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Kennesaw State wants charmed season to continue

Some 18-19 weeks ago, long before Kennesaw State’s football team would unexpectedly win 12 consecutive games to advance to the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs, coach Brian Bohannon gave his wide receivers a task to help pass the time spent in August’s camp.

The players were asked to put together scouting reports on opponents, should the Owls make the playoffs. The players guessed the first opponent would be Wofford. It was instead Samford, which the Owls defeated 28-17. The second was Jacksonville State. The Owls (12-1), of course, did face the Gamecocks, defeating them 17-7.

Can you guess the predicted quarterfinals opponent? That’s right. Sam Houston State (11-1), which the Owls will play Saturday in Huntsville, Texas.

Send those players to Vegas.

“Funny how that worked out,” Bohannon said.

No one remembers anything about the scouting report put together by the players, other than the Bearkats have an excellent quarterback, fast wide receivers and a lot of history.

Again, the players proved spot-on. 

To defeat Sam Houston State, Kennesaw State must contain Jeremiah Briscoe, a finalist for the Walter Payton Award, who has passed for 4,398 yards and 41 touchdowns this season in leading an offense that tops FCS in points (46.6) and total yards (558.2)

Bohannon praised Briscoe several times while also noting that unlike other teams that are skilled at “spinning it,” Sam Houston State can also run with an average of 185.5 yards per game.

“Prevent the big play and make them earn everything they can, and find a way to score points,” Bohannon said. “It’s not any different than anyone else who is getting ready to play Saturday.”

Here are a few advantages the Owls may have:

First, the team plays defense, something that some of the teams in the Southland Conference don’t seem particularly good at. Of the conference’s 11 teams, just three finished among the top 50 in total defense of the division’s 123 teams. The Bearkats’ only loss this season came at Central Arkansas, one of the teams in the conference that does play defense. It didn’t play McNeese State, which ranks No. 5 in total defense, but did beat Nicholls State (46th in total defense) 66-17 in the third game.

Conversely, the Owls finished 11th in total defense (287.5 yards per game) and fourth in scoring defense (14.1 points per game). It held Jacksonville State, which was averaging 28.8 points and 368.7 yards per game, to less than 200 yards.

So, Kennesaw State’s Izzy Sam didn’t seem fazed by the fact that the Bearkats totaled more than 700 yards in its 54-42 win over South Dakota in Saturday’s playoff win.

“It is bizarre to see those kinds of numbers,” he said. “We believe in what we are doing. If we come out and do what we are supposed to do, that’s something that shouldn’t happen.”

Another advantage is while Kennesaw State has played some teams that have sharp passing offenses, such as Samford, Sam Houston State has yet to play this season a team that runs the same spread option as Kennesaw State.

Bearkats coach K.C. Keeler said he and his staff were in the office at 7 a.m. Sunday reviewing film and drawing on their collective experiences coaching against teams such as Navy, Georgia Southern and Wofford that run offenses exactly like, or similar to, Kennesaw State’s.

He also said his team, which typically doesn’t practice in pads, put them on for Tuesday’s morning workout and were going to do so again on Wednesday.

Though Sam Houston State has reached the playoffs the past seven seasons and is 12-0 at home in playoff games, Bohannon said his team rarely is affected by those types of elements, particularly if the fans show up in Texas like they have for his team’s games the past three weeks. 

The Owls walked into Jacksonville State, with its 20 conference titles and eight appearances in the FCS playoffs, and, with a large, black-and-gold fan base on hand in support, turned that road game into what felt like a home game after its first drive in the second half.

“I think our fans are starting to feel the same things our kids feel,” Bohannon said. “It’s contagious.”

The players prediction for the semifinals? James Madison. Championship? North Dakota State. Both teams are still competing so there’s a chance.

It has been that kind of charmed season for Kennesaw State and Bohannon and his players aren’t ready for it to end.

“Awfully glad to be playing football in December,” he said as rain turned to sleet Wednesday outside of his weekly news conference.

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