Kennesaw State wide receiver Justin Sumpter jumps to catch a pass for a touchdown. The sophomore leads the Owls with six touchdown recpetions on the season. (AJC/Cory Hancock)
Photo: Cory Hancock
Photo: Cory Hancock

Sumpter doubtful so KSU looks for next receiver up

When quarterback Chandler Burks has gotten the chance to throw downfield, he said he has confidence wide receiver Justin Sumpter will come down with the ball.

“He’s a great target, he’s a great player, makes a lot of plays for us,” Burks said. “Being able to have that comfort level, with being able to throw up a 50-50 ball if you want to say that. I call it more of a 90-10 with him in the air.”

The past two weeks, the Owls (3-1) have had success putting the ball up in the air and letting the 6-foot-3 sophomore go get it. Sumpter has caught 14 of the 17 balls thrown in his direction for 334 yards and three touchdowns in KSU’s Past two games, allowing the offense to stretch the field and challenge opposing team’s secondaries.

Unfortunately for KSU, coach Brian Bohannon said Sumpter is doubtful for Saturday’s game against Missouri S&T (3-2, 2-1 Great Lakes Valley) with an ankle sprain. So if the team wants to maintain its recent success when airing it out, another receiver will have to step up.

This may be a bit of a challenge for the Owls as no player comes close to Sumpter’s 25 receptions or 468 yards this season. And of the team’s seven passing touchdowns, all but one have gone to Sumpter.

Still, Bohannon said he expects Xavier Harper or Christian Branch or others to step up.

“We’re a next man up mentality now,” Bohannon said. “Obviously Justin is a heck of a player, but next man up, and they got to go make plays, and we’ll give them those opportunities.”

In an offense that is so predicated on the run, having the option to throw it on any down and distance has allowed the Owls to open up the playbook, offensive coordinator Grant Chestnut said.

“Any time that you can throw the ball in what we do offensively, you’re making life easier in the run game,” Chestnut said. “Just as the run game opens up the pass game, they compliment one another very well. We have the potential, if we work hard, to have a very dynamic offense.”

Going into the most recent game against Furman, Sumpter said he was looking forward to helping out the offense however he could and was not concerned about replicating his eight receptions, 187 yards and two touchdowns that earned him the conference Offensive Player of the Week award after the Owls’ 36-28 win over Duquesne.

“I’m just here when they need me,” Sumpter said last week.

On Saturday, Sumpter was needed. His six-catch, 147-yard game was highlighted by a 46-yard touchdown reception that put KSU ahead 49-14 going into the half. In addition to the touchdown grab, Sumpter had three other receptions of more than 20 yards to help KSU pick up the win.

But Sumpter’s contributions to the offense are much deeper than just the passing game. His ability to make plays deep allows the Owls to see fewer defenders in the box when trying to execute their option run plays, and Burks said Sumpter’s run blocking is an asset.

Although Sumpter is not likely to take the field, continuing to test the opposition downfield may be exactly what the Owls need to keep the team in the right mindset.

“We’ve kind of taken the approach here that we’re going to free wheel it and within reason, we’re going wheel-and-deal and try to make plays,” Bohannon said. “And I think our kids enjoy that. I think they feed on it a little bit.”

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