November 28, 2010

The seven yard itch

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Following Friday's 28-6 win over Ohio University, former Kent State
head football coach Doug Martin walked down the path leading from
Dix Stadium to its parking lot; a glass of sweet tea in one hand and his wife's
hand in the other.

Martin didn't look back at the stadium he called home for the past seven
years, but if he had he probably would have thought about how close he came
to leading the Golden Flashes to a winning record for the first time since
2001. A winning record would have triggered an automatic one-year renewal of
his contract that would have expired in June if he hadn't tendered his
resignation following last week's loss at Western Michigan.

Football is a game of inches, but in Martin's and Kent State's
case, it was seven yards that altered the future.

Trailing Miami, 27-21, with just 3:23 left in the fourth quarter of Kent State's
conference opener on Oct. 2, sophomore quarterback Spencer Keith led
the Golden Flashes on a nine-play, 49-yard drive that set them up first-and-goal
at the Miami 10-yard line with about a minute to play.

What happened next changed the future of two football programs and one head

After junior running back Jacquise Terry ran for three yards on first
down, Keith rolled to his right on second down. He caught a glimpse of junior
wide receiver Sam Kirkland, who appeared to break free from Miami's

Keith lofted the ball into the right corner of the end zone, but Kirkland
didn't come down with the ball. Miami safety Anthony Kokal did, ending
Kent State's comeback attempt and ultimately leading to Martin's

Ironically, it was Kokal's father Greg that last quarterbacked Kent
State to a Mid-American Conference title in 1972.

Miami went on to win the MAC East title, thanks to Kent State's win
over Ohio on Friday, and Kent State finished under .500 for the ninth straight

While there was a lot of football played after that loss at Miami, that loss
defined Kent State's season. The Golden Flashes seemed to always come
up short of their intended goals.

Seven yards.

Had the Flashes managed to pull out that victory against the RedHawks, the
season could have turned out much differently.

That we'll never know.

But, even if the rest of the season turned out just like it did, the Flashes
would have finished with a 5-3 conference record, triggering the automatic
one-year renewal of Martin's contract.

Instead, Martin resigned and Kent State athletic director Joel Nielsen's biggest test since beginning his tenure in Kent last June will be to replace
Martin with a head coach that can overcome the challenges faced by one of the
least supported, financially speaking, programs in all of Division I football.

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