Kent State aims for bowl eligibility

Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson

When Kent State does it’s weekly walk through in the field house on the Thursday or Friday prior to a game, it ends the session with a breakdown underneath the lone football banner in a sea of other Kent State sports championship banners.

It’s from the 1972 team, the only Kent State team to win a conference championship and the last team to go to a bowl game.

That could change after this weekend when the Golden Flashes visit Akron in the annual Wagon Wheel Game.

Kent State has won three consecutive games and is one game away from the sixth win for bowl eligibility.

“If somebody had told me at the beginning of the year that we wouldn’t have <a href="http://sports.espn.com/ncf/player/profile?playerId=170645" target="_new">Eugene Jarvis</a>, one of the best running backs in the conference, and that we’d be playing with a true freshman quarterback and we’d still be in the hunt, I’d say they were drinking something,” Kent State coach <a href="http://sports.espn.com/ncf/player/profile?playerId=232567" target="_new">Doug Martin</a> said. “But our players have really responded and rallied around each other.”

The Golden Flashes also are in the hunt for the MAC East title. They’ve already beaten Ohio, which is tied with a 4-1 record with Kent State, and they play East leader Temple next week.

Both Martin and junior safety Brian Lainhart, the team's leader in interceptions, said the change in the team’s attitude started with the loss to Baylor on Oct. 3. Although the Golden Flashes were blown out 31-15 and sitting at 2-3 overall, something clicked in the team that made it think it could compete.

“We got a confidence after the Baylor game because Baylor was a top team that we played this year and we really believed that we could play with anybody else on our schedule,” Lainhart said. ‘Offensively, defensively, special teams we really put it all together. We might not have had it all together the whole game, but there were bits and pieces of that game where we were like, ‘Man, we’re pretty darn good.’ And we just kind of built off that and just took it into MAC play.”

What’s most surprising about Kent State’s success is that it’s been behind a youthful team. Freshman quarterback <a href="http://sports.espn.com/ncf/player/profile?playerId=482099" target="_new">Spencer Keith</a> was thrust into the lineup during the second game of the season after starter <a href="http://sports.espn.com/ncf/player/profile?playerId=237792" target="_new">Giorgio Morgan</a> was injured. Freshman receiver Tyshon Keith has emerged as the top target. Several other young players have become contributors this season.

Having so many young players has actually helped his team. They’re more about playing the game than thinking about the history and pressure. It’s kept the team relaxed and focused on its goals.

“We have a bunch of young guys playing right now and the thing that helps us is that our young guys are so mature,” Lainhart said. “Spencer Keith, you’d never think he was a freshman. Older guys just keep reminding the young guys to just keep playing one game at a time. That’s what got us here so far. We’ve just got to keep doing the things that we’ve been doing. If we look down the road, that’s when you let games slip up and you no longer in a position to obtain your goals.”