KENT, OHIO – There are three phases in the game of football: offense, defense and special teams. The Kent State Golden Flashes fought the Marshall Thundering Herd on even terms in two of those three categories Saturday afternoon at Dix Stadium.
Special teams proved problematic for KSU as the Flashes missed a pair of two-point conversions and gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown on the way to a 36-29 double overtime loss to Marshall.
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“It was a tough loss. The guys fought hard.” KSU head coach Paul Haynes said. “I am proud of our guys. In the end, they made a couple of big plays down the stretch and we didn’t.”
Marshall (3-1) has won two straight after beginning the season with a home win over Purdue followed by a loss at Ohio.
The Flashes defense made the first big break of the game when on Marshall’s first offensive play. Freshman QB Chase Litton’s pass was deflected and intercepted by senior SS Jordan Italiano at the KSU 48 yard line.
Two plays later, the offense turned it into a touchdown when freshman WR Antwan Dixon got the ball on a reverse, turned the corner and went down the right sideline for a touchdown.
Haynes decided to go for two points rather than kick. The run failed and It turned out to be the first of two missed conversions that would haunt KSU in the end . When asked about going for two after the touchdown, he said. “That is who we are. "We are going to come out and surprise you.”
The game then turned into a battle for field position. With 5:20 left in the opening period, the Herd got the ball on the KSU 45 after a punt. Just four plays later, the visitors from Huntington took their first lead as fifth-year senior RB Tony Pittman blasted up the middle nine yards for the score and a 7-6 advantage.
Pittman replaced starting RB Devon Johnson, who injured an ankle earlier in the period, and had a career day with 129 yards rushing and two scores.
As the game moved into the second quarter, KSU regained the lead midway through the period on a five play 72-yard drive that culminated with senior RB Trayion Durham finding the end zone from three yards out. This time the Flashes made the kick and took a 13-7 lead.
Durham who missed the entire 2014 season due to a foot injury, got the start for the injured Nick Holley and responded with 114 yards on the ground and the score.
The Flashes had a chance to increase their lead when Marshall KR Deandre Reaves fumbled a punt and LB Clay Miller recovered at the KSU 46. However, the offense went three-and-out on the ensuing possession and the game went into halftime with the Blue and Gold holding that six-point advantage.
One key to the contest was the KSU defense. It held the high-powered Marshall attack to just 162 total yards and eventually just 277 for the contest.
It was the second consecutive game that the defensive 11 came up big. Last week at Minnesota, they held the Golden Gophers offense to just 288 yards and 10 points.
In the third quarter, the Flashes bumped their lead up. After taking possession on their own 19 after a punt, QB Colin Reardon engineered a four play, 81-yard drive that ended in a touchdown. Reardon found junior, slot receiver Ernest Calhoun in the left corner of the end zone for the score.
As after the first touchdown, KSU went for two, and for the second time they failed as Reardon’s pass was incomplete to make the score 19-7.
An even bigger special teams play came on the ensuing kickoff. Reaves broke through the first wave of tacklers and then raced down the left sideline 93 yards for a touchdown to pull the herd within five at 19-14.
When asked about the key plays on special teams, Haynes said, “Special teams are huge. We had the game, and we gave up a touchdown (the Haynes kickoff return). We have to be better on special teams. That was a huge play."
There would be no further scoring until early in the fourth quarter. Marshall took possession on its own 37 and used seven plays to regain the lead, 22-19, when Litton found TE Ryan Yurachek in the end zone on the left sideline for the touchdown. The Herd when for two and got it when Pittman carried the ball the three yards for the conversion.
The drive was highlighted and kept alive on two ‘targeting’ personal foul penalties against KSU, which led to a pair of ejections. The first was junior FS Nick Holley, followed by CB Najee murray on the two-point try.
After an exchange of punts, KSU gained possession on its own 20. Again, Reardon moved the offense. Aided by a 15-yard personal foul call at midfield, KSU reached the Marshall 16. When the Herd defense stiffened, redshirt freshman PK Shane Hynes came in and connected on a 33-yard field goal to tie the score 22-22.
Overall, it was Reardon’s best game of the young season. He completed just 13-of-34 passes for 187 yards, but he did have two touchdowns, no interceptions, and was not sacked.
The Flashes defense gave the offense a chance to win the game in regulation as sophomore DB Marcus Elliott, who came in the game for the ejected Murray, intercepted a Litton pass at the 50 yard line. However the ensuing drive resulted in a three and out.
Overall the Flashes defense was strong as it held Marshall to just 277 total yards and forced three turnovers. Kent State had three players with ten or more tackles: Holley with 15 (seven solo) before being ejected, junior DT Terence Waugh with 11 (seven solo) with three sacks, and junior LB Elcee Refuge with 10 (four solo).
The game went into overtime and both teams scored a touchdown. KSU had the ball first and it was Reardon finding junior TE Bryce Fackler over the middle from 12 yards away.
Marshall responded in kind when Litton found junior TE Devonte Allen in the left sideline for the score.
In the second extra session, the Herd gained possession first and scored as Pittman went up the middle from seven yards out. On the Flashes possession, a three-yard run by Durham was followed by three straight incompletions, and the Herd came away with the victory
In defeat, Haynes has seen a lot of progress from his team in the first four weeks. He said “We are a lot better football team than we were in week one (at Illinois).”