Sophomore running back Darnell Holland (33) dives for the pylon as junior cornerback Paul Hunter (31) makes a touchdown-saving tackle, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016 (AJC/Cory Hancock)

Kennesaw State haunted by close games against Gardner-Webb

Kennesaw State is hoping Saturday’s matchup with Gardner-Webb won’t resemble the game the teams played last year — or the year before that.

The Running Bulldogs (1-5) are on a four-game skid after winning their season opener, but the Owls know from experience that Gardner-Webb’s record is not an indication of how the game will unfold.

In 2016, the last time the Owls traveled to Bowling Springs, N.C., to face the Bulldogs, Gardner-Webb (then 3-5) put up a fight for four quarters, but fell short as Kennesaw State left with a 47-39 win.

The schools will meet again at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Ernest W. Spangler Stadium in Boiling Springs.

Last year with a 1-6 record, the Bulldogs traveled to Fifth Third Bank Stadium to play a six-win Kennesaw State team. Gardner-Webb limited the high-scoring Owls offense to 17 points, all scored in the second quarter, and scores on two of four trips into the red zone.

Kennesaw State also was penalized 114 yards on 14 penalties in the 17-3 win.

The memory of that 2017 game haunts Kennesaw State coach Brian Bohannon because of how decidedly the Gardner-Webb defense outplayed his offense.

“We struggled moving the ball,” Bohannon said of the 2017 matchup. “We had to hit a few big plays to get stuff going so we got to fine-tune some things to get ourselves in a better position to be successful on the road. ... We found a way to win, but it hasn’t been up to our standard.”

In their third consecutive win over the Bulldogs, the Owls were forced to score on breaks that came from from big plays like the 53-yard touchdown scored by wide receiver Xavier Harper.

Harper, a senior from Hoschton, said the reason that Gardner-Webb has played Kennesaw State so closely despite the Bulldogs low win percentage is because of discipline.

“They’re very aggressive, coming from the secondary, but they do it in a disciplined manner,” Harper said. “They’re not going to overrun anything. They’re going to be (reacting to) all of our actions, and the linebacker corps has always been very talented, so I feel like you mix those two together, we’re in for a very talented defense that’s going to be our challenge going into this week.”

The Owls did not commit a turnover and recorded 144 passing yards and 319 rushing yards against the Bulldogs last year, but because of penalties and the aggression from Gardner-Webb’s defense, the Owls were limited in what they could accomplish on offense.

Kennesaw State quarterback Chandler Burks said the Owls must be attentive to every detail in practice this week to change the narrative surround their annual matchup with Gardner-Webb.

“They just played fundamental football at the end of the day. We just got to make sure that we attack each practice this week to give us a chance to go out there and execute,” Burks said.

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