For all the peculiarities of football in the spring, everything seemed relatively normal Saturday afternoon at Fifth Third Bank Stadium. The cold and windy weather felt like fall, the student section was almost full and Kennesaw State continued its winning ways with a 37-27 win over Dixie State.

The Owls (3-0, 1-0 Big South) revitalized their rushing attack with five rushes of over 15 yards while also capitalizing on the mistakes of Dixie State (1-3). In two games before Saturday, Kennesaw State had only two rushes for more than 15 yards. Coach Brian Bohannon said it looked like his team finally had an offense.

The win marks Kennesaw State’s 14th consecutive regular-season non-conference win. The Utah-based Dixie State Trailblazers are an independent team on the verge of joining the Western Athletic Conference, which intends to reinstate football in 2022 and play at the FCS level.

Like each of the season’s first two games, the Owls’ opponent scored first. Quali Conley rushed for a touchdown from the 10-yard line on the Trailblazers’ first drive. The momentum swung when Dixie State’s long snapper hit a member of the wall protecting the punter, who couldn’t recover the ball. Kennesaw State defensive back Cade Loden scooped it up and scored, pushing the Owls’ lead to 10-7.

“That’s huge,” Bohannon said. “Talk about changing momentum and things you can do like that with special teams. … Everything is always critical. But in spring ’21, critical brings on a new meaning. It is what it is.”

Kennesaw State finished with 309 rushing yards (147 yards in the first half and 162 in the second). Quarterback Tommy Bryant and running back Kyle Glover led the way with 97 rushing yards and 85 yards, respectively.

The Owls averaged 5.8 yards per rush Saturday, an improvement from their first two games. Against Charleston Southern on March 13, the Owls gained only 3.3 yards per rush.

“We got great push (from the offensive line) all day,” Glover said. “So I really just give them my credit for it. … Last game, we feel like we didn’t play to our standard. This game, we still have room for improvement, but I think we came out and played a lot harder.”

The Owls’ defense held Dixie State to 3.9 yards per rush. Senior linebacker Bryson Armstrong continued his strong season with 11 total tackles and seven solo tackles.

At times, the defense struggled to contain Dixie State’s passing offense. Quarterback Kody Wilstead threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns.

Bryant countered by completing three of five attempts for 77 yards. He left Saturday’s game with a lower leg injury and is being evaluated, Bohannon said. Backup quarterback Jonathan Murphy didn’t play at all because of an injury. He has been an important player off the bench, having passed for 108 yards against Charleston Southern.

The Trailblazers kicked themselves in the foot in the second quarter by accumulating five penalties for minus-40 yards. When officials ruled receiver Jalen Powell ineligible downfield, they negated a passing touchdown from Wilstead to Jalen Powell.

Even with its mistakes, Dixie State stayed in the game as Kennesaw State’s defense wilted late. The Owls still aren’t firing on all cylinders, but the team will celebrate any win it can get, Bohannon said. Halfway through the regular season, the sixth-year head coach hopes they can get everyone on the same page.

“We’re kind of popcorning right now,” Bohannon said. “Defense plays good, offense plays bad. You know what I mean? If we get all three phases playing like they’re capable of, we have a chance to be a good football team. Right now we’re popcorning.”

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