Kennesaw State finished the regular season unbeaten by FCS opponents after a 60-52 five-overtime win over Jacksonville State on Saturday at SunTrust Park.
Below are five observations on the win:
1. The game went into five overtime periods
Kennesaw State’s regular-season finale ended in dramatic fashion in the first football game inside SunTrust Park with an interception by Bryson Armstrong in the end zone to complete the game’s fifth overtime period.
Over the first four overtime periods, a 20-yard touchdown by Darnell Holland, 6-yard run by Chandler Burks, 25-yard pass to receiver T.J. Reed and another 1-yard run by Burks respectively were answered with Jacksonville State touchdowns.
The Owls scored their fifth touchdown of overtime off a 13-yard run by Holland after a drive in which Burks converted on fourth-and-6 with an 11-yard run. The successful two-point conversion landed in the hands of Justin Sumpter in the end zone.
“Everyone was dog tired and we found some ways of making plays when we had to. ... I think what you saw is two playoff teams, in my mind, two teams that should be seeded in the playoffs, no doubt,” Kennesaw State coach Brian Bohannon said.
The game went to overtime as the result of an overturned call on the Kennesaw State drive that tied the score. With less than four minutes remaining in regulation and the Owls trailing by seven points, Burks led a game-winning drive for the Owls (10-1, 5-0 Atlantic Sun).
On the drive, Burks’ 23-yard pass to Sumpter on the Jacksonville State 20-yard line initially was called an incomplete pass, but was overturned on review. Burks, who ran for a first down on the next play and put the Owls inside the 5-yard line, eventually scored the game-tying touchdown on a 1-yard run with 1:25 left in regulation.
Burks finished with 83 yards on the ground and was 5-of-10 passing for 74 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
2. High-scoring Owls offense struggled
Kennesaw State was limited to 295 total yards in regulation, 246 rushing, against Jacksonville State, far below the team’s season average of 376.2 rushing yards and 481.7 total yards entering Saturday.
Usually dominant on offense from the game’s early minutes, Kennesaw State’s first two drives ended by turning the ball over on downs in Jacksonville State territory and the next ended with an interception after three plays.
Momentum shifted toward the Owls in the late minutes of the second quarter when the Owls scored their first touchdown on a 21-yard run by Reed. The Owls ran the ball on every single play of the 71-yard drive.
“At times we did some good things on offense and at times we sputtered. ... I don’t think we played particularly great, but we played good enough to win,” Bohannon said.
A 41-yard return by Holland to open the second half set the Owls up for their second touchdown and first lead of the game with a 15-yard pass to wide receiver Xavier Harper. After scoring his two touchdowns in overtime, Holland finished with a team-high of 101 rushing yards on 12 carries.
The Gamecocks entered Saturday limiting opponents to an average of 18.1 points, 88.2 rushing yards and 275.9 total yards this season.
3. Defense kept the Owls in the game despite Cooper’s arm
Despite allowing touchdowns on two of the Gamecocks’ first three drives, Kennesaw State’s defense locked on Jacksonville State quarterback Zerrick Cooper as the game progressed, doing their best to limit and pressure the quarterback in the second half — but Cooper was unstoppable.
Kennesaw State’s defense, although outmatched, did not show signs of fatigue against Cooper and his strong arm. One of Cooper’s more impressive plays was in the fourth quarter as the Gamecocks (8-3, 7-1 Ohio Valley) were on their own 8-yard line on third-and-19, but Cooper’s 39-yard pass for a first down kept the drive alive.
Kennesaw State’s defense looked like they figured out how to contain Cooper after forcing three consecutive punts and a field goal in the second and third quarters, but Cooper had another explosive play as he unleashed a 43-yard touchdown pass to re-take the lead, 24-17, near the end of the third quarter.
Cooper, who finished 32-of-52 passing for 417 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions, recorded 121 of his passing yards in the third quarter and 90 in the overtime periods.
Linebacker Anthony Gore, Jr. led the Owls defense Saturday with nine tackles and two sacks.
4. Owls had a touchdown taken away
To end the first half, Kennesaw State briefly looked as if it would tie the score at 14 when running back Shaq Terry ran 13 yards into the end zone. A holding penalty was called before Terry crossed the goal line, nullifying the touchdown and pushing the Owls back to Jacksonville State’s 21-yard line.
The Owls settled for a 32-yard field goal three plays later and trailed 14-10 at halftime.
5. Jacksonville State’s first drive set the game’s tone
The opening drive of the game — which slowly wore down Kennesaw State’s defense and ended in a touchdown — set the tone for the rest of the game.
The dominance of Jacksonville State was demonstrated in how it crawled its way up the field with a grit unlike any opponent Kennesaw State faced this season and proved the Owls were not entering the game matching the same intensity on offense or defense.
The Gamecocks converted two fourth downs on their first drive, and Cooper was nearly perfect under center. He was 6-of-7 passing for 42 yards and an 11-yard touchdown and rushed for 11 yards including a 7-yard first down.