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By Allen Moff | Staff writer
On Sunday, Kent State cracked the Associated Press Top 25 Poll for the first time in 39 years after earning its school-record eighth consecutive victory a day earlier at Miami.
The Flashes are ranked 25th with 93 votes, ahead of MAC rival Northern Illinois (27th) and national powers such as Oklahoma State, Wisconsin and Boise State. KSU is also listed 27th in the FBS Coaches’ Top 25 Poll and 29th in the Harris Poll.
“We are very excited to be in the Top 25, but there are still many more goals to be accomplished,” said Kent State head coach Darrell Hazell.
This Saturday, the 25th-ranked Golden Flashes will play the football program’s biggest game in 40 years when they travel to Bowling Green with a chance to clinch the Mid-American Conference East Division championship, a berth in the MAC Championship game and a bowl bid. The Flashes have not won a MAC title of any kind or appeared in a bowl game since 1972.
The firsts just keep piling up for the 2012 Kent State football team, which is at long last putting four decades of gridiron frustration to rest with a scintillating season that few besides the Golden Flashes themselves saw coming.
“Nobody’s had a winning season since we’ve been here, so our focus was on that and winning a MAC championship and going to a bowl game,” said junior speedster Dri Archer, who set a school record by scoring his 19th touchdown of the season against the RedHawks. “When you come together as a team it’s easier to win as a family.”
Togetherness and confidence are two key elements to success that have been missing during Kent State’s astounding string of football futility, but they’ve suddenly reappeared in 2012 under second-year head coach Hazell.
“I’m just very proud of our football team,” said Hazell following Saturday’s win at Miami. “I’m proud of how they’ve stayed the course, how they prepare every week, and the maturity of our football team and our locker room.”
Offensive coordinator Brian Rock, who has served as an assistant coach at the collegiate level since 1987, believes the key to the Flashes’ success is their unselfish allegiance to teammates and Hazell.
“We have a plan to win, not to highlight so and so and get stats,” said Rock. “I’ve been on some winning teams and I’ve been on some not winning teams, and the teams that win are the teams that buy into that. It’s as simple as that.”
While building this team-first attitude took some time initially, the turnaround has been stunningly abrupt.
Last year the Flashes headed into their bye week 1-6 in Hazell’s rookie season. During the bye week Kent State made some switches on the offensive line, moving Josh Kline from right tackle to left guard beside star left tackle Brian Winters, and moving Kent Cleveland from guard to right tackle.
Those changes ignited a once anemic offense, which combined with an already stellar defense to spearhead a 4-1 close to the 2011 campaign.
The Flashes carried that momentum into this season, ripping off eight straight wins since their game two loss at Kentucky to put themselves in position to end a four-decade title drought.
To put the achievements of this year’s team in perspective, consider these stunning numbers:
— The Flashes captured their lone MAC title in 1972, and have not appeared in a bowl since that season.
— Kent State had won nine games only once before this season, in 1973.
— The Flashes have not been ranked in the AP poll since Nov. 5, 1973, when they were 19th heading into a showdown the following Saturday against Miami. They lost that game 20-10 at Dix Stadium, and wound up second in the MAC despite earning a school-record nine wins (9-2).
— The Flashes have not played for a MAC regular-season title since Nov. 18, 1972, when they defeated Toledo 27-9 to their one and only MAC championship.
— In the past 35 years, Kent State has produced only three winning seasons — 1987 (7-4 under Glen Mason), 2001 (6-5 under Dean Pees) and 2012 (9-1 under Hazell).
— In the past 35 years, the Flashes have suffered through four winless seasons and six one-win campaigns.
— From 1978-2011, Kent State’s overall record was 96-274 — a winning percentage of .259.
All that suffering is at long last being put to rest by Hazell and his 2012 Flashes, who can secure the MAC East Division crown and a spot in the Marathon MAC Championship Game at Detroit’s Ford Field on Nov. 30 with a victory Saturday at Bowling Green.
Oh, how the feeble have risen.
The Kent State Athletic Departments is offering fans and students the chance to join the football team at Bowling Green this Saturday.
To get a seat on one of three buses making the trip to Bowling Green, call the M.A.C. Center ticket office at 330-672-2244 beginning this morning from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
“We need to get all Kent State fans out to this game at Bowling Green,” said Hazell. “We need their support. It’s a championship game.”
Seats are free for Kent State students, while the cost for fans is $25.
Only 25 seats are available for fans, so plan on calling early. If students do not fill the rest of the seats by the Friday 8 a.m. deadline, they will go to fans. Those fans put on a waiting list earlier in the week will know if they have a guaranteed seat by Friday at 3 p.m.