In Big South preseason rankings, the Kennesaw State Owls were co-favorites alongside Charleston Southern to win the conference title, and on Saturday, the Owls — in their third season — made that dream reality.
No. 21 KSU played one of its more dominant games of the season, which ended in a 52-21 Kennesaw State win against No. 22 Monmouth at Fifth Third Bank Stadium.
Here are five things to know about the Owls’ regular-season finale:
1. The matchup pitted the conference’s best rushing offense against the best rushing defense.
Extending its win streak to a program-best 10 games, Kennesaw State totaled 519 yards of offense, including 405 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns.
“For them to go buy into something in this short period of time and to be able to go win a championship in Year 3 speaks volumes about the character of our football team, our staff and everybody involved,” Bohannon said.
Monmouth (9-2) had the Big South’s second-best rushing defense entering Saturday, allowing opponents an average of 103.6 rushing yards per game, while the Owls led the Big South in with an average of 332.4 rushing yards per game.
In the first half alone, the Owls rushed for 231 yards and scored four rushing touchdowns.
2. The Turnover Plank was working for the Owls.
The Owls (10-1) entered Saturday’s game at plus-18 in the turnover margin on the season, and it showed against Monmouth.
After some missed opportunities for turnovers on Monmouth’s first possession of the game, the Kennesaw State defense and special teams tied a program record by forcing five turnovers, allowing the Owls’ offense to score 21 points off turnovers.
In the fourth quarter alone, the Owls defense forced three turnovers on three consecutive Hawks possessions.
“Those guys love that (turnover) plank,” Bohannon said. “They keep getting turnovers, so plank it up.”
The first was on the Owls’ 3-yard line as Monmouth looked to score for the first time in over 17 minutes, but the pass by quarterback Kenji Bahar was intercepted by Owls defensive back Tremayne Trawick in the end zone.
On Monmouth’s next possession, Owls linebacker Auzoyah Alufohai recovered a fumble by Bahar on the Monmouth 14-yard line that was forced by linebacker Bryson Armstrong. KSU quarterback Chandler Burks went on to score on a 1-yard run, bringing the Owls’ lead to 52-21.
“It definitely added to the bang (of Monmouth’s chances), but it felt good,” Armstrong said of his strip sack.
On the following possession, Owls linebacker Paris Bostick intercepted Bahar for Bahar’s second and final interception of the game.
The Owls created two turnovers in the first half, one off a fumbled punt return and the other off a fumble recovery by Armstrong.
Kennesaw State missed two opportunities early to create turnovers with a missed pick by Owls junior defensive back Taylor Henkle on the first play of the game and a missed fumble recovery in the end zone on Monmouth’s first score of the game.
“Early on, Henkle dropped the interception that would have probably changed a little bit early on and had one of those drives that was right in their game plan, probably about seven minutes” Bohannon said, “... but once we settled down, we were able to get some turnovers.”
3. Owls used a balanced rushing, passing attack in first half.
In the first half, Burks put Kennesaw State’s passing game to work, completing 4 of 6 passes for 64 yards and targeting three receivers.
Justin Sumpter led the Owls in receiving with 56 yards and one touchdown on three receptions, 48 yards which were recorded in the first half.
In the second half, the Owls returned to a run-dominant attack with their first touchdown of the third quarter coming from a drive that consisted of 12 run plays for 96 yards and no passing plays.
“At the start of the drive, I told the guys that if we punched it in right here, we could kind of take the life from them and guys were excited about it and excited about going through that and we were ablet to get it done,” Burks said of the Owls’ 96-yard drive.
The Owls rushed for 174 yards in the second half against Monmouth.
Burks finished Saturday’s game 6-of-8 passing for 114 yards with one passing touchdown. Burks also rushed for a team-high of 131 yards and four touchdowns on 20 carries.
4. Monmouth was held scoreless in the third quarter.
Although Monmouth averaged a Big South-best 36.6 points per game entering Saturday’s game, it didn’t score in the second half and in almost 32 minutes of playing time.
In the third quarter, Monmouth totaled 69 total yards on 12 plays and had possession for 4:35. Monmouth also recorded 43 yards in penalties in the third quarter.
“They’re pretty sporty on offense,” Bohannon said. “And so there for a little bit it was really back and forth, you were wondering if it was going to be one of those 45-40 (scores), but it settled down, and we were able to use the clock and go ahead and finished the game.”
Monmouth junior receiver Reggie White Jr. entered the game ranked second in the Big South in receiving yards per game (78.6) and total receiving yards this season (786), but was held to seven receiving yards.
Bahar ranks second in the Big South in passing yards per game (201.5) and recorded 212 passing yards.
Although totaled 146 rushing yards Saturday, freshman running back Pete Guerriero recorded 141 of those rushing yards and had two touchdowns. Guerriero entered the game first in the Big South averaging 97.3 rushing yards per game.
5. Monmouth struck first, but Owls dominated the first half.
With their first possession of Saturday’s game, Monmouth used 6:51 to score the game’s first touchdown and take a 7-0 lead.
Kennesaw State answered by scoring five touchdowns and racking up 295 total yards of offense in the first half.
“No moment is ever too big for this football team,” Bohannon said. “They’re resilinet. They don’t flinch.”
The Owls’ final touchdown of the first half came off a 36-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Chandler Burks to wide receiver Justin Sumpter with 25 seconds left in the first half.
The Owls took possession with 1:58 remaining in the half and converted a fourth-down on a 75-yard march that consisted of seven plays to take a 35-21 lead.
“That’s kind of who we are. ... If I feel like we have anything going at all and it’s a managable fourth down, I’m talking one or two, our kids, they expect to go for it,” Bohannon said of the decision to convert a fourth-down on the 75-yard drive.
The Owls entered Saturday’s game averaging 29.7 points per game, but scored 35 points in the first half.
Note: Kennesaw State will learns its opponent in the first round of FCS playoffs at 11 a.m. Sunday.