Despite title being locked up, Hazell will prepare for Ohio the same

By Allen Moff | Staff Writer Published:

According to the Mid-American Conference football standings, Kent State's regular-season ending game against Ohio on Friday at Dix Stadium means absolutely nothing.

The Golden Flashes (10-1, 7-0) clinched the MAC East Division crown with Saturday's thrilling 31-24 victory at Bowling Green, and will meet West champion Northern Illinois (10-1, 7-0) in the MAC Championship Game on Nov. 30 in Detroit no matter what happens against the Bobcats (8-3, 4-3).

Still, Kent State head coach Darrell Hazell stressed on Sunday that he's treating Friday's game just like any other one.

"In my mind it is like any other game," said Hazell. "It's another game that we're scheduled to play, so it is another game. I don't look past it at all."

All of the excitement generated by Saturday's landmark triumph had died down a day later.

"It's the same as usual on Sundays," said Hazell.

"We're back to work, trying to figure out Ohio on a short week."

Hazell doesn't believe he'll have any trouble convincing his players to take Friday's game seriously.

"Our guys are such competitors, every game means something to them," he said. "It's the last opportunity for our seniors to ever play at Dix Stadium, so they're gonna be fired up. It's going to be an emotional game as they run onto the field, then they've gotta change their emotions into execution. It's gonna be a game that they'll play their hardest because of all the things that have happened."

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FLASHES MOVE UP TO NO. 23

Kent State is now ranked in all three major polls.

The Flashes moved up to 23rd in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll, and moved into both the FBS Coaches' Top 25 Poll and the Harris Poll at No. 25.

Kent State's MAC Championship Game opponent, Northern Illinois, entered all three polls for the first time this week. The Huskies are 24th in the AP poll, and are actually ranked ahead of the Flashes in both the Coaches' Poll (23rd) and the Harris Poll (24th).

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KUDOS TO KEITH

Just like his career as a whole, Kent State senior quarterback Spencer Keith's performance in Saturday's showdowns featured plenty of highs and lows.

Keith threw an interception and fumbled while attempting to lunge for a first down, both in the third quarter. But he bounced back to score what proved to be the game-winning touchdown on a 7-yard run in the final period.

Keith finished the game with modest numbers -- 9-of-17 passing for 91 yards with one touchdown and one pick, and 39 yards rushing on 12 carries -- but his typically solid decision-making and gutsy effort impressed Hazell once again.

"He's our guy," said Hazell. "I'm so proud of Spencer. We had some guys come in and try to compete with him, and he fought them off. He continues to make plays for us. The thing that I like about Spencer this year is he's shown so much toughness."

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ROAD WARRIORS

Before the season started, the Flashes were dreading a difficult schedule that included seven road games. But Kent State has handled the road trips with aplomb, winning six in a row away from Kent after falling in the road opener at Kentucky.

"We're 6-1 on the road, which is amazing in itself," said Hazell. "It's another one of those stats you just shake your head at. To be able to travel seven times and get six of them, and win all of them in the conference, you can't say enough about that."

Kent State won just two road games in the entire decade of the 1990s, and just one road game in each of the past two seasons.

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