KENT, Ohio – The University of South Alabama football team dug itself a big hole Saturday, one that the Jaguars could not get out of. But boy, did they try.
Kent State built a 33-point advantage early in the third quarter at Dix Stadium, then held off a furious rally from the Jags to earn a 33-25 victory in the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
It was the first win of the season for the Golden Flashes (1-3), while USA (2-2) fell for the second time in as many weeks to an NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision opponent.
“The first half was just a comedy of errors. We fell behind 26-0 at halftime, but we talked to them and they came out ready to play,” stated Jaguar head coach Joey Jones. “I didn’t think we were ready to play early, and I take the blame on that. But the field position was horrible in the first half, and turnovers and all of the things we talk about that we can’t do we had happen.
“In the second half, we came back and played our football and started moving the ball, scoring and the defense started stopping them. We played a good second half, but came up just a little bit short. I’m real proud of the way they [the team] came back. Most teams beat themselves and I keep preaching that, we just have to make sure we avoid doing that.”
The Jags fell behind by 26 at the half — 19 of those points came in the second quarter — seeing that deficit increase when Roosevelt Nix forced a fumble that Calvin Tiggle ran back 27 yards to the USA-11 on the Jags’ first play of the second half; Spencer Keith found Tyshon Goode for a 10-yard touchdown pass 46 seconds later to make it 33-0.
USA got on the board less than two minutes later, however, sparked by a 37-yard kick return from Demetre Baker. C.J. Bennett then hit Corey Besteda for a 37-yard pickup and followed with a 18-yard gain on a draw to set up a two-yard touchdown run by Baker. Jordan Means tacked on a 25-yard field goal with over five minutes remaining in the third, capping an eight-play, 34-yard march that was the result of a fumble forced by Jake Johnson that Ken Barefield recovered at the KSU-42.
After getting the ball back late in the third period, Bennett hit Bryant Lavender for a 61-yard gain — the Jaguars’ longest play from scrimmage in 2011 — before finding Jeremé Jones for a nine-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal that cut the USA deficit to 33-17 with 65 seconds left in the quarter. And the Jags would threaten again after moving 76 yards in 11 plays to get to the Golden Flash five-yard line, but a pass intended for Jones on fourth-and-goal was incomplete.
The defense would force a three-and-out, however, with USA taking over on the KSU-47 after a eight-yard punt return from Jones. And when Bennett and Corey Waldon hooked up for a 42-yard completion, the Jaguars were right back in the red zone; Baker scored on another two-yard run two plays later, and when Bennett found Kevin Helms for the two-point conversion it was a one-posession contest, 33-25, with six minutes remaining.
Baker would finish with 28 yards on 10 carries, though with the two touchdowns it marked the third straight week he reached the end zone.
USA would get the ball back twice more after forcing punts, taking over at its own 29-yard line with 3:11 to go and on the Jaguar-20 with 29 seconds to go. The first possession ended when Luke Wollet intercepted a pass on third-and-10, though it took Wollet stopping Besteda on the KSU-23 one snap after a 23-yard pass from Bennett to Jones for Kent to clinch the win.
With their effort over the final 30 minutes, the Jaguars ended up with a 374-281 advantage in total offense.
Johnson set a school record with 17 tackles, including six unassisted, and Barefield ended up with a double-digit total in the category as well with a career-best 10. Damond Smith collected seven stops with one behind the line of scrimmage, Bryson James and Enrique Williams collected six apiece and Charles Harris collected five
The unit allowed the Golden Flashes to record only 83 total yards after the break.
Bennett posted career highs of 281 yards passing and 321 yards of total offense, finishing with one touchdown and three interceptions while completing 14-of-36 attempts. Lavender led all players with five catches for 97 yards — both career-high totals — with Jones adding three receptions and Besteda two for career-best 71 yards.
“We changed a few things in the running game, and made some checks and started running toward the boundary,” Jones explained. “That helped us, and we started pitching and catching it pretty good. But we just got some momentum [in the second half]; we never got any momentum in the first half.”
C.J. Malauulu paced the Golden Flash defense with 10 stops including two for loss, Wollet had eight tackles to go along with a pair of interceptions and Luke Batton collected seven.
KSU picked up 187 of their yards on the ground, with Trayion Durham rushing 27 times for 72 yards and Anthony Meray adding 64 on 13 carries while reaching the end zone twice. Keith was 10-of-19 passing for 94 yards, completing three passes to Matt Hurdle and two to both Sam Kirkland — who led the team with 33 receiving yards — and Justin Thompson.
Jones collected 71 all-purpose yards after running back five punts for 40 yards, and Scott Garber averaged a season-best 43.2 yards on five punts to highlight the Jags’ special teams play. Matt Rinehart punted seven times for a 42.6 average for KSU.
The Flashes added to their 7-0 advantage on the second play of the second quarter when Danny Cortez converted on a 39-yard field goal; KSU did not get a first down on the possession, but was set up by a 21-yard punt return from Eric Adeyemi that put the ball on the USA-29.
KSU took advantage of a short field again after Wollet ran back an interception 22 yards to the USA-42. Seven plays later, on third-and-nine from the 15-yard line, Keith was pressured but scrambled out of the pocket and dove into the end zone — the score was 16-0 with 8:45 remaining in the first half after the extra-point attempt was blocked. Cortez added a 35-yard field goal with just over two minutes to go for a 19-0 Golden Flash advantage, which grew to 26-0 going into the break after Norman Wolfe intercepted a USA pass and returned it to the Jags’ 28-yard line and Meray reached the end zone on the next play.
The Jaguars did not get their initial first down until their first possession of the second quarter, picking up five yards on nine plays while punting three times in the opening 15 minutes. USA was limited to 44 yards in the first half, as the Golden Flashes ran 42 plays — 17 more than the Jags — while holding the ball for nearly 20 minutes; for the half, KSU was 7-of-11 on third-down conversions while USA was held to 1-of-7 in the situation.
It was, in fact, the first time in the program’s first 21 games that the Jaguars have been held scoreless in the first half.
The Golden Flashes took advantage of a roughing the punter call on USA on their second offense series, marching 50 yards in 12 plays — the drive lasted over six minutes — before Meray punched the ball in from the three-yard line for a 7-0 KSU lead.
Kent ended up with 34 minutes, 59 seconds of possession time in the game — the most by an opponent this year — without a third-down conversion in the second half. The Golden Flash defense limited USA to just 3-of-13 conversions on third down.
“We didn’t execute as well as we could in the second half, they made some big plays to allow themselves to get back into the football game,” said KSU head coach Darrell Hazell, who earned his first career victory. “We tried to get some first downs to run the clock and make them use their timeouts. We made some plays in the first half and we didn’t make enough plays in the second half to keep the margin larger than what it finished up.”
After a week off — the Jags’ first open date of the season — USA will conclude a stretch of three straight contests on the road with a 4:30 p.m. kickoff at Texas-San Antonio on Oct. 8. The game will be televised on the Longhorn Network.
“It [the week off] comes at a good time,” observed Jones. “That is two consecutive physical games we played, and our kids are tired. We had to go on the road for both of them, and that makes it even tougher.”
For more information about South Alabama athletics, check back with www.usajaguars.com. Season tickets for all Jaguar athletic events can be purchased by calling (251) 461-1USA (1872).
USA-Kent State game state
USA-Kent State photo gallery