DETROIT -- Spencer Keith cemented his status as the most clutch quarterback in Kent State football history with a brilliant performance down the stretch in Friday's 44-37 double-overtime MAC Championship Game loss to Northern Illinois at Ford Field.'
With the Golden Flashes' backs planted firmly against the wall late in the fourth quarter, Keith engineered three consecutive scoring drives that gave his team a chance to stun the defending champion Huskies.
It's a chance no one saw coming while the offense struggled immensely in the opening three quarters.
Keith's evening started off in difficult fashion. The Huskies' vaunted defensive line was able to put consistent pressure on Keith, who finished the first half 3-of-10 for 29 yards with an interception and three sacks. The third quarter wasn't much better, as Keith entered the final period sitting at 6-of-17 for 60 yards with four sacks and a pick.
But one perfect pass brought Keith and the Flashes offense back to life.
Keith delivered a perfect 60-yard bomb that junior speedster Dri Archer caught in stride, setting up a 5-yard Keith touchdown run that brought Kent State within 27-20 with 4:53 remaining in regulation.
"We had the one big play to Dri. He ran a post and got behind the (safeties)," said Keith. "I just threw it up there for him to go get."
After the teams traded touchdowns, Keith and the Flashes found themselves trailing by seven with 3:07 to go and the ball at their own 42. Visions of the game-winning drive against Ball State in game four of the 2012 season came rushing back to Flashes fans as Keith converted three consecutive crucial third downs, including a 19-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tim Erjavec on third-and-seven that tied the game with just 44 seconds left in regulation.
"I always tell the guys to stay calm and take it one play at a time, and that's what we did," said Keith. "Even when we got to third down, we were just focused on the next play and tried to execute that. The quick passes were working. Guys were getting open, and the line did a great job of protection in the fourth quarter and overtime. We just got things rolling."
Keith, a senior starting at quarterback for the fourth straight season, entered that Cardinals game with his status as the starting signal-caller uncertain after a mediocre start to the 2012 campaign. He left that game a hero, leading an 86-yard march in the final two minutes that set up the game-winning field goal and ultimately sparked what would become the best season in the history of Kent State football.
Keith saved the season once again with a fumble recovery in the first overtime, but ran out of magic in the second extra session as his desperation heave to Archer in the end zone on fourth down was picked off to end the game.
Keith wound up completing 15-of-36 attempts for 190 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. But in the pivotal fourth quarter and overtime Keith was 9-of-19 for 130 yards and a touchdown, and added 20 yards rushing and a score.