BOWLING GREEN: Dri Archer’s touchdown run almost defied explanation.
Many in the press box lowered their heads, figuring the Kent State junior had been tackled near midfield. With Archer, they never will make that mistake again.
Archer was determined to shoulder more of the load because Trayion Durham, the powerful half of the Golden Flashes’ running back tandem, was already bothered by last week’s quadriceps pull. Then in the third quarter, Durham suffered an injury to his lower abdomen, KSU coach Darrell Hazell said. Durham’s last carry was a 9-yard gain; a later pass intended for him was intercepted.
“Before that drive, Coach was telling me ‘Hold on to the ball and don’t go down,’ ” Archer said. “The whole time, I was thinking in my head, ‘Don’t get tackled.’ ”
So when defensive tackle Ted Oullett jumped on Archer’s back and grabbed him by the shoulders, Archer ducked and flipped Oullett. Archer raced to the end zone, benefiting from a late block from quarterback Spencer Keith, for a spectacular 74-yard touchdown.
“It was like a big cluster and I just popped back out. I was still up and I just kept running,” Archer said. “I didn’t want to go down. I was fighting more than he was. That was probably one of my most exciting runs so far this season.”
Archer’s dash was not the game-winning touchdown in a 31-24 victory over Bowling Green on Saturday at Doyt Perry Stadium that wrapped up the Mid-American Conference East Division title for Kent State (10-1, 7-0). That honor went to Keith, who rushed 7 yards for a touchdown with 1:48 remaining.
Junior linebacker Luke Wollet preserved the victory with 21 seconds to play, when he intercepted Bowling Green quarterback Matt Schilz’s pass in the end zone. It was the 10th career interception for Wollet, who also had a game-high 13 tackles.
Archer’s amazing feats will provide the buzz as Kent State advances to the Nov. 30 MAC Championship against Northern Illinois at Ford Field in Detroit and likely to its first bowl appearance in 40 years.
“He’s a spectacular player,” Hazell said of Archer. “The things that guy can do with the ball in his hands are absolutely incredible.”
Added Wollet: “He’s a game-changer. He’s such a great talent, I’m blessed to be on his team.”
Against the stubborn Falcons (7-4, 5-2), Archer dazzled with a career-high 241 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns, the other going for 79 yards in the second quarter. He added runs of 11, 12, 14 and 16 yards and caught a 13-yard pass. He ran his KSU single-season record to 21 touchdowns, four of those runs for 60 yards or more, and increased his average per carry to 10.3 yards.
Going into Friday’s regular-season finale against Ohio University, Archer has 118 touches this season, 36 of them for 20 or more yards, 64 of them for 10 or more.
“You watch highlight clips of [Archer] making big play after big play after big play, but that can’t change what you do fundamentally,” Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson said. “We missed some tackles in tight space. … He made our guys miss, just like he makes everybody miss.”
Oullett’s whiff actually took Wollet off the hook. Archer said he used the same move on Wollet in KSU’s indoor facility last winter.
“He did the same thing to me and I slid right over him,” Wollet said. “Nothing surprises me with him. It’s like trying to tackle air. He’s just something, a great talent, and he’s got a tremendous future ahead of him.”
Asked if was hard to live that miss down, Wollet said: “At least someone takes over my spot. It won’t be about me any more.”
The triumph was not all about Archer. Kent State intercepted three Schilz passes, giving the Golden Flashes 32 takeaways this season. Senior cornerback Norman Wolfe of Butchel, playing with a broken arm, had his 10th career interception to set up a field goal. Keith completed just 9-of-17 passes for 91 yards with an interception and a fumble (one of two KSU lost), but threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Eric Adeyemi and rushed 12 times for 39 yards.
Of the game-winning touchdown, Keith said: “I saw the end crash so I pulled it out and I had a lead blocker out there. I think No. 7 [linebacker D.J. Lynch] was right on my tail. I ran as hard as I could to the end zone. I’m not sure which receiver was out there, maybe [Matt] Hurdle, got a good block.”
But the Falcons had answers for many of the Golden Flashes’ big plays. Schilz hit redshirt freshman receiver Chris Gallon on touchdown passes of 72 and 81 yards on the next offensive snap after Archer’s long touchdown runs.
“Those two big plays they had on us were mental collapses,” Wollet said.
“It’s unfortunate, but that happens in big games. Our offense responded great. When they had a turnover, we responded with a couple turnovers that were pretty big. That happens in a heavyweight fight like this. We were punching back and forth and we happened to get the last punch in.”
But even with the punches and counterpunches, Wollet was confident because the Golden Flashes have Archer, a Venice, Fla., product.
“He’s fun to have on your team,” Wollet said. “When something bad happens, you never lose hope when you have someone like that because you know he can break a 90-yarder and make 11 guys miss, even when your offense is struggling.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.