Football gets close win to stay in first place

Redshirt sophomore linebacker Brandon Coleman celebrates during Kent State University’s 34-27 win over Ohio University on Oct. 23 in Athens, Ohio. 

Seven plays, 75 yards and 92 seconds. 

That’s all it took for the Kent State football team to score a touchdown to begin the second half with a three-score lead over Ohio University. 

The Bobcats had scored on a two-yard touchdown run with just over two minutes left before halftime to pull within three points. 

Graduate student quarterback Dustin Crum then drove the offense 71 yards in eight plays before scoring on a four-yard touchdown run. 

And the 15-yard touchdown run by graduate student running back Xavier Williams to begin the third quarter would put the Flashes in control for the rest of the game as they beat OU 34-27. 

“We’re already a fast-paced offense,” graduate student wide receiver Nykeim Johnson said. “Flash fast, baby. We just came out there and executed our jobs. We’re always pushing the tempo, and we just made sure we had our foot on the gas and kept it going.” 

It looked like KSU would dominate early on. After stopping the Bobcats on a fourth down to turn the ball over on downs, the offense quickly took advantage of the good field position. Crum completed a 33-yard touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore Dante Cephas to put the Flashes on the board first. 

Crum completed 83.9 percent of his passes for 257 yards and one touchdown. He rushed for a team-high 93 yards along with one touchdown. He tied his season-high for rushing yards in a game. 

Lewis complimented several aspects of Crum’s characteristics. 

“His ability to play pitch-and-catch,” Lewis said. “And to spread the field and equate numbers. Maybe I make things too hard at times. Just knowing we have a really good quarterback, and I just need to get out of the way and let him go whip this thing.” 

Cephas led the receivers with nine catches for 103 yards and one touchdown. This is his third 100+ yard game of the season. 

“He’s a dog,” Johnson said. “He’s been in attack mode all season. Coach has been giving him an opportunity, and he’s just the guy that’s going to step up for us. You got to ride with a guy like that. I love that dude, he’s been out here doing his thing and balling hard.” 

Johnson had a season-high eight catches for 86 yards.

Johnson made catches of 15 and 21 yards on the Flashes second half opening drive to help set up the touchdown. 

“Great plays,” Lewis said. “Great catches to spark that drive and to extend that drive so we can go get a touchdown. But, none of that happens without our boys upfront. They did a great job, with the amount of times we got into our empty set and we used our empty protection, to allow us to stay upright and distribute the football around.”

Johnson credited the success coming out of halftime with “all of us leaning into the plan.” 

“We knew that we needed to come out in the third quarter and be strong,” he said. “We knew we had to come out and execute, and that’s all we have to do every week. If we don’t execute, we don’t get the job done. Today we came out with a different mindset, and we came out in attack mode.” 

The Flashes had been outscored 109-30 in their first seven games. They hadn’t won a third quarter against an FBS opponent. But they won it today, outscoring OU 14-10. 

Johnson said there was talk at halftime about their third quarter struggles.

“We knew we had to stay on top of our game,” he said. “We knew that we hadn’t been performing well in the third quarter, but today was the day.” 

Lewis said that “each quarter and each moment is huge.”

“It’s great to get that cloud off of hanging over us,” he said. “We put a major point of emphasis in practice on ‘Hey, put yourself in that mindset where we’re coming out of halftime, it’s the third quarter right now.’ And the kids also asked for a structured, dynamic warmup. So, we made quick adjustments at halftime and we got out and got the blood flowing. And the guys came out, played flash fast and did a great job to win a third quarter.” 

After exchanging punts, KSU’s defense got its first of three turnovers of the day on a redshirt junior running back O’Shaan Allison fumble. Redshirt senior defensive end Zayin West ripped the ball from Allison’s arms and fifth-year cornerback Elvis Hines recovered it. 

“It gives us something to look forward to,” fifth-year linebacker Mandela Lawrence-Burke said. “We keep track, and our goal is to get five a game. That’s special, being able to do that and getting rewarded for the hard work we put in all week at practice.” 

On the ensuing drive, Crum looked to have scored on a 23-yard run, but a holding penalty nullified the play and the Flashes were forced to settle for a field goal. 

The penalty was one of three on that drive, and the Flashes were penalized seven times in the first half. 

“The first way to win is to not kill yourself,” Lewis said. “When you have seven penalties in the first half, one of which takes a touchdown off the board and two more where they extend drives defensively, that’s a deal of focus and discipline. Our guys did a great job of locking back in and knowing what they’re capable of. That’s a matter of getting in the right mindset and playing with great discipline.” 

The penalties continued to hurt KSU’s offense throughout the first half, and they only drove into Bobcats’ territory once before the touchdown drive at the end of the quarter. 

The Flashes’ defense kept them in the game, forcing two turnovers in the second quarter. 

The first came on a forced fumble by Lawrence-Burke, who jarred the ball from redshirt senior wide receiver Isiah Cox. The catch would have set OU up in the red zone.

