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Kent State looks to finish strong against Ohio

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Kent State looks to finish strong against Ohio

KENT, Ohio (AP) The division has been clinched and along with it a spot in next week's Mid-American Conference championship. After that, a trip to a bowl game.

Kent State, ranked in The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since 1973, has rarely had it so good. And, it would appear there is little to be gained on Friday in a conference finale against Ohio.

Truth is, everything's at stake for the Golden Flashes.

A win over the Bobcats would complete the greatest regular season in Kent State football's 90-year history. It would also bolster the school's bowl resume, send the team's seniors out in style and make coach Darrell Hazell an even hotter commodity than he is already.

It would be easy to coast to the finish line. Hazell won't allow it.

``This game is like every other game on our schedule,'' said Hazell, who in just two seasons has moved Kent State to the top of the underrated MAC. ``We owe it to our seniors who take their last step in Dix Stadium. We are going to play. We are all competitors. We are going to play every single contest as hard as we can to win the football game. We are going to do everything we can to win.''

The 23rd-ranked Golden Flashes (10-1, 7-0), who will face No. 24 Northern Illinois in the MAC title game next week, are trying to finish off a season unlike any other at Kent State.

They've already eclipsed the school record for wins set by the 1973 team that was coached by Don James and included Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert and Alabama coach Nick Saban, a skinny safety back in those days. There hasn't been an 8-0 team in the MAC East in conference play since Miami in 2003.

Hazell is weary of the Bobcats (8-3, 4-3), who knocked off Penn State to open the season and were ranked just a few weeks ago before dropping three of their last four.

``We are not going to do anything we haven't done for the past 11 weeks as far as preparation,'' he said. ``It is a good Ohio football team that has lost three games in the MAC. They are very dangerous. We have to do a good job in all phases to be successful.''

That's been the key all season for Kent State.

Among the nation's best rushing teams, the Golden Flashes also lead all FBS schools in turnover margin, and in junior running back/return specialist Dri Archer, have one college football's most electrifying players.

Archer, whose blistering speed has attracted the attention of NFL scouts, leads the nation in kick return average. He's also fourth in all-purpose yards, tied for fifth in scoring and is averaging a mind-blowing 10.3 yards per carry. In last week's win over Bowling Green, Archer reeled off two long touchdown runs, including an oh-no-he-didn't 74-yarder that became one of those plays looped day and night on ESPN.

Racing down the left sideline, the 5-foot-8, 175-pound Archer appeared to be stopped near midfield by several defenders. He momentarily vanished before emerging like a surfer lucky to stay on his board in a monster wave. He cut back across the field, picked up a few blockers and jetted to the end zone.

Even as he watched the tape, Archer couldn't believe what he had done.

``Wow, that really happened,'' said Archer, who rushed for a career-high 241 yards as Kent State clinched the East. ``It catches me off guard sometimes what I do, but it turned out good for us. The only thing I was thinking about was not getting tackled.''

That's now Ohio's concern, and Bobcats coach Frank Solich knows the only way his team has a chance is to slow down Archer.

``We've had some really good playmakers in the MAC, but he's something special,'' Solich said. ``I think that you could place him in any conference in the country and he would be special. He's not big, he's got great speed and he's very fluid in his running style. You can use him a lot of different ways, and Kent State does a great job with that.

``If you let him get started, he's got a shot at things. You've got to control him some. He's going to have some big plays, you just hope that everyone that's built around him offensively doesn't also have big plays.''

The Bobcats, who have never beaten a ranked team in 15 tries, are coming off a disappointing 52-27 loss to Ball State on Nov. 14. But the extra time off has allowed a team that has had more than its share of injuries some time to recover and Solich is confident his team can give Kent State its best shot.

``You better be a really good football team to win games, and you better have a little luck on the way,'' he said. ``We were a really good football team that didn't have a lot of luck. We'll finish off very well. I like the attitude of our team, and they'll be ready to play.''

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John Carlson once again an All-Star snub

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USA TODAY Sports

John Carlson once again an All-Star snub

The Capitals' Stanley Cup run may be even more remarkable than we thought considering there were zero all-stars on Washington's roster apparently.

As part of Wednesday's NHL Awards, the First and Second-Team All-Star rosters were released and not a single Capital made either team.

Here is a look at both teams:

In the interest of full disclosure, the All-Star Teams are voted on by members of the Pro Hockey Writers Association of which I am a member. I did not, however, have a vote for the All-Star rosters.

The first thought most Caps fans will have when looking at these teams is what about Alex Ovechkin?

I'm actually OK with Taylor Hall and Claude Giroux getting the nods at left wing.

