MOBILE, Ala. – A desperate final drive without an All-American speedster came up just short as Kent State's first bowl appearance in 40 years ended in a 17-13 loss to Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Sunday night.
With Dri Archer sidelined by a knee injury suffered in the second quarter, senior quarterback Spencer Keith led the Golden Flashes on a march that ended just 20 yards shy of the end zone. Dealing with his own injury suffered less than a minute earlier, Keith could only pick up five yards on a desperate scramble on fourth-and-eight with 52 seconds remaining on the scoreboard clock.
"It's a huge difference when you don't have the fastest player on the field," said Keith, referring to the loss of Archer. "We fought through it, though. We put together a good drive, but we just couldn't finish it out."
Keith had been knocked out of the game three plays earlier when he was hit in the ribs by blitzing Arkansas State defensive back Tausean Holmes. The senior stood his ground in the face of the rush, completing a 15-yard pass to Matthew Hurdle on fourth-and-eight.
Archer also returned to the game after hurting his knee when he hit the turf on a second-quarter play.
"I kept trying to go, but I was hopping around," said Archer. "I knew I was hurting the team when I was in there."
Archer played in the third and part of the fourth quarter, but couldn't answer the bell for Kent State's final offensive series of the the 2012-13 season.
"It was tough," said Archer, who stood on the sideline with a towel draped over his head after KSU took over at its own 23 yard line with 4:5 0 to play. "I had my head down the majority of the drive. I wanted to be out there with the guys."
Kent State took an early lead thanks in large part to Archer. The redshirt junior took an early-second-quarter reverse and sprinted 16 yards to the end zone for the game's opening score.
Arkansas State answered with back-to-back touchdowns in the second quarter – a 10-yard run by David Oku and a 31-yard pass from Ryan Alpin to J.D. McKissic.
After Kent State trimmed the Red Wolves' lead to 14-10 on a 42-yard field goal by Freddy Cortez, the two teams traded field goals in the third quarter before battling through a scoreless fourth. A-State's Brian Davis converted from 25 yards early in the third before Cortez booted a 26-yarder late.
"Obviously we didn't do enough in the red zone," said Kent State head coach Darrell Hazell. "We had to settle for field goals."
The Golden Flashes also missed out an opportunity to put a touchdown on the scoreboard in the first quarter after true freshman running back Julian Durden was hauled down at the A-State 1 yard line at the end of a 32-yard sprint through the Red Devils' defense. The touchdown-saving tackle by Arkansas State linebacker Don Jones may have been the play of the game. Two plays later, Kent State was turned away when a throw to the end zone by Keith was tipped into the air and intercepted by linebacker Nathan Herrold.
For the first time since Sept. 8, the Golden Flashes' defense failed to force a turnover of its own.
The loss completed Kent State's season at 11-3. It also served as Hazell's farewell as Kent State head coach. He will leave for a new job at Purdue on Monday morning while new coach Paul Haynes returns to Kent on the team's charter flight.
"We would have loved to get this win for our guys in that locker room," said Hazell. "I have strong feelings for the guys in that locker room. It's hard."
The question everyone wanted to know after the game was whether or not Sunday was also Archer's last game with the Golden Flashes. Archer is considering passing on his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft.
"I haven't told anyone what decision I'm going to make, but I will probably decide within the next couple of days," he said.
Archer led Kent State with 77 yards on nine carries, including the team's lone touchdown. Trayion Durham added 68 yards on 20 carries as Kent State out-gained Arkansas State 193-to-120 on the ground. The Red Wolves enjoyed a 213-to-157-yard advantage through the air.
Senior left tackle Brian Winters set a school record, making his 50th career start. Winters started every game since joining the team in 2009 and will return to Ladd-Peebles Stadium on Jan. 26 as the Mid-American Conference's only player in the Senior Bowl.
Senior quarterback Spencer Keith surpassed 8,000 career passing yards.
Senior nose tackle Dana Brown had seven tackles, including a career-high three tackles for loss.
Junior Dri Archer scored his 23rd touchdown of the season and 16th rushing touchdown. Kent State's previous single-season touchdown record was 18. Archer also had his ninth run of the season of over 40 yards.
Sophomore Trayion Durham had 68 yards rushing, surpassing 1,300 yards on the year.
Durham and Archer are the only duo in the nation to each finish with over 1,300 yards.
Senior Matt Hurdle made a career-high of six catches.
Junior Roosevelt Nix raised his career tackles for loss to 52.0.
Senior Freddy Cortez went 2-for-2 on field goals and made 16 of his last 18 attempts. Cortez went 58-of-58 on extra-point attempts on the year.
Senior Luke Batton had 11 tackles. He totaled 40 tackles in his last three games and 143 stops on the year.
Freshman Anthony Melchiori placed three punts inside the 20 and had a 63-yarder in the second half.
Freshman Julian Durden had a career-long run of 32 yards.
Kent State outgained an opponent on the ground and lost for the first time since the midpoint of the 2011 season.
The Flashes did not force a turnover for the first time since Sept. 8 at Kentucky.
Kent State's six-win improvement from last season is tied for the most by any FBS team.