Kennesaw State running back Darnell Holland (33) runs the ball for a touchdown during an FCS playoff game against the Wofford Terriers, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, Kennesaw, Ga. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL
Photo: Branden Camp
Photo: Branden Camp

Kennesaw State ekes out second-round victory

Kennesaw State avoided the costly mistake on a rainy Saturday and remained alive in the NCAA FCS playoffs.

The No. 2-ranked Owls wound up winning the second-half battle for field position and took advantage of a late mistake by No. 12 Wofford, which set up a late 30-yard field goal by Justin Thompson to give the Owls a 13-10 win in the second round of playoffs at Fifth Third Bank Stadium.

“I didn’t think it would be high scoring,” Bohannon said. “We knew it was going to be arduous,” Bohannon said. “It was probably more arduous than we thought it would be.”

Thompson had come up short on a 48-yard attempt midway in the fourth quarter, but the Owls were able to get the ball back when Anthony Gore forced Wofford quarterback Joe Newman to fumble, which Andrew Butcher recovered at the Wofford 21. 

“Knowing we just had to get the offense back on the field, knowing it was a hard-fought game, we kept fighting,” Gore said. “We knew if we got the offense back on the field something special was going to happen.”

There was nothing special on the first three plays, as Kennesaw State was unable to move the ball. But it was close enough for Thompson to connect on the game-winning kick with 1:36 remaining. 

The Kennesaw State defense was able to protect the lead. They harassed Newman for four downs, all incompletions, with Butcher pulling him to the ground as the final pass hit the turf. 

KSU’s offense was able to run all but 23 seconds off the clock before turning it over on downs. Wofford, with no timeouts, could not make a last stand. Newman’s 43-yard completion as time expired proved to be meaningless. 

“They ended up making one more play than we did,” Wofford coach Josh Conklin said.

The win sends Kennesaw State to the quarterfinals for the second consecutive season, where the Owls will host South Dakota State. 

Kennesaw State entered the game with the nation’s No. 2 running attack, and Wofford was ranked No. 4. But neither team was able to do much on a day where the weather vacillated between light rain, heavy rain and gloom. 

KSU rushed for 163 yards, 210 yards below its season average. Wofford rushed for 74 yards – a 1.7- yard average – 257 yards below their average. Kennesaw State’s top runner was Darnell Holland, who gained 74 – 53 on a second-quarter touchdown run. Nathan Walker rushed for 56 yards for Wofford.

KSU quarterback Chandler Burks was bottled up most of the day. He ran 10 times for 7 yards and completed 6 of 14 passes for 79 yards with one interception. 

“Nobody could really move the ball consistently,” Bohannon said. “It’s one of those games. We found a way. That was the bottom line.”

Kennesaw State’s Gore has 12 tackles, six of them for loss, and one sack. The Owls totaled 13 tackles for loss. Wofford’s 320-pound defensive lineman Miles Brown had 10 tackles, one sack, and two tackles for loss, and more than once dragged ball carriers backwards by their jerseys.  

Neither team did much in the first quarter, which yielded a total of 58 yards and four first downs combined. 

But the tone changed considerably in the second period. KSU’s Holland scored on the first play, a 53-yard run that took him to the right sideline before he cut back toward the middle of the field and fell into the end zone. 

Holland was down on himself for missing a block that led to a sack on an earlier possession. 

“Huge shout-out to my roommate, Chiaza Nwadike, he told me, ‘I’m going to block the safety, and it’s going to be a touchdown,’” Holland said. “That was before the play was snapped. In my mind, know the O-line was going to block to the safety, there’s no excuse for me not to score.”

Wofford answered by scoring on its second play after the kickoff. Joe Newman dropped and threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to D’Mauriae VanCleave, who had beaten a pair of defenders and caught the throw in stride for the easy touchdown. 

The Terriers took a 10-7 lead with 7:45 remaining when Luke Carter had just enough leg for a career-high 45-yard field goal. The kick was made five yards longer when Wofford was penalized for having too many men on the field. 

Kennesaw State tied the score 10-10 on a Thompson’s 40-yard field goal at the horn. The key play of the drive was a fourth-down conversion on an 18-yard over-the-shoulder catch from Chandler to Holland.  

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