Josiah Yazdani booted a 44-yard field goal as time expired to spoil the 2014 season opener for Kent State and lift Ohio University to a 17-14 win at Dix Stadium.
Defense kept the Golden Flashes in the game all through the second half, forcing four straight fumbles and giving the team's offense chances to cut into a 14-7 Bobcats lead. Colin Reardon turned the final opportunity into a game-tying 23-yard touchdown pass to Chris Humphrey with just 3:34 to play.
Ohio answered that score, however, marching 48 yards in nine plays to set the stage for Yazdani's game-winning attempt with three seconds on the clock.
"It was a tough loss," said Kent State head coach Paul Haynes. "I'm sure when we watch the film there will be a lot of things we can improve on. But I love the fight in these guys. They kept coming back and just came up short. We will fight together, stick together and get started on preparing for South Alabama (Sep. 6 at Dix Stadium)."
Some critical errors and a one-dimensional offensive attack put Kent State in a position where it needed to keep fighting back.
The Bobcats took advantage of some coverage errors to notch their first score – a 23-yard touchdown pass from Derrius Vick to Landon Smith with 10:01 to play in the first quarter.
Vick found Smith again for a 5-yard touchdown to put Ohio ahead 14-7 with 6:53 remaining in the second quarter on a score that arrived just three plays after the most critical error of the day for Kent State. The Bobcats found second life on their drive after the Flashes lined up with two players wearing the number 12 during an Ohio punt from midfield. The illegal formation penalty turned a punt on fourth-and-four into an Ohio first down.
"When you go up against a good football team, you always talk about how you can't beat yourself," said Haynes. "The one is my fault with two numbers on the field. I have to make sure that doesn't happen again. That's organization. That was a stop, and then they scored … There are no excuses."
Kent State's defense took up the challenge after allowing the second Vick-to-Smith touchdown connection, holding the Bobcats scoreless until the Yazdani's final boot.
Senior defensive end Nate Vance forced and recovered the first Ohio fumble early in the third quarter at the Bobcat 34 yard line. Six plays later and after picking up a first-and-goal at the 8-yard line, the Flashes missed a 20-yard field goal attempt.
Sophomore safety Nate Holley forced fumble No. 2, which junior defensive tackle Nate Terhune recovered at the Flashes 25 yard line mid way through the third quarter. Holley then recovered another fumble knocked free by freshman nose tackle Jon Cunningham.
Reardon marched the Flashes 78 yards in 11 plays for the game-tying score after Holley dislodged the football one final time and cornerback Najee Murray fell on it at the Kent State 22.
"We put in so much time and effort," said Holley, who added 18 tackles to his two forced fumbles and one recovery. "To come up short, it hurts. If the defense wouldn't have given up 17 points at the end, we would have won. We are frustrated … The challenge to ourselves is what is our identity? What are we as a defense? Without watching film, I personally think this is going to be a great defense. We have a lot of hard-nosed guys who play with a lot of passion and effort. We had a few assignment errors and we can't give up big plays, but for the most part I'm proud of our defense."
Ohio was just as pleased by a defense that shut down the run and forced Kent State to turn to the air.
While their rushing attack managed managed just 31 yards on 22 rushing attempts, the Flashes found success behind the arm of Reardon, who completed 30-of-41 passes for 264 yards and a pair of touchdowns – the first an 8-yard screen to Josh Boyle that tied the score at 7-7 with 5:58 on the first-quarter clock.
Reardon's second game-tying touchdown was one of nine catches by Humphrey totaling 91 yards. Ernest Calhoun added a game-high 11 catches for 62 yards.
Vick finished with 262 yards on 18-of-24 passing for the Bobcats, who finished with 437 yards of total offense on 68 plays. Kent State gained 295 yards on 63 plays.
The Kent State defense forced four fumbles on four consecutive possessions. The four forced turnovers were the most by a Kent State defense since the 2012 season.
Sophomore Nate Holley made a career-high 18 tackles. He also forced two fumbles and recovered one.
