the day in coverage.
The Miami RedHawks clawed their way through the game thanks in part to the efforts of 2019 Freshman of the Year Brett Gabbert, who finished 26-of-51 for 405 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions, to go with one rushing touchdown.
Kevin Davis led the RedHawks committee look in rushing with 56 yards on 10 carries, while running back Kenny Tracy led Miami with 104 receiving yards and a touchdown through the air. Mac Hippenhammer had 90 yards on seven receptions, while jack Coldiron (5 rec., 83 yards, one score), Jack Sorenson (4 rec., 81 yards, one score) and Jalen Walker (overtime touchdown) were also major contributors.
Ivan Pace Jr. and Matt Salopek once again showed their worth to the Miami defense, with both players leading all tacklers with 13 and 12 total tackles, respectively. Pace added four tackles-for-loss and a sack to his effort, while Salopek added a break-up and the blocked field goal recovery. Ben Kimpler had three tackles-for-loss and one sack on his four total tackles and the blocked field goal, while Kameron Butler and Cedric Boswell both had interceptions.
The Flashes await the MAC West champion Northern Illinois Huskies in the MAC Championship at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan, on Saturday, Dec. 5 at noon Eastern time, and are guaranteed a bowl game regardless of result thanks to their seven victories in the regular season.
The Miami RedHawks, with six wins in the regular season, will be on the bowl bubble with their fellow six-win Group of Five brethren, as at least one bowl-eligible team will be left out of the postseason.