By EVAN MEYER
KENT, OHIO – The Kent State Golden Flashes picked up their first victory of the 2014 season as they defeated the Army Black Knights 39-17 on a soggy Saturday afternoon at Dix Stadium.
Kent State (1-6) set a season high for points and, for the third consecutive week, set a new season mark for total yards (467).
“We finally got over the hump and get a win.” KSU head coach Paul Haynes said after the game. “I am so proud of these guys for all they have been through this year -- all the ups and downs -- but they kept on fighting.”
Sophomore QB Colin Reardon had a career day, completing 27-of-40 passes for 360 yards and three touchdowns. In addition, he also led the KSU ground game with 42 yards and a score.
“You can’t score 17 points and expect to win.” first year Army head man Jeff Monken said afterward. “Our guys played hard, but we had too many negative plays. Also when you don’t tackle and you don’t cover guys on pass plays, it is very hard to win.”
On the first play of the game, the visitors from West Point forced the game’s first turnover when Reardon was intercepted by sophomore CB Josh Jenkins. He returned the ball to the KSU 32-yard line.
“We were going for the big play, and we thought about it all week," Reardon said. The play was not there and I thought I had thrown the ball out of bounds, I looked to the sidelines and there was no whistle.”
The Cadets, with their triple option offense, got the ball down to the Flashes eight. However a holding play stunted the drive and Army had to settle for a 32-yard field goal from junior Daniel Grochowski and a 3-0 lead.
On the possession after the field goal,
The Flashes moved the ball from their own 25 to the Army 10 on the next possession. Reardon used the short passing game, along with the running of sophomore Nick Holley, who would end the contest with 37 yards on 10 carries, KSU reached the Cadets 10, where the drive stalled. Junior PK Anthony then came on to make the first of a career-high four field goals. His 27-yard kick tied the score at 3-3.
When Army was limited to just one first down on the next possession, it punted to KSU, who took possession on the four-yard line. The offense again moved the football -- this time with the passing game. Reardon made three completions on a drive that covered 84 yards to the Army 12. However, the Flashes could not move the ball into the end zone. Melchiori came on for his second fidl goal, this time from 29-yards out and Kent State had its first lead at 6-3.
The following possession saw Army gain its first and only lead of the game. Starting at the 31, senior QB Angel Santiago used 10 plays to drive the Cadets 69 yards for the touchdown. They scored when senior RB Raymond Maples ran off left tackle for two yards and the touchdown. Army went up 10-6.
Late in the period, the Flashes grabbed the lead for good. Following an Army punt that was knocked down by a gusting wind --and then took a KSU bounce-- Reardon and the offense began a six-play drive on the Cadets 43.
Reardon connected with senior TE Casey Pierce over the middle from 10-yards out to give the Flashes a 13-10 lead going into halftime.
Army had the ball first to start the third quarter, but the KSU defense forced a quick punt. When the snap hit the arm of one of the up men, junior punter Alex Tardieu gathered the ball in before getting tackled back at his own eight yard line.
From there, it took the Flashes just two plays to score the touchdown. Reardon found senior WR Chris Humphrey, who caught the ball at the one then button-hooked around the defender for the eight-yard score and a 20-10 lead for the home team. Humphrey who recently passed the 100 reception mark for his career at KSU, finished the game with five catches for 72 yards and the score.
Army came right back and scored a touchdown of its own on the next possession as the Cadets moved 77 yards in eight plays. Senior RB Tony Giovannelli accounted for 56 yards on the drive and the touchdown from eight yards out made the score 23-17. Giovannelli led the Cadets with 90 yards rushing and a score.
When the Flashes regained possession after the kickoff, they added to their lead. Reardon engineered a drive to the Army 10. Along the way, he hit a big pass to Humphrey in stride over the middle for 32 yards and also converted a key fourth down pass to sophomore James Brooks. When the Army defense stiffened, Melchiori hit his third field goal. this one from 27 yards to make the lead 23-17.
Even with the field goal, it was still a one-possession game heading into the final 15 minutes. By the time the period ended, the Flashes had secured victory number one of 2014.
After an Army punt, KSU took possession on its own 15. The drive started with two runs, an 18-yarder by freshman RB Miles Hibbler, then a quarterback draw by Reardon that gained a total of 40 yards. Next, Reardon completed three passes that moved the ball to the Army 14. Yet again, the offense could not get the ball across the goal line. Melchiori came on for his fourth field goal on the afternoon, a 32-yarder to make the score 26-17.
Getting the ball at their own 31 after the kickoff, and needing two scores, Santiago and the Army offense reached critical mass -- a fourth down at the KSU 32. Needing three yards for the first, Santiago used the highly successful pitch play to Giovannelli. This time the Flashes defense stopped the play for only a single yard.
From there, the Flashes put the game away, using five plays to move 69 yards. Reardon and Pierce hooked up for their second touchdown of the game, a seven-yarder over the middle, to make the score 33-17.
Any doubt regarding the outcome of the game ended two plays after the touchdown when fifth-year senior DB Milton Pannell intercepted a Santiago desperation pass. That set up the KSU offense up at the Army 37. Reardon hit Pierce down the sideline for 30 yards to the Cadets seven. From there, Reardon took matters into his own hands, keeping the ball off a read-option and scoring the touchdown.
When asked about his signal-callers performance, Haynes said “After he got that first one out of the way (the interception) he played great. He and the offense stepped up and executed today.”
Melchiori did have one blemish on his day as his point after attempt was blocked. The point was not needed as the Flashes went on to record their second lifetime against Army. It was the third win in Kent State history against service academies. The other was in 1975 when the Flashes defeated Air Force at old Cleveland Stadium.
Over the 60 minutes, Kent State held the triple-option to 295 yards on the ground and 330 total yards. Coming into the game Army had averaged 323 yards rushing and 407 yards overall per game.
It was homecoming at KSU when asked about the victory coming on on this weekend, Haynes said “It is (the win) big, being that it is homecoming. We had the captain’s breakfast earlier in the day and then all the Alumni here -- it was really huge to get the win in front of all of them.”
The Flashes return to Mid-American Conference play next week as they travel to Oxford for a battle with the Miami Redhawks. Game time is 2:30 p.m. ET.