Central Michigan head coach Brian Kelly likes to stress how important special teams are to winning or losing a football game. Saturday, the Chippewas proved him right in their 24-21 victory over the Golden Flashes.
Central Michigan (2-2, 1-0 MAC) blocked two Kent State (1-4, 0-2 MAC) field goal attempts and a punt that led to CMU's first touchdown. Chippewa defensive end Daniel Bazuin blocked both field goal attempts, including a 35-yarder in the closing seconds of regulation that could have sent the game into overtime.
"It all came down to that one play," Bazuin said. "He (KSU placekicker Travis Mayle) was kicking the ball low so I knew if I got a little penetration I might be able to block it."
Kelly couldn't have been more pleased with the play of his special teams Saturday.
"Special teams played a huge role in today's game," Kelly said. "When you're trying to turn a program around, special teams is the fastest way to do it."
Central Michigan took a 7-0 lead with 7:03 remaining in the first quarter on a three-yard quarterback keeper by Kent Smith. The touchdown was set up by a Jason Smith punt block that gave CMU the ball at the KSU 21.
The Golden Flashes responded quickly though. Kent State quarterback Joshua Cribbs led KSU on an eight-play, 74-yard drive that consumed more than three minutes. Running back David Alston scampered seven yards to tie the score 7-7.
Another big play by CMU's special teams led to the Chippewas second TD. Raeshon Ball recovered a muffed punt at the KSU 9. On the next play, Smith hit a wide open Damien Linson in the right corner of the end zone for a 14-7 CMU lead.
Kent State added two field goals of 40 and 19 yards in the second quarter to close to within 14-13 at the half.
The Golden Flashes took a 21-14 lead in the third quarter on a Cribbs four-yard keeper. The four-play, 18-yard scoring drive was set up by a 38-yard interception return.
CMU placekicker Mike Gruzwalski made the score 21-17 after converting a 23-yard field goal with 5:51 remaining in the third quarter.
This set the stage for CMU's game winning drive in the final stanza.
Smith led the Chippewas on an eight-play, 52-yard drive with 5:48 remaining in the game. On a fourth down and two from the KSU 10, Smith broke free and ran around right end for the winning touchdown.
"Kent made big plays in that scoring drive and that's how I evaluate his play," Kelly said. "I may have given him too much but he showed his toughness and fought through it."
"We knew we were capable of scoring on that drive," Smith said. "We definitely wanted to get a win today."
Smith completed 15-of-28 passes for 143 yards and one touchdown, while rushing 10 times for 38 yards and two more TDs. His one interception resulted in KSU's go-ahead score in the third quarter.
The Golden Flash defense seemd poised to stop CMU's star running back Jerry Seymour, but he still managed to gain 131 yards on 28 carries.
"Seymour is a good running back, he's very elusive," Cribbs said. "We worked on stopping him all week in practice."
The Chippewas now must prepare for Bowling Green, the defending MAC West and Motor City Bowl Champions. The Falcons travel to Mt. Pleasant this Saturday for a 1 p.m. kickoff at Kelly/Shorts Stadium for CMU's Homecoming.
"Bowling Green is clearly the type of team we want to be like, winning football games and appearing on ESPN," Kelly said.
Special Teams Lead CMU Past Kent State, 24-21
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