KENT, Ohio (AP) — Jarvion Franklin rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown and Fabian Johnson added a career-high 125 yards as No. 14 Western Michigan rallied for a 37-21 win over Kent State on Tuesday night to become the nation’s first 10-win team.
Franklin’s 19-yard TD with 8:27 helped the Broncos (10-0, 6-0 Mid-American Conference) finally put away the upset-minded Golden Flashes (3-7, 2-4), who jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
But Western Michigan, abiding by coach P.J. Fleck’s “Row the Boat” mantra, kept plugging away and scored 21 straight points before swinging the game with a safety in the fourth.
The Broncos are the highest-ranked MAC school in the AP Top 25 poll since 2008 and have their sights on a major bowl bid.
“I’ve never been more proud of a football team in my entire career because they had everything on the line,” Fleck said. “They had every pressure, expectation, but they continued to row the boat and continued to show their character.”
Quarterback Zach Terrell scored on a 1-yard keeper in the third quarter, capping a 20-play drive, to give Western Michigan its first lead at 19-14 before he threw a pass to Johnson for the 2-point conversion.
Kent State didn’t fold and responded with an 83-yard drive, tying it on freshman Justin Rankin’s 20-yard run.
Western Michigan’s next drive stalled near mid-field, but the Broncos downed a punt at Kent State’s 1, and on the next play linebacker Robert Spillane stuffed Rankin in the end zone for two points.
The Broncos got the ball back, and Johnson, primarily a blocking back, picked up 35 yards on four carries before Franklin scored his 39th career TD, tying the school record held by Jerome Persell (1976-79).
Johnson later added a 5-yard TD burst with four minutes left.
Kent State’s defense was missing its best player as star safety Nate Holley was suspended indefinitely following his arrest on felony kidnapping charges.
Holley’s twin brother, Nick, Kent State’s quarterback, rushed for 141 yards.
“It was a tough, hard-nosed football game,” Kent State head coach Paul Haynes said. “Our guys fought like crazy for as long as we could. When we look at the film, I’m sure we’ll see a lot of good individual efforts. We just came up short.”
The Broncos were the last team in the country to commit a turnover, and that didn’t come until their seventh game. But Franklin’s fumble on their first offensive play put them in a hole.
Franklin had the ball jarred loose and it was picked up by Kent State defensive back Najee Murray, who returned it 47 yards to make it 7-0 just 2:07 into the game.
The Golden Flashes went up 14-0 on Holley’s 3-yard TD run later in the quarter.
Western Michigan had not trailed by more than seven all season, and showing the kind of poise Fleck preaches daily, the Broncos scored the next 13, pulling within one on Butch Hampton’s 23-yard field goal on the final play of the first half.
Western Michigan: A national title may be out of the question, but the Broncos are in a class with Alabama, Michigan, Clemson and Washington as the only unbeaten teams left. They showed their balance in a steady rain as star wide receiver Corey Davis was held to one catch for 18 yards after getting 12 for 272 yards last week.
Kent State: Once again, the Golden Flashes played well but couldn’t finish. Four of their losses have been by 15 combined points.
Western Michigan: The Broncos get back on a “normal” schedule and return home on Nov. 19 to play Buffalo, which is just 2-7.
Kent State: The Golden Flashes play again next Tuesday night, when they visit Bowling Green, 0-5 in the conference and 1-8 overall.