The things that carried Kennesaw State through its successful third season went missing in just enough key moments for the Owls to fall to Sam Houston State 34-27 in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs on Saturday in Huntsville, Texas.
A team that tackled well and avoided costly penalties in winning the Big South Conference and its first two playoff games, the Owls weren’t as strong in both areas – particularly in the first half – and couldn’t overcome a 17-point deficit in the first half against the Bearkats.
Kennesaw State had a touchdown negated by a penalty, a first down negated by a penalty, and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Brian Bohannon turned a make-able field goal into a miss-able field goals. The Owls did miss.
“When you get to this point in time for the playoffs, you have to take advantage of opportunities and you have to make plays and they made more than we did,” Bohannon said.
Still, despite their self-inflicted mistakes, the Owls had a chance to tie the game in the final minutes. Facing fourth-and-5 at the 11-yard line with 1:32 left, Kennesaw State tried a reverse to Ezra Naylor that was blown up for a loss of four yards, ending the Owls’ chances at rallying.
Quarterback Chandler Burks said the play was called to try to take advantage of Sam Houston’s aggressive defense. Instead, penetration up the field forced Naylor to run away from the end zone in an attempt to get to the corner. He was eventually chased down. The speed of Sam Houston State’s defenders made getting to the edge and up the field difficult throughout the game.
The quickness of its skill players on offense made tackling difficult. The Bearkats,with the best offense in FCS, finished with 482 yards that included pass plays of 61, 47, 31 and 24 yards, and run plays of 33 and 18 yards.
Kennesaw State still managed to rush for 352 yards, with 217 coming in the second half when the Owls were trying to rally.
“In the second half we did a better job of not beating ourselves,” Bohannon said.
Despite, the loss Kennesaw State has much to be proud of from its third season:
- The team went 7-0 at home.
- It won 12 consecutive games, the longest streak in Big South history.
- It won its first two playoff games.
- It rushed for a conference-record 4,623 yards.
- Burks became the first quarterback in conference history to rush and pass for more than 1,000 yards.
“Awesome experience for our football team as we continue to build and grow to get to where we want to be in the end game,” Bohannon said.
With a team that featured just seven seniors and redshirt seniors in its two-deep depth chart – all on defense – the Owls seem to be on their way to fulfilling Bohannon’s goal of annually competing for championships.
“Huge learning experience today,” Burks said. “Coach Bo hit the nail on the head: When you play great teams you can’t have self-inflicted penalties. They will start to add up on you. We have to go out and make plays. Those plays have to stay positive.
“We will learn from it. It was a fun ride. Hate to see it end but we will definitely be back.”