Sophomore Colin Reardon had career highs of 30 completions, 41 attempts and 264 yards passing. His 30 completions tie for the fifth most in a game in Kent State history.
Sophomore Ernest Calhoun made a career-high 11 catches.
Junior Josh Boyle caught his first touchdown since the 2012 season.
Senior Chris Humphrey has made a catch in 21 straight games. He made his fourth career touchdown grab.
Junior Anthony Melchiori's first punt went for 71 yards. He averaged 47.0 yards on seven punts. Melchiori also had touchbacks on all three of his kickoffs.
Senior Nate Vance forced and recovered a fumble.
Saturday's attendance of 22, 754 was the largest crowd for a season opener at Dix Stadium and the ninth highest in the stadium's history.
Kent State Quotes
Head Coach Paul Haynes
There are a lot of things that we have to improve on. But I love the fight in these guys, they fought like crazy. They kept coming back, but just came up short. But we will get better. We will fight again, we will stick together, get back in it and get started for South Alabama.
They play hard tough-nose football too. So when we watch the film we will see there are a lot of things we can do better. I don't want to take away credit form them. I'm not going to second guess us of what we did and how we did it.
On key first half penalty
You know when you always go up against a good football team, they say you can't beat yourself. Penalties kill you. One of the big ones was my fault with two players on the field with the same number. That's something that can't happen again because that ended up being a stopped and they scored. We've Got to go back and keep working and sticking together.
I have no excuses, there are no excuses
On Freshman DL Jon Cunningham
Jon did a good job just from the sideline view he played hard. He plays with a lot of passion so we know going into the season we were going to need one of those guys to come in and help us.
Its always a plus when one of the freshman can come in and help us.
Center Alex Nielsen
On Jason Bitsko
Ever since the funeral, not just the offensive line, but the whole team has gotten together. We want to honor his memory , we had him in the back of our heads as the game went on.
Before the game started he was in the back of our heads. Once the game started we had something else to fight for other then ourselves. He was our motivation.
We can look back and say we could have, would have, should have, but we have to look forward to next week.
Quarterback Colin Reardon
We have so much potential to do great things, but we've got to clean it up little bit.
On touchdown pass to Chris Humphrey
It was supposed to be a pass to the spread out, but the defense read the play. I tried to stay in the pocket as long as I could, but then I rolled out and the receiver did a good job of coming back to the ball.
Safety Nate Holley
We put in so much time and effort, so to come up short by 3. It hurt us but its not the offense's fault and not the defense's fault. We are a team.
You have to give them credit too, they are strong up front
I feel like the defense right now is playing pretty well. We played with a lot of intensity, played hard nose and with a lot of passion and a lot of effort. We had a Couple assignment errors, we can't have those made, it hurts. For the most part I'm proud of our defense.
Ohio Coach Frank Solich:
Surviving four second half fumbles:
"This is a great group of guys, it's been that way through winter conditioning and spring ball. I knew that this was a special group in terms of great effort and never giving up. They showed today that they are extremely resilient, I couldn't be more proud of them. We made it difficult, you normally don't win football games with four turnovers."
"They didn't stop us once, we stopped ourselves through fumbles. I thought our line did a great job for having a number of freshmen playing and having a very inexperienced offensive line. At the start of fall camp, our offensive line was the biggest concern we had, but they did a great job today."
On winning kick:
"44 yards isn't a chip shot, we have an All-MAC kicker though. We have a great deal of confidence in him and better than that he has a great deal of confidence in himself. I knew that if he just hit it well we'd win the game."
On quarterback performance:
"I thought it was a great performance by him. He threw the ball very well, kept drives alive, and also ran very well at times. He executed the option well a couple times and that help put us close enough for that last field goal. He did a great job of executing our whole offense tonight."
On defensive performance:
"Their resiliency, we have a lot of depth so we were able to keep fresh guys in there. Kent kept coming back, they're a good offensive football team. They found some spots to throw the ball to and get some things going at the end. If our defense didn't play as well as they played we wouldn't have had a chance in this game with 4 turnovers."