Hall won the Hart Trophy for what he was able to accomplish in New Jersey in leading a team that looked like a trash heap before the season to a playoff berth. Compare the Devils' roster to the Caps' and there's no question Hall had a lot less to work with than Ovechkin and tallied 93 points as compared to Ovechkin's 87. Giroux finished second in the NHL with 102 points, one of only three players this season to finish in the triple digits. He very narrowly beat out Ovechkin for Second Team honors.

It was a coin flip and Ovechkin lost. That's not what Caps fans should be crying foul over. The fact that John Carlson was not among the four defensive all-stars is a far more egregious omission for which there is no excuse.

After inexplicably being excluded from the NHL All-Star Game in January, Carlson was snubbed once again as he came in fifth in the voting.

Just what does Carlson have to do to get some recognition?

No defenseman in the entire NHL had more points than Carlson's 68 this season. That's not just because of increased minutes as Carlson finished 13th among defensemen in ice time per game.

But being a good defenseman is not about the offensive stats.

That's right. Now go ahead and show me which of the four who finished ahead of Carlson was partnered with a rookie for most of the season. I'll wait.

The answer is none of them.

It's very easy now to look at the Capitals as a team that had all the pieces in place and managed to put it all together at the right time to go on a Cup run, but that's not what happened this season. Carlson was very heavily relied upon by the Capitals during the regular season when the blue line was an obvious weakness, especially after an injury forced Matt Niskanen out of the lineup for 14 games. Carlson was averaging nearly 30 minutes per game in Niskanen's absence. Carlson also spent the majority of the season with his primary partner being a rookie in Christian Djoos.

Charlie McAvoy was a rookie too. Does that mean Zdeno Chara should have been named an all-star?

A player like McAvoy is very much the exception, not the rule. Djoos has a bright future ahead of him, but his career is not yet at the same level as a player like McAvoy.

With all due respect to the voters, it seems like not enough attention was paid to what the Capitals asked of Carlson this season. His strong play on both ends of the ice made up for a weak defense that was only bolstered by a late trade for Michal Kempny from the Chicago Blackhawks just prior to the trade deadline.

If you looked at Carlson's stats and saw just an offensive specialist who was not strong enough in his own end to warrant an all-star spot, then you were not paying close enough attention to the role he played in Washington this season.

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Orioles weather long rain delay in 3-0 win over Nationals

Orioles weather long rain delay in 3-0 win over Nationals

WASHINGTON -- The rain was heavy and relentless. As the puddles grew deeper on the tarp at Nationals Park, the Baltimore Orioles were left to wonder if their bid for a rare road victory would be thwarted by, of all things, the weather.

During a season in which very little has worked in their favor, the Orioles withstood a long rain delay to beat the Washington Nationals 3-0 Wednesday night.

Baltimore led 2-0 after four innings when play was stopped. After a wait of 2 hours, 43 minutes, the game resumed with a few hundred fans from the announced crowd of 32,153 sprinkled around the lower seating bowl.

Mark Trumbo homered for Baltimore, and Andrew Cashner and four relievers combined on a five-hitter in a game that ended long after midnight.

"It was nice," Trumbo said. "I'm glad that we actually kept the game going. Had we not been able to, it might have been a wash. But it ended up being pretty big for us."

Baltimore ended a six-game losing streak to Washington that began last May, won for only the fourth time in 20 games and improved the majors' worst road record to 10-28.

This one was worth the wait.

"It's never easy, especially when you get over the hour mark, two-hour mark," Trumbo said. "Then you have to restart. It's almost two games in one, so, great job by our guys tonight."

The Nationals managed only two hits following the delay, both in the ninth inning.

"It happens. You can't do anything about the rain," manager Dave Martinez said. "You've got to come out and get yourself ready to play. I'm not going to make any excuses."

The rain delay cut short a solid pitching performance by Cashner, who allowed three hits and no walks over four innings in his return from an 11-day stay on the disabled list with back spasms.

Miguel Castro (2-2) followed with two hitless innings, Darren O'Day pitched a perfect seventh and Zach Britton got four outs.

Brad Brach allowed the Nationals to load the bases with two outs in the ninth before striking out Mark Reynolds .

Trumbo hit a two-run homer in the second inning off Gio Gonzalez (6-4), and for a while it appeared the drive would be washed out by the rain.

"One pitch. That was the whole game," Gonzalez lamented. "That was it."

Indeed, it all ended well for the Orioles, who added a run in the sixth when Adam Jones doubled off Shawn Kelley and scored on a sacrifice fly by Danny Valencia .

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