Kennesaw State wraps up regular season with victory, awaits word on playoffs

Cory Hancock/Special to the AJC
Cory Hancock/Special to the AJC

Credit: Cory Hancock

Credit: Cory Hancock

On Senior Day, Kennesaw State rolled past Gardner-Webb 42-14 on Saturday afternoon, en route to its 10th victory of the season.

The Owls honored 13 seniors during pregame festivities at Fifth Third Bank Stadium, but it was junior quarterback Tommy Bryant that took center stage. Bryant, making his second start for injured signal-caller Daniel David, engineered 350 yards of offense. He rushed for 154 yards and tied the school record with four touchdowns.

Bryant’s career-best day fueled the Owls’ attack. He is the first Owls player to score four touchdowns since Chandler Burks in 2018. Over Bryant’s last 44 drives under center, the Owls have scored 27 touchdowns across six games.

“I have faith in the preparation, the coaching staff, the plays called, and my reads,” Bryant said.

The Owls called Bryant’s number a lot against Gardner-Webb. He gashed the Runnin’ Bulldogs’ Big South-worst run defense with a mix of sweeps and dives. He had six carries of 15-plus yards in the game.

“We’ve believed in Tommy, and he’s done a good job when he’s been in there,” Owls coach Brian Bohannon said. “He’s taken command and executed the offense. If we can just take care of the ball and not beat ourselves, we give ourselves a chance. I think Tommy has down a great job of that.”

Despite an uneven first half, the Owls hit their stride late. Senior running back Bronson Rechsteiner had a strong second half as he added 128 yards and a touchdown. As a result, the Owls outscored Gardner-Webb 28-7 after halftime.

Kennesaw State forced two fumbles and junior defensive back Adesola Abisoye blocked a punt that Jalen Jackson returned for a 15-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

The blocked punt was a major turning point. It swayed momentum as the Owls broke open the game.

“I thought the punt block was huge,” Bohannon said. “It wasn’t a called punt block, but a return. Those guys were playing hard and they went out there and blocked it. Jalen scooped and scored and that was a huge play in the game.”

Gardner-Webb failed to recover. They struggled on offense as the Owls defense hounded quarterback Kalen Whitlow. The graduate transfer was sacked five times and finished 21-of-36 passing for 191 yards. He threw two touchdowns, but served a costly interception on the first play of the game.

Owls defensive back Cincere Mason intercepted Whitlow to set up a two-play scoring drive that Bryant capped with a 15-yard touchdown.

Gardner-Webb’s lone bright spot was receiver Izaiah Gathings. The Big South’s leading receiver hauled in 11 receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown. However, he was silenced late as the game became out of reach.

Kennesaw State became the first Big South team to have three consecutive 10-win seasons and the program has won 47 games in its first five seasons.

The Owls now await their fate in the FCS playoffs. A three-game winning streak could bode well in the eyes of the selection committee. The playoff destinations will be announced at 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

“We did what we can do,” Bohannon said. “We would have love to win them all, but we didn’t. But, we sure won a lot.”