The Owls of Kennesaw State claimed its first football championship of any kind with a commanding 52-21 victory over the Monmouth Hawks Saturday afternoon at Fifth Third Bank Stadium.
After twelve weeks, Kennesaw State and Monmouth had combined for eighteen wins and two non-conference losses. The conference’s top two rushing offenses in yards and touchdowns put on a track meet of sorts in the first 30 minutes of the regular season finale.
“We said going into the game we knew we weren’t going to stop them every time they had the ball,” said Monmouth head coach Kevin Callahan. “We had to slow them down enough and be very efficient ourselves moving the ball and certainly, above all else, we couldn’t turn it over.”
Monmouth not only turned the ball over, it did so five times. The Owls turnover plank was handed out five times. Owls safety Taylor Henkle nearly earned the first one dropping a deep ball from Monmouth quarterback Kenji Bahar on the first play of the game.
It was an absolute slug-fest through the first 17 minutes. The Owls and Hawks traded touchdowns and were all even until the Turnover Plank made its first appearance early in the second quarter. Monmouth held Kennesaw to its first three-and-out of the game and forced the Owls to punt. Sophomore Christian Kinsley’s punt bounced out of the hands of Hawks return man Kamau Dumas and into the belly of junior Nicolas Snowden.
Sophomore running back T.J. Reed sprinted around the right side untouched for a 21-14 lead five plays later. The seven-point lead became 14 thanks to the Turnover Plank. Anthony Gore punched the ball out of the arms of Michael Jolly at midfield. Freshman Bryson Armstrong recovered the ball for the Owls six yards downfield. Kennesaw’s brutish rushing attack, led by Chandler Burks, pounded its way into the end zone on seven rushes and one pass.
The Hawks closed the gap on the ensuing drive. Bahar carved a big chunk out of the 71 yards in front of them with a 44-yard completion to tight end Jake Powell. A face-mask penalty on the defense added another 15 yards to the play. Pete Guerriero capped the drive with a 19 yard run straight up the middle. The freshman led all ball carriers with 141 yards on 19 carries.
Monmouth’s score took less than a minute-and-a-half and left the Owls nearly two minutes on the clock. They didn’t need the whole 1:58. Burks ripped off 19 yards to the 44 on the first play of the drive. A couple more rushes and a 9-yard pass to sophomore Bronson Rechsteiner and the Owls were across midfield and threatening again. The Hawks defense tightened up in the box and Burks unveiled another one of the offenses secret weapons. Junior Justin Sumter ran past Kamau Dumas and caught a perfect spiral from Burks at the goal line for a two-touchdown lead at the half.
Coach Callahan’s emphasis on efficiency was made clear in the third quarter. Opposing teams don’t get a lot of offensive possessions if their defense can’t get off the field. Kennesaw State controlled the ball for over ten minutes and added ten more points to their lead. On their second scoring drive of the half, the Owls moved the ball 96 yards and converted two third-down situations without throwing a pass. “Anytime you are able to run the football and I don’t care how you do it, it makes a big difference at that point and time of the game,” said Kennesaw State head coach Brian Bohannon. “You can go finish that thing off.”
The three touchdown lead cleared the way for the defense to lay their ears back. In the fourth quarter, Monmouth could barely get their offense on the field before the Owls defense was took it away. The Turnover Plank was nearly worn down to splinter size after being passed around so much.
Junior linebacker Anthony Gore got it started intercepting Bahar’s pass in the end zone to kill the Hawks 11-play, 73-yard drive. It turned out to be their last potential scoring drive. “He just threw the ball right to me,” explained Gore. “All I had to do was jump up and get it.” A humble response from a talented player. The Statesboro-native read the eyes of the quarterback and back-peddled to the exact spot where the 6 foot -5 inch Powell had set up for the pass. Gore used his position and athleticism like an under-sized Charles Barkley to out-jump the much taller receiver.
A fumble by Behar on the first play of the Hawks next possession was recovered by junior defensive lineman Auzoyah Alufohai at the Monmouth 14. The turnover led to the Owls final touchdown of the game, a 1-yard plunge by Burks. The second-year starter finished the game with 131 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns on the ground and one touchdown pass.
Senior linebacker Paris Bostick grabbed the Turnover Plank for the fifth and final time intercepting Bahar near midfield three plays into the ensuing drive.
Backup quarterback Tommy Bryant ground the game clock down to 13 seconds before handing the ball back to the Hawks.
The sounding of the horn emptied the stands and the celebration of a four-year commitment to winning a title began.
NCAA Football Championship Series -FCS Playoffs
Kennesaw received an automatic bid to the Football Championship playoffs and will host Samford at Fifth Third Bank Stadium at 2:00 pm next Saturday, November 25. Get ticket information here.
See the full bracket here. NCAA FCS Playoff Bracket
All photos by Jason McDonald, CORE360 Sports