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FINAL SCORE: Eastern Michigan 28, Kent State 14
In the cold and rain, EMU came away with a much-needed win in a game that featured 18 combined punts.
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A double-digit win is exactly what fans in green ought to expect from of this Eastern Michigan team when it faces teams like Kent State. EMU’s double-digit win over Kent State (28-14) is the kind of end result many expected to see, but it wasn’t exactly the kind of game anybody had in mind.
There were 18 combined punts in this game.
Eighteen. EMU had 10, Kent State with 8.
The cold and rain called for a strong run game. None of the three quarterbacks who played Saturday reached a 50% completion rate — there were 69 total passes thrown and 80 rushes.
No, it wasn’t a pretty game to watch, but it’s a win that EMU was still looking to capture. It’s the first back-to-back victory for this program since it had a 5-game winning streak spanning from last November through this year’s season-opener against Howard.
For its current MAC standing, the Eagles (4-3 overall) are 2-1 in MAC play, tied for second in its division with Central Michigan and Northern Illinois, and behind Toledo (3-0 MAC) in first place.
Plus, the win keeps EMU undefeated at Rynearson Stadium this year: 4-0 overall, 2-0 in MAC play. Three of the four wins at home have been two-score victories.
Kent State tried to pull a fast one
Trying to pull a fast one on Eastern Michigan’s special teams is football suicide. Kent State’s slick idea to begin the game was try for an onside kick and theoretically get the offense on the field to start the first and second halves.
A sound idea, but the problem was that EMU was prepared for it.
Kendrick Nowling scooped up the ball immediately and took off for the end zone with no hesitation. Five seconds into the game, Nowling scored his first career touchdown, the third special teams touchdown for EMU this season.
With an early 7-0 lead, EMU did nothing productive with the football through its first five drives. Only 11 yards gained by the offense and 233 yards worth of punts by Mitch Tomasek was all the ball movement this team showed for much of the first half.
Then on what would end up being the final drive of the half, Samson Evans got into the end zone for career score #33. Austin Smith went 4/7 passing on the 12-play, 85-yard drive with completions of 12, 19, 12, and 9 yards after an 0/5 start through the air. On 3rd & 1 in the red zone, Evans took the handoff left for a 19-yard score with 44 seconds remaining.
14-14 second half
The second half got off to an exciting start. Kent State immediately converted on 3rd & 9, then on 4th & 2 on EMU’s side of the field, Chase Kline and Alex Merritt ganged up on Kent State QB Tommy Ulatowski short of the sticks to turn the ball over on downs.
Smith dropped an 18-yard beaut to Tanner Knue on the ensuing drive to make it a 21-0 game.
Kent State WR Luke Floria, two drives later, helped cut into EMU’s lead with his first of two touchdown grabs of the game. His first was from 14 yards out, his second, five drives later, was a 43-yarder to immediately follow an EMU fumble.
In the fourth quarter, up 21-7, EMU’s defense forced Kent to punt the ball out of its own end zone and Hamze El-Zayat returned it 26 yards to Kent’s side of the field. Smith dropped a 34-yard dime to Knue to move into the red zone, then Evans ran to the right side for his second TD of the day — career score #34. Let’s call it the Walter Payton score for kid who grew up a Chicago Bears fan.
Two drives later, both teams traded turnovers. Joe Sparacio laid a hit on Ulatowski to fumble the ball near midfield (Adrian Gonzalez recovery), then two plays later, Jaylon Jackson fumbled it after he was hit hard by Missouri transfer Devin Nicholson. After the exchange of fumbles, Kent State ended up gaining four yards from where it last ended up, and Floria was wide open for his long TD grab.
When things could’ve gotten nasty
Midway through the first quarter, EMU punted the ball away three times. It was a rough open for the EMU offense, and the defense started to get flimsy too.
Kent State’s first three drives ended with a punt, another punt, and a fumble at midfield. But drive #4 for Kent State put a scare in EMU’s defense: 19 plays for 85 drives, and the Flashes finally turned the ball over on downs at the 5-yard line with a failed first-down pickup. With an effective mix of both of its quarterbacks (Michael Alaimo for passing, Tommy Ulatowski on the ground) Kent State marched down field with two third-down conversions and another conversion on fourth down.
On 4th & 2 from EMU’s 6-yard line, Kent State opted to try for its second fourth-down pickup instead of a short field goal. At first the running back’s carry was ruled a first down, but replay showed that he was just short of the mark.
Who knows? A new set of downs right there could’ve been the difference between scoring and not scoring on the drive. Maybe a 7-7 tie in the second quarter wouldn’t have mattered anyway since EMU ended up winning by two scores. EMU’s defense gave up way too many yards on that drive (85) and on Kent’s first scoring drive (87), but this unit still did more good than harm. On top of its eight punts, Kent had two turnovers on downs and three fumbles (two in the fourth quarter).
Kent State RB Gavin Garcia fumbled the ball in the first quarter with three Eagles making the hit on him and Elijah Williams making the recovery, and Ulatowski, who fumbled the ball once already, had a really embarrassing-looking second one on 4th & 15. The team needed a deep pass downfield, but instead the ball slipped out of his hand and bounced his back has he tried to chuck it downfield. Peyton Price came away with the recovery.
Head coach Chris Creighton is now tied for second-most wins at EMU, tied with Fred Trosko (1952-64) with 50 wins. He has a 50-64 record overall at EMU, 29-44 in MAC play.
RB Evans also reached 2,000 career rushing yards in the game. He had a team-best 47 rushing yards with 2 TD. For his career, Evans has 2,015 rushing yards on 447 carries (4.5 avg.) with a Walter Payton amount of touchdowns.
Knue had 85 receiving yards on 5 catches, 1 TD.
Smith passing: 9/25, 118 yards, 1 TD, no interceptions.
Smith has thrown three picks this year, but none over the last three games.
Mitch Tomasek has already punted the ball 40 times this year after having 48 last year. Still, his punt average has improved from 44.3 to 45.1 over the seasons. Against Kent, he had 10 punts for 430 yards. He had a long of 59 (two 50+), and four land inside Kent’s 20.
The defense didn’t have all of the tackles for losses (4 TFL, 1 sack), but here’s a number that should stand out: 17 QB hurries. Justin Jefferson had 4, Kline and Tim Grant-Randall each had 3, Joe Sparacio had 2, and five players had 1 each.