“[Lawrence-Burke’s] been with us here since day one,” Lewis said. “He’s been through the highs and the lows. He’s learned all the hard lessons, and he’s one of the most resilient and tough kids that we have. Regardless of what he’s facing, he’s a young man of unbelievable character and unbelievable strength. When your great players, like Mandela, show up and play in that way, good things are going to happen.” 

Lawrence-Burke finished with a team-high 14 tackles. He also had one tackle for a loss and one quarterback hurry. 

The second turnover came on a graduate student cornerback KJ Sherald interception. Once again, the play happened as the Bobcats were driving into the redzone. 

Lewis said that the defense’s ability to get turnovers is “awesome.”

“It’s big time,” he said. “Whenever our guys can step up in that way, it shows the character and resiliency of our young men. They have their backs up against the wall there in the red zone, and they don’t flinch. They clear what happened and why we’re down in that area, and they refocus on what they need to do to execute their jobs to the best of their ability.”

OU’s early offensive struggles led them to bench redshirt senior quarterback Armani Rogers, who was making his third consecutive start, in favor of redshirt sophomore quarterback Kurtis Rourke. 

Rourke had started the first five games of the season before being replaced by Rogers in the middle of its game against Akron. Rogers led the team to a score on every drive in the second half and they beat the Zips 34-17. 

Before exiting the game, Rogers completed three of his five attempted passes for 14 yards. He had three rushing attempts for 11 yards. 

Rourke went 31-of-38 for 308 yards and one interception. He rushed for 49 yards and two touchdowns. 

Lawrence-Burke said that the defense’s game plan didn’t change in response to the switch.

“We came into this week knowing what we were going to get,” he said. “No credit taken away from [Rogers], he was just as athletic as [Rourke,] so our scheme didn’t change much at all.” 

Lewis called Rourke “a different character.”

“He’s a little bit more of a threat to throw it consistently,” Lewis said. “We just had to adapt and respond with discipline. And they did that. They didn’t allow many explosive plays, made [OU’s offense] go the long way, and at the end of the day, they made enough plays for us to get a win.”

After going up 24-7 to start the second half, the Flashes allowed the Bobcats to score on every one of their drives.

Rourke scored on a 9-yard touchdown run. 

The Flashes came into the game as the third-worst rush defense in the MAC, allowing an average of 213.9 yards per game. 

KSU held the Bobcats, who were third in the conference with 201.7 yards per game, to 135 rushing yards.

Redshirt fifth-year running back De’Montre Tuggle was limited to 59 yards and one touchdown.

Lawrence-Burke said he can’t talk about stopping the run without mentioning the defensive line.

“They played an excellent game,” he said. “They controlled the front. Everyone filled their gaps. Everything we got today came from preparation on Monday and Tuesday. Everything worked out in our favor today, and we gotta get back to work.” 

The Flashes responded quickly, moving the ball down the field and retaking their three-score lead with a 15-yard rushing touchdown by sophomore running back Marquez Cooper. 

KSU, which came into the game second in the MAC in average rushing yards per game (223), ran for 200 yards.

“Our kids did a great job fighting through some of the various fronts and different looks that we were getting,” Lewis said. “Teams play us a little differently, and Ohio was no different today. They predominantly have a four-down front, but a majority of the time today they played us in a three-down front. We settled into the game, and the kids did a great job executing their fundamentals, playing with a great pad level, with tight hands and communicating. The kids made plays.” 

The Flashes are 3-1 when they rush for 200 or more yards. The one loss was against Texas A&M, who was ranked No. 6 in that game. 

KSU continues to have a balanced duo at running back in Williams and Cooper. Williams led the backs with 60 yards and one touchdown and Cooper rushed for 50 yards and one touchdown. 

OU kicked a field goal on their next drive, before stopping KSU’s offense on third and three and forcing them to punt. 

The Bobcats made it a one-score game after driving 80 yards in 11 plays and scoring on a one-yard Rourke touchdown run. 

The Flashes then methodically moved down the field, taking up nearly five minutes of clock and ending their drive on a 27-yard field goal by freshman kicker Andrew Glass to take a 34-24 lead. 

OU had three minutes to come back and tie the game, and they drove all the way to KSU’s one-yard line with one minute left. Rourke threw an incomplete pass, and KSU’s defense stuffed the run twice, including a big tackle by Lawrence-Burke on third and goal, to force a field goal. 

The onside kick try failed, and KSU got the victory. 

The Flashes improve to 3-1 in the MAC (4-4 overall) and are tied for first place with 3-1 Miami (4-4) in the East. 

The Bobcats drop to 1-3 (1-7) and clinched their first losing season since 2008. They are in fifth in the East, ahead of Bowling Green who is 0-4 (2-7). 

Lewis said that he “feels great sitting here.”

“These are the expectations that we’ve had since day one,” he said. “These are things we talked about all the way back in December of 2017. So now we get to roll into November, and the really cool thing is when you position in this way, the games in November are the ones you remember.”

KSU gets a mini bye week as their next game isn’t until Wednesday Nov. 3. They will return home to take on the only undefeated team in the MAC, Northern Illinois University (4-0, 6-2).

Jimmy Oswald is a sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]