KENT: Kent State’s offense was gimpy and off its stride but the defense carried the Golden Flashes to their 10th win in a row, a 28-6 Mid-American Conference win over Ohio on Friday at Dix Stadium.
The victory capped the most successful regular season in school history for the 23rd-ranked Flashes (11-1, 8-0 MAC) and they did it despite subpar contributions from 1,000-yard rushers Trayion Durham and Dri Archer, who were both slowed by leg injuries.
Kent State’s defense came into the game leading the nation in turnover margin (plus-20) and wasted no time continuing that trend.
The KSU defense scored twice on Ohio turnovers in the first quarter.
On the Bobcats’ first drive, senior linebacker C.J. Malauulu forced junior running back Beau Blankenship to fumble. Junior safety Luke Wollet picked up the loose ball and ran 50 yards for a touchdown to give KSU a 7-0 lead.
About seven minutes later, and just 12 seconds after a 15-yard touchdown run by Durham, Malauulu intercepted a pass from Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton and returned the ball 33 yards for a touchdown that made it 21-0.
Malauulu’s touchdown was the fourth defensive touchdown of the year for the Flashes and he became the 13th KSU player to score a touchdown this season.
It was just the third interception Tettleton has thrown this season.
Malauulu, one of 19 seniors honored before the 11 a.m. kickoff on Senior Day, intercepted the pass in the middle of the field. He picked up two blocks near the left sideline and dove just inside the pylon for a touchdown that held up through a video replay.
“That was a crazy play, it happened so fast,” said Malauulu, who had seven tackles, including three solo. “I was manned up on the tight end who was off the ball. He stayed in to block, I read the quarterback’s eyes, and I rolled over that way and came up with the ball. I picked it and I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I caught the ball!’
“I started running up the field and I saw Tettleton, he was about to cut me off so I waited for [Luke] Batton and [Sidney] Saulter to clear him out and thankfully I got in.”
With representatives from the Military and the GoDaddy Bowls on hand, the Flashes’ defense sacked Tettleton a season-high eight times. It was the most sacks in a game by KSU since 1994 against Ohio.
The Flashes are the first MAC East team to go undefeated since current Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led the Miami RedHawks to an 8-0 MAC record in 2003.
“Even though we didn’t play as well as we would have liked to on offense, we came away with a big win,” KSU coach Darrell Hazell said. “Our defense played phenomenal through the whole course of the game, creating some points and giving us some short fields.”
Durham, a bruising 250-pound sophomore, entered the game with quad and hip injuries, but still rushed for 98 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
Archer injured his left ankle on a rare fumble early in the third quarter, but was sidelined only briefly. Before the quarter was over, Archer, a 5-foot-8, 175-pound speedster, returned but was clearly limited.
After the game, Archer tweeted: “I’m good everybody, ill be ready to play next week.” Archer finished with 57 yards on 13 carries and failed to score in a game for the first time this season.
But KSU didn’t need Archer’s magic because the defense was having its way, keeping the Bobcats out of the end zone the whole game. The Bobcats had to settle for kicker Matt Weller’s 33-yard field goal in the first quarter and a 41-yarder in the second.
Flashes quarterback Spencer Keith put the game out of reach early in the fourth quarter with a 24-yard touchdown strike to fellow senior Eric Adeyemi.
The injury-plagued Bobcats (8-4, 4-4) not only lost their fourth consecutive game, but also three more starting players to injuries — giving them a total of 10 starters lost this season.
“We just have to keep our head up and keep working and hopefully some time off will help them, but some of them are season ending,” said Blankenship, who rushed for a game-high 145 yards on 29 carries. “It’s gut wrenching. We had some guys step up, but it’s hard to see [others] go down.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.