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Luke Wollet called it "the opportunity of a lifetime."
Every single player on both rosters has to agree with Kent State's junior strong safety as the kickoff for Saturday's epic showdown at Bowling Green grows near.
That's because no one on either team has ever played a game of this magnitude at the collegiate level, a battle for the Mid-American Conference East Division championship, a bowl berth, and a spot opposite Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game on Nov. 30 at Ford Field in Detroit.
Not even close.
In 25th-ranked Kent State's case, no one on the roster had experienced a winning season before this year's stunning 9-1 campaign, which has produced a seemingly never-ending list of never-befores and firsts -- first winning season since 2001, most wins in school history (tie with 1973 team), first AP Top 25 ranking since '73, and first-ever 6-0 MAC start, just to name a few.
The Flashes finished the last three seasons in the same mediocre fashion: 5-7 overall and 4-4 in the MAC.
"We were fighting to get four or five wins last year at this time, and everyone around here was moving on to basketball season," said Wollet. "Now the support we're getting has just been great. I hope this year is something future teams can build on. Maybe this place will become a football town."
Some of the current Falcons were around for a 7-6 campaign in 2009 that included a season-ending loss to host Idaho in the Humanitarian Bowl in current head coach Dave Clawson's first season, but that team never competed for a championship. Teams of the next two years had trouble just competing, finishing a combined 7-17.
"I think we're finding a way to win, as opposed to last year we maybe were a team that found ways to lose," said Clawson. "Part of that is maturity. I also think the investment our players are making each week is showing up on game day."
Last year the two teams met on Oct. 29 in Kent. The Flashes headed into the game at 1-6 but coming off a bye week, when they made their now infamous switch on the offensive line -- moving Josh Kline from right tackle to left guard next to star left tackle Brian Winters, and moving Kent Cleveland into the starting right tackle slot. Kent State defeated Bowling Green 27-15, but the Falcons had the ball in the final minute trailing by only five before Flashes defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix returned a fumble for a touchdown.
That game ignited a shocking stretch of 13 wins in 15 games over two seasons by Kent State, whose offensive production has nearly doubled since before that bye.
"You can probably go back in college football history, and someone may be able to prove me wrong, but they might have had the greatest bye week in the history of college football," said Clawson. "They were 1-6, had a bye week right before us, then really changed a lot of things up offensively. They found their identity, and since then they've been lights out."
The Falcons (7-3, 5-1 MAC) have had an impressive run of their own this season. Since starting out 1-3, with losses at Florida (27-14), Toledo (27-15) and Virginia Tech (37-0), Bowling Green has reeled off six straight wins -- all by 12 points or more. During that stretch the defense has allowed a mere 7.8 points per game.
Kent State (9-1, 6-0) bounced back from a similar lopsided non-conference loss at Kentucky in game two (47-14), and has since piled up a school-record eight consecutive victories. Now the program that's long been a national laughingstock has played its way into position to capture its first MAC championship of any kind and first bowl berth since 1972.
"The journey has been a roller-coaster ride," said senior quarterback Spencer Keith, a fourth-year starter who has experienced the ups and downs more than anyone. "We're just excited to be at this point, cause not a lot of people get this chance. We're happy about that, and ready to take advantage."
One team will indeed take advantage of a surprise title shot on Saturday, thus seizing "the opportunity of a lifetime."
"I'm definitely taking it all in," said Wollet. "I've been playing football since I was six years old, and this game means everything to me. We're gonna leave it all out there on the field. It should be a great football game."
GO Flashes. I'm proud of your accomplishments. I attended KSU in 1960 and now live out West and follow all the sports RecordPub online. Looking forward to the game.