Kennesaw State wins in its first-ever playoff game

  • Jaylon Thompson
  • For the AJC
7:21 p.m Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017 State Report
Cory Hancock/Cory Hancock
Kennesaw State's Akebren Ralls (6) lifts the "turnover plank" after a pick-six in Saturday's first-round FCS playoff game between Kennesaw State and Samford, Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017. (Special by Cory Hancock)

Kennesaw State wasn’t overwhelmed in their first FCS playoff game. The Owls played with confidence as they defeated Samford 28-17 on Saturday.

The Owls won their 11th consecutive game and exacted revenge for their narrow loss to Samford on Aug. 31. The Owls will face Jacksonville State on Saturday in the second round of the playoffs.

Here are five observations from the game:

1. Explosive second quarter. Kennesaw State was held scoreless after the first 15 minutes of action, but quickly rectified their triple-option offense. The Owls erupted for 21 points and 247 total yards in the quarter. Owls quarterback Chandler Burks accounted all three scores. He gave the Owls the lead with a 2-yard touchdown run, and he extended the lead with consecutive touchdown passes to wide receiver Justin Sumpter.

Also, the offense got several big plays out of their running backs. Offensive coordinator Grant Chesnut dialed up outside sweeps that helped to counteract an aggressive Samford defense. The Owls averaged 10.3 yards per play, and that helped them control the tempo throughout the half. As a result, the Owls took a 21-10 lead into halftime.

Bohannon said the switch to the outside runs were crucial in slowing Samford’s key defensive linemen.

“The way they (Samford) lines up, they tell you to go outside,” Bohannon said. “You have to do enough inside for those ends to play both the quarterback and the pitch. … We were trying to get the ball outside, and some of the stuff is the same play, but it is just the read (that is different).”

2. Missed opportunity. The Owls could have added more to their halftime lead, if an untimely turnover had gone their way. Early in the second quarter, running back Shaquil Terry took a handoff and broke an 84-yard run down the sideline.

As he was racing toward the end zone, he was tackled from behind by Bulldogs cornerback Jamond Glass. The defensive back knocked the ball out of Terry’s hands for a fumble at the 8-yard line. Samford recovered, but they failed to capitalize on the turnover. Kennesaw State forced them to punt on the following drive as they kept the lead intact.

3. Turnover Plank makes appearance. In the third quarter, Kennesaw State cornerback Akebren Ralls ensured that the “turnover plank” could enjoy the Owls’ first playoff game. Ralls picked off Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown.

After he scored, his teammates awarded him the “turnover plank” on the sideline. He went to the Kennesaw State student section and celebrated with the fans.

The interception was the only turnover the Owls forced. The turnover gave the Owls a 28-10 lead, and it extended their streak to 12 consecutive games with an interception this season.

“He turned my way and threw the ball,” Ralls said. “It kind of went through the receiver’s hands, and it came right to me.”

4. Run defense stands tall. Kennesaw State forced Samford to become one-dimensional on offense. The Owls’ defense took away the Bulldogs rushing attack by controlling the line of scrimmage. Samford rushed for 52 yards in the game and failed to break a long run. The Bulldogs’ longest carry was a 7-yard gain by running back Roland Adams.

As a unit, the Owls defensive front limited the Bulldogs to 2.2 yards per carry in the game. Freshman linebacker Bryson Armstrong led the charge with 16 tackles (11 solo) and created havoc by consistently pressuring the Bulldogs’ line off the edge. Ralls also finished with seven tackles to go with his second-half interception.

“I thought we did a good job and made some things happen defensively,” Bohannon said. “The second half was really on the defensive to make things happen.”

5. Electricity at Fifth Third Bank Stadium. The Owls’ first playoff game had a little extra intensity, in part, to the fans that filled Fifth Third Bank Stadium. Fans of both teams were in the stands early as they enjoyed a back-and-forth game. The official attendance was 5,566 fans, and they remained throughout the game.

Bohannon was appreciative of their attendance and said that they played a huge role in the Owls’ success on the field. He thanked them after the game for their continued support throughout the season.

“The crowd was awesome today,” Bohannon said. “Their enthusiasm and their energy was impactful in the game today.”

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