But every young man in a Golden Flashes uniform managed to escape a potentially painful trip to Morgantown with their pride intact, despite suffering a 34-14 setback Saturday afternoon at Mountaineer Stadium.
That's because Kent State's offense and defense both carved some chinks in West Virginia's formidable armor _ just not in the same stanza.
"I told our guys that if we play offense like we did the last 20 minutes and defense like we did the first 20 minutes, we'll have one helluva game," said KSU coach Dean Pees. "In the first half we played very, very hard defensively, but we couldn't get anything going offensively. Then once we started moving the ball in the second half, our defense just wore down. We just couldn't put it all together."
Still, the Flashes certainly didn't embarrass their mentor like they did in a season-opening 51-0 loss at Iowa, because his troops actually proved they belonged on the same field with the mighty Mountaineers.
"Our guys kept playing hard until the end," said Pees, who said nothing of the sort following the Hawkeye loss. "There certainly were bright spots."
One of them was once again freshman quarterback Joshua Cribbs, who rebounded from a fitful first half to make his first collegiate start a memorable one. Cribbs reeled off a run WVU fans won't soon forget late in the third quarter, when he sprinted to his right, shook off a pair of tacklers, sprinted down the sideline and ran through a safety at the 5-yard line to complete a breathtaking 84-yard touchdown run.
Cribbs' TD scamper set a new record for opponents at 21-year-old Mountaineer Stadium, and breathed some life into a struggling KSU offense.
"We lacked confidence until Cribbs made the big play," said Pees. "That sparked us, and I thought we played better after that.'
Cribbs also tossed an 18-yard scoring strike to David Alston in the fourth quarter, when the Mountaineers were still playing most of their starters. He wound up completing 13-of-31 passes for 117 yards with two interceptions, and added 144 yard on the ground in 20 attempts to become the first KSU quarterback to crack triple figures in rushing and passing in the same game since local legend Patrick Young pulled it off in 1986.
But obviously, Cribbs and company didn't get untracked in time. Kent State's offense sputtered miserably in the first half, producing a paltry 37 yards on 28 plays.
"We wanted to get Joshua on the perimeter and let him see if he could make people miss, but we just couldn't get them blocked up front," said Pees. "That took us out of everything we were trying to do."
The Flashes needed three possessions to pick up their initial first down and didn't reach midfield until midway through the second quarter, but somewhat incredibly still trailed just 6-0 at that point.
Kent State's front seven, anchored by senior linebacker James Harrison (9 tackles, 3 for loss) and senior tackle Mark Strickland (6 tackles, 3 for loss, 1 forced fumble), held firm early on against West Virginia's spread offense.
"We had a good week of practice and we played hard," said Strickland. "I feel good about the way we played today, but I think we did get a little tired."
Signs of fatigue began to surface late in the first half. After Kent State's offense went three-and-out with Ben McDaniels at quarterback, the Mountaineers seized control when star tailback Avon Cobourne (35 carries, 181 yards) scored from a yard out to push their lead to 13-0 with 37 seconds left in the second quarter.
Cribbs had just led a drive into West Virginia territory for the first time on KSU's prior possession, which ended on a failed fake punt at the WVU 45.
"I just felt we were out of sync and needed to make a change (at quarterback)," said Pees. "It wasn't necessarily Josh's fault. We just weren't moving the ball at all."
Things quickly fell apart for the Flashes in the second half when West Virginia quarterback Brad Lewis hit senior speedster Antonio Brown on a slant pattern for a 40-yard score. Then, after Harrison hobbled off with an ankle injury, Lewis threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Phil Buxton that pushed the lead to 27-0.
The issue was never in doubt thereafter, although Kent State made enough plays down the stretch to effectively infuriate Mountaineer coach Rich Rodriguez.
"I'm not real happy with the way we played," he said. "I thought we'd
play better on both sides of the ball. (The Flashes) never quit. They
gave us all they had for four quarters."