Kennesaw State University football players cheer on the bench at the game against Jacksonville State at SunTrust Park, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, in Atlanta. ()
Photo: Annie Rice/AJC
Photo: Annie Rice/AJC

Bohannon pleads for support against South Dakota State

It’s no secret that attendance at Kennesaw State football games has declined since the program’s inception in 2015.

Despite the low turnout at games, the Owls have won all but one game this season and advanced to the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs for the second year in a row, where they will face South Dakota State at 2 p.m. Saturday at Fifth Third Bank Stadium. 

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Coach Brian Bohannon, however, has had enough of the low turnout— not for himself, he said, but for his players.

After going 37-11 over the past four seasons and winning two Big South conference titles, Bohannon said he’s frustrated his players are not receiving the support he believes they deserve from Cobb County residents and students attending the commuter school.

“I’m passionate about this school and I don’t know why you wouldn’t be. … We got 35,000 students,” Bohannon said. “Let see if we can get a couple thousand to come to the game. Let’s raise sone heck and have some fun. Let’s see if we can help the Owls win. We’ve got over a million people in this community. Let’s see if we can get a couple thousand to come to the game.”

Bohannon’s nearly 10-minute tirade questioning why his four-year-old program is not receiving the support other college football teams receive in the state occurs as the Owls play perhaps the biggest game in school history Saturday.

After coming off a first-round bye and winning their first playoff game against Wofford on Saturday, the Owls have one more guaranteed game at home, a luxury they weren’t given during last year’s quarterfinal round.

Kennesaw State won the program’s first two playoff games in 2017, but ended last season’s postseason run in the quarterfinals at Sam Houston State with a 34-27 loss. During this year’s quarterfinal game, Kennesaw State faces what Bohannon called the best opponent his team has ever faced in program history.

On offense, the Jackrabbits (9-2) are a high-scoring team just like the Owls. South Dakota State averages nearly 46 points, is equally comfortable in the air (266.1 yards) and on the ground (241.4 yards) and has scored on 38 of 44 trips to the red zone.

Second in the Missouri Valley Conference behind only North Dakota State, which has won six of the past eight FCS titles, South Dakota State also has one of the more restricting defenses Kennesaw State has played, allowing opponents to score touchdowns on 19 of 29 trips to the red zone, a 34 percent third-down conversion rate and 20.8 points this season. 

The most important factor challenging the Owls’ triple-option offense Saturday is the Jackrabbits’ success defending the run. South Dakota State has allowed opponents an average of 154.2 rushing yards and 14 total rushing touchdowns this season.

“Listen, you turn the tape on (and) … we keep watching, looking for some weakness or maybe something and we’re still watching,” Bohannon said of South Dakota State. “It is what it is. They’re a good football team.”

As his team prepares to face a challenging opponent on offense and defense, Bohannon made a plea Tuesday for a home crowd to attend Saturday’s game because he knows the Owls have a chance at winning if their home field advantage is in full force.

“I’ll tell you this: If we can get it done Saturday, because I’ve heard all the reasons why we can’t, I’m telling why we can … If we have the 12th man at Fifth Third Bank Stadium, it could make the difference in us advancing to the semifinals for the first time in this program’s history. Without a doubt,” Bohannon said. 

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