Even though the Golden Flashes' slim chances of salvaging what has been a nightmare 1998 campaign by defeating Ohio University in Saturday's season-finale seemed to have completely evaporated by halftime, they managed to somehow regroup and throw quite a scare into the Bobcats before falling 31-21 before 2,850 fans at Dix Stadium.
"They never gave up," said a slightly surprised Ohio senior tailback Steve Hookfin, who rushed for 107 yards in the first half alone to help his team build a seemingly solid 24-0 lead. "Their defense came to play. Last week was the last home game for our seniors and we played a lot more aggressively, and I think that's what they did today.
"Honestly, we're lucky to get out of here with a victory."
Luck was the last thing the Bobcats (5-6, 5-3 MAC) appeared to need after they rolled up 248 yards rushing in the first 30 minutes alone.
With the option clicking on all cylinders, Hookfin and senior quarterback Kareem Wilson each eclipsed the 100-yard barrier and scored a touchdown by halftime. Meanwhile, Ohio's defense held Kent to a mere 52 yards and added a touchdown of its own.
At this point, the Flashes (0-11, 0-9) were in dire need of a pick-me-up. And senior defensive end Chris Cogan delivered.
Cogan stormed through the line and forced a Wilson fumble, which he picked up and carried six yards into the end zone as the Kent sideline exploded.
"Actually I blew my assignment," said Cogan. "I was supposed to tackle the fullback but I got a hand on (Wilson). I don't know if I knocked the ball out, but it popped out and there it was ... it's a lineman's dream to see the football laying in front of you."
Cogan's touchdown put a major charge in the Flashes.
Kent's defense forced a punt after three plays, which freshman Jerron Kelly returned 33 yards to the Ohio 47-yard line. Eight plays later quarterback Zach Williams snuck in from a yard out, and the inevitable rout had officially turned into a dogfight.
"It was one of the few times this year where it actually felt, as a coach, like we were playing a game," said Kent coach Dean Pees. "The sideline was into the game more than it's ever been, we were playing with emotion and we were competitive."
Kent had a chance to cut the lead to single digits early in the fourth quarter, driving to the Bobcats' 36. But a Williams pass intended for wide receiver Jonathan Williams was overthrown and landed right in the arms of cornerback Donnie White at the Ohio 9.
A rare Wilson pass to a wide open Drew Dwyer moved the ball 44 yards to the Flashes' seven, and Hookfin scored on the next play to give Ohio a more comfortable 31-14 cushion.
Still, Kent wasn't through.
After the defense forced Hookfin's second fumble, Williams tossed a 23-yard touchdown pass to Kelly (seven catches, 92 yards) to trim the deficit back to 10 with 3:11 remaining.
But Hookfin (36 carries, 202 yards) recovered the ensuing onside kick to terminate the Flashes' spirited comeback.
"Those were the same people running the same plays in the second half, but the results were different because of the intensity," said Pees. "That's the way we have to learn to play all the time, like every play is your last."
The loss left Pees winless in his first year as Kent's head coach. But he still hated to see the season come to a close.
"A lot of people probably think I'm glad it's over, but I'm not," he said. "I didn't want to see it end because I didn't want to go out on a losing note. Believe me, I wish we were still playing."