There were moments during his postgame news conference Saturday when Kennesaw State coach Brian Bohannon struggled to keep his emotions in check, especially when referring to the program’s so-called “OG’s,” the guys who have been with him since the program began in 2014.
He knew that one day the original cast of seniors – the “Original Gangsters” -- would play their final game. He just wasn’t expecting it to come Saturday, when South Dakota State beat the Owls 27-17 in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs on a cold, rainy day at Fifth Third Bank Stadium.
“Those guys came here on a whim and a prayer and a vision of something they couldn’t see, couldn’t touch, couldn’t feel and made it happen,” Bohannon said. “They laid bricks. They did things that people normally wouldn’t do to lay a foundation for something we’ll hopefully continue to build on.”
This is the second consecutive year that the Owls (11-2) were eliminated in the quarterfinals. The loss ended a 15-game home winning streak, the third-longest among FCS teams. It was Kennesaw State’s first loss since the season opener at Georgia State. The senior class leaves with a 37-12 record.
“What a run,” Bohannon said. “Two conference championships, a lot of wins and lot of really good things. We’ll step back and look back in a few years and say, ‘holy cow.’”
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Kennesaw State had to play without one of its primary OG’s for most of the day Saturday. Early in the second quarter, quarterback Chandler Burks took a shot on his funny bone that caused the feeling to leave his left arm. Burks, the Big South Offensive Player of the Year and a finalist for the Walter Payton Award, had to leave the game and was unable to return.
Burks stayed on the sideline flexing his arm, trying to get the feeling to return, but was never able to re-enter the game. He finished with 34 yards rushing on seven carries and completed his only pass attempt for 12 yards.
That left junior Daniel David to run the offense, which he finally ignited with two second-half touchdown drives. David completed 5 of 11 passes for 94 yards and one touchdown and ran 13 times for 65 yards and one touchdown.
KSU trailed 17-3 at halftime – the Owls getting their points on a 20-yard field goal by Justin Thompson -- a lead that South Dakota State extended to 20-3 on Chase Vinatieri’s 23-yard field goal with 2:18 left in the third quarter.
That’s when the Owls began their comeback attempt. They drove 73 yards in seven plays, with David throwing a 19-yard touchdown pass to Jake McKenzie, and forced a South Dakota State punt and drove 91 yards in nine plays, with David scoring on a 1-yard run.
Suddenly the score was 20-17 with 6:42 remaining, and Kennesaw State needed one stop. But South Dakota State converted a third-and-12 with a 33-yard pass and drove for the clinching touchdown, which came on a 15-yard run by quarterback Taryn Christion.
“We’ve got to find a way to get over this hump,” Bohannon said. “It’s a good problem to have, getting over the hump in the semifinals. It’s something we’ll address as a program.”
KSU ran for 312 yards – 96 by Darnell Holland and 73 by Jake McKenzie – but fumbled five times, losing one. The Owls were called for nine penalties for 71 yards. They were 5-for-12 on third-down plays and 0-for-2 on fourth-down conversion attempts.
“We would do something and have a penalty, do something and have a turnover,” Bohannon said. “We couldn’t get out of our own way. The first thing you have to do is not beat yourself, and we beat ourselves to oblivion today.
“If somebody just lines up and whips you and they’re better than you, you can live with that. It’s tough when you beat yourself, and you don’t do things you can control. And we didn’t, and that’s on me. Turnovers … penalties … we didn’t tackle well. … We did stuff we’re normally much better at.”