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By Allen Moff | Staff Writer
First Bowling Green buries a Tulsa squad that won 11 games and a conference title last year 34-7 to open the MAC season on Aug. 29.
The Falcons' next opponent: Kent State.
Then Northern Illinois ties a record for margin of victory by a MAC team over a Big Ten foe by pasting Purdue 55-24 on Sept. 28 in West Lafayette.
Next on the Huskies' schedule: The Flashes.
Last Saturday, Ball State buried Virginia of the ACC 48-27 on the road to up its record to 5-1. Who's up next for the Cardinals?
You guessed it.
The Kent State football team's schedule, which also featured back-to-back road games at perennial college football powerhouses LSU and Penn State, looked extremely difficult before the 2013 campaign started.
It's turned out to be downright cruel, one juggernaut after another, for a long-downtrodden Flashes program attempting to build off the momentum generated by last season's stunning MAC East Division title run and first bowl bid in 40 years.
But rookie head coach Paul Haynes believes his squad is handling the meat-grinder slate and 2-4 start (1-2 MAC) about as well as possible.
"It is what it is," said Haynes, when asked about the schedule during his Monday morning press conference. "What they did last week really has no bearing on what happens on Saturday, and that's kind of the approach that we have. It's more about us, about our attitude and our focus, than what Ball State is feeling right now. They have a right to feel good -- their record is good, they just beat Virginia -- but it really has no bearing when the ball is kicked off against Kent State. They haven's played us yet.
"We'll respect the heck out of them for what they've done, but it has no bearing on what's gonna happen on Saturday."
Haynes was encouraged by his players' collective reaction to last Saturday's 38-24 loss to No. 23 Northern Illinois, which spoiled the Flashes' Homecoming by rolling up 698 yards of total offense.
"You didn't see a lot of sulking around," said Haynes. "It's over, it's done, now we're gonna get better and we're gonna finish this thing the right way. That's what I always look at. If you have the attitude to get better, you will."
Attitude has always been a question with the Flashes, who endured one losing season after another before last year's shocking 11-win campaign -- just their second winning season since 1987.
"We're disappointed, but we're not down in the dumps cause there's so much more that we can accomplish," said Haynes. "A great thing about having a good program is your expectations are so high that you go in (to the season) trying to win every game, and that has not happened. But then just like all goal-setting, you sit down again and you restructure your goals, and right now our goal is to make sure we finish this thing the best that we can.
"There isn't a game on our schedule that we can't win, and there isn't a game on our schedule that the opponent can't beat us, too, if we don't prepare."
Another MAC title run is about the last thing on the minds of area fans after the 2-4 start, but if the Flashes can somehow sneak out of Muncie with a win, it's still possible. The Falcons lead the East Division at 3-0, but still have games remaining against Toledo, Ohio and Buffalo, while the Bulls and Bobcats have only played one conference game thus far.
"There's a lot of ways to be champions," said Haynes. "One of them is to be MAC champions, which we're still in. Another is to be bowl champions, which we're still in. We can still accomplish a lot with this football team."
Of course those hopes hinge heavily upon upsetting Ball State (5-1, 2-0 MAC). With a loss on Saturday, the Flashes would be out of the MAC title hunt and have to close the season 4-1 just to become bowl eligible.
"(Ball State's) got it rolling," said Haynes. "They're coming into the game with a lot of confidence, and I'm sure they're gonna think that we don't have a lot of confidence. I hope they do, because we know that we are a better football team (than what we've shown). We know that we can play better and we know that we can compete."
Redshirt freshman quarterback Colin Reardon's status for Saturday's game at Ball State remains uncertain due to a left shoulder injury he suffered after being hit hard from behind in the closing seconds against the Huskies.
"I think he's gonna be fine," said Haynes. "I think they're gonna do a couple more (tests) today or (Tuesday). We'll find out a little bit more (Tuesday). But you talk to him, and he's says he'll be fine. It must be something about that Youngstown area, he's on that Luke Wollet level where you'd probably have to have a straight jacket to keep him from playing. I think he'll be ready."
Reardon and Wollet, Kent State's senior strong safety who has played through nagging shoulder and knee injuries the past several weeks, both played at Poland High School.
Did Haynes have any second thoughts about still having Reardon in the game in the closing seconds while trailing by 14 points?
"Those things happen and you sit there (and think about it), but no," said Haynes. "You're 14 down and you've got a shot to make something happen, you've gotta go with the guy that you feel is the best to get that done."
HONORS FOR ARCHER
Dri Archer earned three different honors Monday for his efforts Saturday against Northern Illinois. Archer was named MAC East Division Special Teams Player of the Week, was one of four players named to the Paul Hornung Award Weekly Honor Roll and was one of five players recognized by College Football Performance Awards as Kickoff Returner Performer of the Week.
On his first and only kickoff return of the season, Archer raced 100 yards for a first-quarter touchdown against the Huskies. The 100-yard kickoff return tied a Kent State record set in 1979 by Norman Warren.
Since last season, Archer now has four kickoff returns for touchdowns, all of which are 98 yards or more. He is averaging 40.6 yards per kick return since the 2012 opener.
BALL STATE MEMORIES
Kent State's record-setting 11-win season of 2012 was jump-started by a thrilling home victory over the Cardinals in late September.
The Flashes were trailing 43-42 and had the ball at their own six-yard line with just 2:06 to play and no timeouts. Senior quarterback Spencer Keith proceeded to lead an 86-yard march that set up the game-winning 25-yard field goal by Freddy Cortez with just six seconds left.
"I feel like that was one of the craziest games of my college experience," said senior cornerback Malcolm Pannell. "It went all the way down to the wire. They're a tough team. But our offense in that game-winning series, no timeouts left, drives all the way down the field and Freddy kicks the game-winning field goal. It was a great game."
The Cardinals' win was the second in a series of 10 straight that catapulted Kent State into the nation's Top 25 for the first time in school history and to the MAC East Division title.
Facebook: Allen Moff, Record-Courier