Fields blanketed in snow were the theme of this week’s Wednesday night MACtion, but clearer conditions were present on senior night at Dix Stadium in Kent, OH.
What was also clear Wednesday night is the impressive job Chris Creighton has done building a program at Eastern Michigan. When he took the head coaching position in 2014, Eastern Michigan had not won seven games in a season since 2014. But by downing Kent State on the road in 31-24 fashion, the Eagles secured their fourth 7-win season in the past seven years.
Austin Smith, Eastern Michigan’s starting quarterback over the last several weeks, had a rough collision with the ground on the second play from scrimmage, holding his left leg which was evidently in pain well after the whistle blew. It was a shock to everyone involved, including Week 1 starting quarterback Taylor Powell, who had assumed a backup role as of late.
On short notice, Powell suddenly had to replace the man who replaced him a few weeks back, checking in on a third-and-medium play.
The Eagles landed just short of the sticks on Powell’s first snap which forced a punt, but after that, Powell took over and put on his best performance as an Eagle in a dramatic comeback victory over the Golden Flashes on Wednesday night.
Eastern Michigan opened the scoring first, with a 52-yard drive that would be capped with Hassan Beydoun back-shouldering a 13-yard touchdown pass, uncontested on a corner route in the end zone. Kent State then went on a 17-0 scoring run to take a 10-point lead at halftime with contributions from Ja’Shaun Poke (39-yard catch), Andrew Glass (36-yard field goal) and Marquez Cooper (1-yard run).
Kent State’s offense stalled thereafter as quarterback Collin Schlee left the contest in the second quarter after a brutal head-on collision with the field. The junior finished 6-of-12 for 150 yards and a touchdown and never returned to the playing surface. He was replaced by true freshman QB Devin Kargman, who burned his redshirt and posted a 7-of-19 stat-line with no touchdowns nor interceptions.
Earning a stop against the offense to open the third quarter, Eastern Michigan turned its defensive momentum into offense. A 28-yard pass from Taylor Powell to Tanner Knue inches the Eagles closer and a subsequent 33-yard field goal from Jesus Gomez knotted the game up at 17 apiece.
The Eagles finally captured their first second half lead on a somewhat lengthy drive capped off by Tanner Knue’s second touchdown reception of the night. Eastern Michigan began to pile on the points during its 24-0 run, adding on more touchdown in the final frame on a Samson Evans halfback dive to cap off a 77-yard drive. When Evans cleared the goal line, the Eagles suddenly found themselves ahead, 31-17.
Kent State attempted a comeback effort and cut the lead in half with a Marquez Cooper touchdown in the fading minutes, but the Golden Flashes unable to pick up the onside kick. Once again, it was Knue coming up with a major play. The receiver who racked up 77 yards and two touchdowns on the night secured the onside kick to effectively hand Eastern Michigan its fifth consecutive road victory.
Kent State ended its bowl eligibility hopes by falling to 4-7, sealing its first losing season since 2018. Meanwhile, Eastern Michigan improved to 7-4 with the opportunity to finish the regular season with eight wins should it knock off Central Michigan in Mount Pleasant. A win in the regular season finale would mark the first time the program won at least eight games since 1987.
Eastern Michigan’s Taylor Powell was the hero of the night, finishing 30-of-39 for 315 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The Eagles offensive line, led by star guard Sidy Sow, protected Powell and ensured he was not sacked once in the victory. Samson Evans was the leading rusher for the Eagles with 94 yards. In the receiving department, Dylan Drummond posted a strong complementary performance to Knue with a team-high 97 yards.
On the other side, the Golden Flashes were led in rushing by Marquez Cooper with 80 yards. Operating without star receiver Dante Cephas, Kent State earned its greatest contributions in the receiving game from Devontez Walker with 121 yards.
While both defenses came up with routine stops from time-to-time, neither team had any turnovers.
Eastern Michigan will finish out its season against Central Michigan at Rynearson Stadium on Black Friday. Eastern Michigan can win the Michigan MAC Trophy with a victory over the 4-7 Chippewas, which were eliminated from bowl eligibility by Western Michigan on Wednesday night.
After a disappointing senior night, Kent State will finish its 2022 season on the road at Buffalo. With a win, Kent State can knock the Bulls out of MAC championship contention.