It was back-and-forth between Kent State and Bowling Green on Saturday for most of the first half, each team trading touchdowns with the other.
Then the second half arrived, and the endzone became a mystery to Kent State.
Bowling Green (2-0, 1-0 Mid-American Conference) outscored Kent State (1-1, 0-1 MAC) 17-0 in the second half on its way to a 41-22 road victory over the Flashes Saturday at Dix Stadium in Kent.
“We gave up far too many [big plays],” Head coach Paul Haynes said. “Big plays, broken coverages and things like that. You can’t win against a good football team giving up big plays.”
Hefty gains were scattered throughout the second half for Bowling Green, but they were also aided by Kent State’s sudden inability to gain first downs on offense. Of the Flashes’ four third-quarter possessions, three of them resulted in three plays and a punt. Meanwhile, Bowling Green got right back to scoring, starting with a 41-yard field goal by Tyler Tate that capped a 13-play, 45-yard drive. But it was the next possession that blew the game open in favor of the Falcons.
Kent State pinned Bowling Green back on its own 13-yard line, and Zack Hitchens started the drive with a sack of BGSU quarterback Matt Johnson for a five-yard loss. Two plays later, it was Johnson running down the field in celebration after completing a 92-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ryan Burbrink for a 34-22 lead.
“You’re trying to play coverage, we’re in a three-deep type scheme and they run four [verticals] and kind of split the zones and got us,” Haynes said of the touchdown pass. “That was huge. That wasn’t the play, but it was a big play.”
Another touchdown, a one-yard run by William Houston with 12:51 left in the fourth quarter, gave Bowling Green a three-possession advantage and effectively ended any hopes of a Kent State comeback.
To the average fan, it may have seemed as if Bowling Green had made defensive adjustments during halftime that paid off in a big way. But to Kent State quarterback Colin Reardon, all ineptitude fell on the shoulders of the Flashes.
“We just weren’t executing,” Reardon said. “I take full blame for that. Some people got a little lazy, but that’s my fault. As a quarterback, you have to keep everybody’s head on. We came out [after halftime] a little lackadaisical and then from there just kind of went downward.”
Missed opportunities ruled the second half for Kent State, which was without multi-talented back Dri Archer due to injury. Dropped passes and missed assignments hurt the Flashes, and it showed statistically. In the third quarter alone, Bowling Green out-gained Kent State 140 yards to 14. The Flashes amassed a mere 55 yards in the second half, while the Falcons cruised to an additional 268.
“There were plays that were there,” Haynes said. “It was a drop here and there, a missed block here and there. They ran the same blitzes that they ran in the first half. It just comes down to, got to do a better job at coming out of the gate at halftime and it comes back to execution.”
It was a stark contrast to the first half, in which defenses were virtually nonexistent. The two teams racked up 555 yards of combined total offense in the first two quarters.
Bowling Green opened the game with a nine-play, 77-yard drive that ended in a one-yard Travis Greene touchdown run. Kent State countered with a 42-yard touchdown pass from Reardon to wide receiver Chris Humphrey, which completed a five-play, 75-yard drive. The Flashes converted a two-point attempt, taking an 8-7 lead, but that didn’t last long.
Bowling Green countered with a 30-yard field goal early in the second, to which Kent State answered with another touchdown, a 12-yard connection between Reardon and tight end Casey Pierce, his second of the season.
The trades continued between the two, with Bowling Green completing a 35-yard pass to Shaun Joplin to set up a three-yard touchdown run by Andre Givens and giving the Falcons a 17-15 lead. That advantage was gone in less than three minutes, with Reardon scrambling 42 yards to put the Flashes in BGSU territory. Reardon, who flipped head over heels after being tripped up from behind, was briefly injured, but returned after one play. Two plays later, running back Trayion Durham pounded his way across the goal line for a rushing touchdown.
Bowling Green closed out first half scoring with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Jared Cohen with 54 seconds left to take a 24-22 lead into halftime.
The Falcons carried the football 46 times for 219 yards (4.76 yards per carry), many of which gained after first contact. Greene, who is listed at 5-foot-10, 181 pounds, looked more like the 240-pound Durham when KSU defenders tried to bring him down.
“It just simply wasn’t fundamental football,” said defensive lineman Roosevelt Nix, who finished with six total tackles, including four for loss and a sack. “We were there. We’ve got to be perfect every play. You can’t let good backs and good offenses get extra shots, extra yards.”
The road gets much tougher for Kent State this week, as the Flashes will travel to Baton Rouge, La., to take on perennial Southeastern Conference contender No. 9 Louisiana State. Despite the loss and tough upcoming opponents, Haynes made it clear that he and his team are not anywhere near panic mode.
“This is week two,” Haynes said. “This ain’t the end of the season. If we just sit back and act like the world is over — the world ain’t over. We lost, we got beat, that’s it. We’ve been beaten before. But we’re going to come back strong as ever, we’re going to fight, get our road focus on, and that’s it.”
Contact Nick Shook at [email protected]