Rankin rumbles in home opener as Flashes score most points since 2008

Kent+State+running+back+Jo-El+Shaw+jukes+past+Howard+defenders+during+the+second+half+of+the+Flashes+matchup+against+the+Bison+on+Sept.+8%2C+2018.+The+Flashes+won+54-14.

Kent State running back Jo-El Shaw jukes past Howard defenders during the second half of the Flashes matchup against the Bison on Sept. 8, 2018. The Flashes won 54-14.

Ian Kreider

The run game was the key component in Kent State’s (1-1) rainy home opener,a 54-14 win over visiting Howard, and junior running back Justin Rankin was the catalyst.

He finished the game with a career-high 147 yards on the ground, including a 61-yard untouched burst up the middle for a touchdown to extend the Flashes’ lead to 33-7 midway through the third quarter.

“We just stuck to our fundamentals,” Rankin said of his performance. “The offensive line, I mean really it’s the offensive line. We just run the ball. We do the easy part.”

The team ran 81 plays, 52 of which were runs. Fellow junior Jo-El Shaw also had a career game, rushing for 105 yards and three of the team’s six touchdowns on the ground, including a touchdown on his first career carry. Sophomore quarterback Woody Barrett had a quiet game, finishing 14-for-27 for 156 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

“He’s a great playmaker,” Rankin said of his quarterback. “He puts us all in our places that we need to be. He knows the offense; he goes through his progressions. Woody’s a good ball player.”

The defense was also a big part of the win, containing Howard sophomore quarterback Caylin Newton, who lit up Ohio last week for 439 yards through the air as well as 93 yards on the ground.

Senior linebacker Matt Bahr had a solid game, finishing with 11 tackles, including two fourth down stops.

“We knew coming into this week ­— we watched the tape against Ohio — that those guys are very explosive,” Bahr said. “They have a great offense, especially a great quarterback in Newton. We just trusted the defensive coaches and the plan they put forward. (Defensive coordinator Tom) Kaufman and his staff do a great job of breaking down the tape. They put us in positions to be successful.”

The Flashes’ neutralized Newton, who finished the game 11-for-25 for 159 yards with two touchdowns and two costly interceptions.

The defense forced Howard (0-2) to go 0-for-6 on fourth-down conversions in the first half. Bahr even forced a turnover in the red zone, poking the ball loose on a quarterback dive by Newton. Just as the ball bounced in the opposite direction, so did the momentum, as Howard only mustered two garbage-time touchdowns en route to a 54-14 thrashing.

“It starts with stopping the run,” coach Sean Lewis. “We were able to do that early on. The guys defensively did a great job of identifying the formations; they really put a lot of stress on you. There was a stretch of plays where they had two quarterbacks on the field. They really force you to be sound, and the defense played with great eyes and did a great job of executing the plan.”

Although the scoreboard may not have indicated it, the Flashes have improvements to make. They finished the game with 15 penalties, totaling 150 yards, tripling what they had in last week’s loss to Illinois.

Kent State continues its season as it takes on Penn State (2-0) at noon Saturday at Beaver Stadium.

 Ian Kreider is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]