By Chris Raimondi, Sports Editor
All good things must come to an end, and Kennesaw State’s home win streak did just that Saturday in a 28-14 loss against No. 13/15 Charleston Southern on Senior Day at Fifth Third Bank Stadium.
The Owls (6-3, 2-2) were beat at their own game as the Buccaneers (8-1, 5-0) controlled time of possession and held the advantage in the running game with 181 yards while holding KSU, the Big South’s leading rushing team, to 113 yards.
“There’s no doubt that the youth of our football team showed in today’s game in comparison to Charleston Southern, a more experienced, mature team,” KSU head coach Brian Bohannon said. “We’ve struggled all year running the football inside; a big part of that is maturity and playing young kids against juniors and seniors.”
CSU clinched a share of the Big South title with the win and KSU no longer controls its own destiny in regards to receiving a bid for the playoffs.
KSU stole the momentum on the first play from scrimmage when Chaston Bennett hauled in a 79-yard pass when he was left unguarded. The Owls huddled near their sideline before trotting out to line up for the game’s first play, and Bennett simply stayed near where the original huddle took place to seemingly go unnoticed by CSU defenders.
The play was designed, Bohannon stated after the game, but all of the momentum swung to the other side of the field when the Bucs rallied for a 21-6 lead before halftime. CSU blocked the extra point after Bennett’s touchdown.
After the opening play, five of KSU’s next seven drives ended in a punt. The other two ended in a turnover on downs inside the 5-yard line and a fumble returned for a touchdown.
Those two plays proved to be the difference in the game as the Owls could not convert on 4th-and-inches from the CSU 4-yard line while trailing 14-6, and the fumbled returned for a score resulted in starting quarterback Trey White leaving the game with a shoulder injury after trying to make a tackle on the return.
“I don’t know the extent of his injury, I know he got hit in his left shoulder, I could imagine it’ll take him some time to be back for the next game but we have confidence in Jake,” Bohannon said. “If Jake’s got to play, he’s got to play.”
The Bucs scored on the opening drive of the second half to make it a 28-6 game.
Backup quarterback Jake McKenzie entered the game to engineer the Owls’ offense, but the Bucs’ defense showed why it’s ranked No. 1 in FCS.
KSU only had 30 rushing yards in the second half and produced just one scoring drive on a McKenzie touchdown run from the 1-yard line. Trey Chivers scored a 2-point conversion to make it a 14 point game with 9:24 to go.
Despite being down as much as 22 points, the Owls kept pace in total yards with 302 while CSU finished with 314. The Bucs, however, led time of possession 34 to 26, first downs 20 to 13 and went 4-for-9 on third-down conversions while KSU went 1-for-12.
Taylor Henkle was named the STATS FCS National Freshman of the Week and the Big South Freshman of the week after his performance against Monmouth last week when he had two interceptions and nine tackles. The safety from Kell High School elevated his performance with two more interceptions and 10 solo tackles against CSU.
“It’s the best team we’ve played,” Henkle said. “That’s why they’re undefeated in conference and share the Big South title. You know, we didn’t help our cause by how we played, we made some mistakes but (they are) by far the best football team, and best-coached team we’ve played. I think we’ll learn a lot from this game that’ll help us in these next two games.”
The Owls head to Conway, South Carolina Saturday to face Coastal Carolina at 2 p.m. KSU finishes its season at Presbyterian in Clinton, South Carolina Nov. 21 at 2 p.m.