Furman defensive back Cally Chizik intercepted a deep ball from Owls quarterback Jonathan Murphy intended for Isaac Foster in the final 21 seconds to clinch a 31-28 win for the Paladins at Fifth Third Bank Stadium on Saturday evening.
The Kennesaw State Owls, playing with resilience and determination, nearly completed a remarkable comeback in the fourth quarter, erasing a 14-point deficit. However, a clutch field goal by Paladins’ kicker Ian Williams secured the win, bringing the all-time series between the two teams to a deadlock at one game apiece.
Jonathan Murphy, the signal-caller for Kennesaw State, delivered a career performance, setting a single-game school record with 308 passing yards. He completed 17 of 31 passes and set a new team record in passing attempts and completions.
Acknowledging the performance requires an understanding of the Owls’ evolution on offense. Until Murphy arrived, and still while he was under center, the Owls offense ran the ground and pound triple option where calling for a forward pass was rarer than a bad peach cobbler. Murphy didn’t just shine in the air, he made his presence felt on the ground as well. The LA native added 63 more yards on the ground to help the Owls amass a staggering 893 total offensive yards in the Owls’ first three games of the 2023 season.
Gabriel Benyard, a key playmaker for the Owls, had a career night with 136 receiving yards and two touchdown receptions. Benyard also contributed on the ground, rushing for 65 yards on six carries, including one touchdown. His dynamic performance underscored his versatility and impact on the game.
Defensively, Deontre Morris led Kennesaw State with a career-high 16 tackles, seven were solo. Morris came tantalizingly close to breaking the KSU single-game tackle record, falling just one tackle short of Evan Thompson’s 2021 record of 17 tackles.
The game started slow as both defenses held the opposing offenses scoreless in the first quarter. Kennesaw State’s offense mustered 71 total yards on 14 plays spread out over three possessions. The gold-cladded Owls defense held the sixth-ranked Paladins to 51 yards on 17 plays and four offensive series. This marked the first time the Owls had been tied 0-0 after the first quarter since December 2021, during their visit to East Tennessee State in the FCS Playoffs.
The deadlock was broken early in the second quarter with a four-play play drive by Kennesaw State. Murphy completed three passes for 69 yards including a 32-yard touchdown to Benyard to give the Owls a 7-0 lead. The touchdown catch marked the sixth of Benyard’s career.
The Paladins responded on their next possession with an impressive 15-play, 75-yard drive that chewed up seven minutes and eleven seconds of game time. The drive culminated in a 1-yard touchdown run by their quarterback, Tyler Huff, knotting the score at 7-7.
A solid defensive stand gave the Paladins offense the ball back 90 seconds later. Huff and company went right to work dicing up the Owls for 41 yards on four plays. The
Preseason All-Southern Conference Second-team selection broke the tie with a dazzling 28-yard touchdown run.
The momentum continued to flow in the direction of the Paladins at the start of the third quarter. Huff scored his third rushing touchdown of the night, putting his team ahead 21-7.
Kennesaw State roared back as the clock ticked toward the one-minute mark in the third quarter. Murphy went up top and found Benyard again, this time for a 61-yard gain. Preston Daniels punched the ball in from one yard out to close the gap 14-21.
A 50-yard kick return by Wayne Anderson Jr aggravated by a flag on the Owls special teams for a horse collar tackle gave the Paladins a short field to work with. Kennesaw State’s defense shortened the field another 15 yards after getting flagged for a personal foul. On third-and-9 from the 14, Huff used his legs again sprinting into the end zone for his fourth score.
Huff’s fourth rushing touchdown extended the Paladins’ lead to 28-14, but Murphy and the Owls fought back. In a critical seven-play, 81-yard touchdown drive, Murphy found Benyard in the end zone for his second receiving touchdown of the night to pull to within a touchdown.
With 4:51 left on the clock, Benyard evened the score. The junior from Irwin County took the handoff at midfield, eluded one tackler, and exploded up the middle for a game-tying 49-yard touchdown run.
With 3:29 remaining in the game, Furman used two big plays of 20+ yards to march deep into Owls territory. Kennesaw State’s defense held firm stopping the Paladins on three tries to force the game-winning field goal.
All photos by Jason McDonald, JM Photography for CORE360 Sports