Flashes upset No. 15 Rutgers 35-23


Sidney Sauter recovers a fumbled ball from Rutgers on Oct. 29 in Piscataway, NJ. Kent State upset the Rutgers homecoming game 35-23. Photo by Brian Smith.

Tim Dorst

PISCATAWAY, N.J. —The Kent State football team came into Saturday’s road game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights as a major underdog. When the final whistle sounded, the team came off the field as a winner.

The Flashes forced a season-high seven turnovers in a 35-23 upset of No. 15 Rutgers at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, N.J.

The win marks the Flashes’ first victory against a ranked opponent in program history. Head coach Darrell Hazell said this win was huge for the team and for the program as a whole.

“We came in on the road against a very tough opponent, and we knew they were going to be tough,” Hazell said. “We made enough plays early in the game to keep those guys off-balance. Rutgers kept fighting back, and we kept fighting them off.

The victory improves the Flashes’ record to 7-1 this season.

With the Flashes leading 7-3 in the second quarter, junior defensive end Mark Fackler made a one-handed interception off of Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova and returned the ball 25 yards for a touchdown. Hazell said that play lit a spark on the Flashes’ sidelines.

“The play by Mark was big,” Hazell said. “I thought our defense really started thriving off of that.”

Fackler, who had two interceptions in the game, said he felt the week leading up to the game helped him make key plays for Kent State.

“Preparation is a lot of it, and I felt I prepared a lot this week,” Fackler said. “It just helped us out a lot.”

Later in the second quarter, Nova threw his third interception of the half, this time to senior safety Leon Green. Green returned the pick 48 yards into Rutgers territory.

Sophomore running back Trayion Durham led the Flashes on a 45 yard drive, and junior back Dri Archer finished the drive with a seven-yard touchdown run to put the Flashes ahead 21-3.

Durham led Kent State in rushing with 131 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. Hazell said Durham continues to get better every week.

“He had two fumbles today that you never want to have, but he runs so hard that guys go backward,” Hazell said.

The Scarlet Knights fired back on offense late in the second quarter, as Nova connected with senior receiver Tim Wright for a 19-yard touchdown pass. Kent State led 21-10 at halftime.

After both teams were forced to punt on the opening drives of the second half, the Flashes struck again on a three-yard touchdown run by Durham. The score extended the lead to 18. Rutgers responded on the next drive with a 24-yard touchdown pass to freshman receiver Brandon Coleman.

Kent State senior quarterback Spencer Keith found freshman receiver Josh Boyle on a screen pass, and Boyle ran 15 yards for the Flashes touchdown to begin the fourth quarter. Keith finished the game with 121 passing yards and two touchdowns.

Kent State’s defense halted most of Rutgers drives in the fourth and nabbed two more interceptions in the process. The Flashes forced the Scarlet Knights quarterback into six interceptions, the last of which was picked off by junior safety Luke Wollet.

Senior linebacker Luke Batton, who also had an interception in the game, said forcing turnovers always builds momentum for the team.

“It was a total team effort on the defensive end,” Batton said. “Everyone’s trying to get a little piece of the pie. So I guess you could say it snowballs.

Hazell said he couldn’t be more proud of his players and how they performed.

“You have to take each game as it is, but this is a huge game for our program,” Hazell said. “We’re going to relish this one for awhile.

Contact Tim Dorst at [email protected].