Kent State stuns No. 15 Rutgers, 35-23 For The Program's First Ever Win Over A Nationally-Ranked Opponent
Kent State captured the program's first ever win over a nationally-ranked opponent with a stunning 35-23 upset of previously undefeated Rutgers on Homecoming Saturday in Piscataway, N.J.
In 90 years of playing football in Kent, the Golden Flashes were 0-22 against Top-25 teams. Rutgers came into the day ranked No. 15 in the BCS poll, No. 18 by the AP, and owning a sterling 7-0 record that had the Scarlet Knights dreaming of a possible Orange Bowl berth.
After forcing seven turnovers, including six interceptions of Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova, it is Kent State that can now talk comfortably about its chances of playing in the postseason for the first time since 1972.
Last week the Flashes (7-1) were merely bowl eligible. Now they have a Top-25 win to add to their bowl resume.
"That was a big win against a tough opponent," said Kent State head coach Darrell Hazell. "Our kids prepared like crazy this week. We made enough plays early to keep their team off balance. Rutgers kept fighting back, but our guys kept fighting them off.
"One of the goals coming ... was we have to be plus-one in the turnover margin. I think we accomplished that."
How about plus-five on the day to get to plus-19 on the season? That by a team tied for third in turnover margin coming into the day.
Mark Fackler intercepted two of Nova's passes, including a one-handed snag he returned for a 25-yard score in the opening quarter. The athletic play ignited the Kent State sideline and confirmed the belief that an upset was possible.
Leon Green, Sidney Saulter, Luke Batton and Luke Wollet also picked off Nova, who came into the day with just three interceptions in Rutgers' fist seven games. Nova threw for 313 yards on 25-for-46 passing, but had a difficult time reading Kent State's front seven as it dropped in coverage on fire-zone blitzes.
"Preparation had a lot to do with it," said Fackler, whose two interceptions on the day were also the first of his three-year career. "We watched a lot of film this week. We dropped some of our inside guys, and I just followed (Nova's) eyes.
Even with all of the turnovers, Nova kept threatening to bring the Scarlet Knights back, throwing a pair of touchdown passes in the last 31 minutes.
Kent State had more than enough offense to maintain a two-possession lead throughout the second half, even after Rutgers stole momentum with a score that cut the Golden Flashes' lead to 21-10 four seconds before halftime.
Trayion Durham added a 3-yard touchdown run to a career-best, 131-yard rushing day against a Rutgers defense that had been ranked No. 3 in the nation against the run. All of those yards offset the first two fumbles of Durham's season.
The Scarlet Knights had not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season long. Add in 79 yards on 18 carries by Dri Archer, including a seven-yard touchdown in the second quarter, and Kent State totaled 224 rushing yards on 50 attempts.
Just as important as the passing numbers was Keith's game management. The senior regularly switched into the perfect play at the line of scrimmage, countering the constant movement of Rutgers' defense.
"(Rutgers) had done a wonderful job prior to playing us, blitzing and getting team into second-and-14, second-and-15," said Hazell. "So, we had a blitz package … and we were able to hit some pretty good creases early. We were getting low on the play clock quite a few times, but I thought Spencer did a great job."
In beating Army, Western Michigan and now Rutgers, Hazell has three straight victories over former employers. He was an assistant coach at all three schools. Saturday was also the third time Kent State spoiled an opponent's Homecoming. Add in last week's win in Kent, "and we are 4-0 on Homecoming, so be careful," Hazell said, offering a warning to teams as they consider future scheduling.
The Flashes return home next week to host the University of Akron in the annual battle for the Wagon Wheel.
Junior defensive end Mark Fackler made first career interception in the first quarter then intercepted a pass in the second quarter, returning it 29 yards for his first career touchdown.
Doubling part-time as a fullback, junior defensive end Zack Hitchens made his second career catch and first for a touchdown.
Spencer Keith passed Josh Cribbs as Kent State's career leader in passing yards. Keith also threw his 40th and 41st career touchdown pass.
Junior Dri Archer scored his 15th touchdown of the year and ninth on the ground. He totaled 115 yards of offense. Archer has scored a touchdown in all eight games this season.
Sophomore Trayion Durham ran for a career-high 131 yards on 22 carries, adding 19 receiving yards on three catches. Durham scored his eighth rushing touchdown and seventh in his last five games. He's run for at least 50 yards in his last 14 games and 85 yards or more in six of his last seven games.
Durham became the first player to run for over 100 yards against Rutgers this season, who was third in the nation against the rush.
Saturday was the fifth game this game this season Archer and Durham had rushing touchdowns in the same game.
Senior safety Leon Green made his second interception in as many games.
Freshman Josh Boyle made his third touchdown catch of the season and second in as many games.
Senior middle linebacker Luke Batton led the Flashes with 13 tackles. Batton had a sack and made his second interception in three games. He also tipped a pass that was intercepted. He has made 43 tackles in his last three games.
Senior Freddy Cortez passed Josh Cribbs as Kent State's career leader in points, now with 251.
Senior Sid Saulter intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble.
Junior Luke Wollet made his third interception of the year and ninth of his career. Wollet added nine tackles, including one for a loss.
Postgame Press Conference - Coach Hazell
Postgame Press Conference - Players
Kent State carries its first six-game winning streak since 1940.
The Flashes defeated a ranked opponent for the first time in program history. They had gone 0-22 in previous games.
Kent State's defense tied a program record with six interceptions.
The Flashes defeated a BCS Conference opponent for the first time since 2007.
The Flashes have won four homecoming games in the month of October.
Kent State's seven wins are tied for the fifth most in school history.
The Flashes' six straight wins are the second highest single-season winning streak.
Kent State has won 11 of its last 13 games.
The Flashes' four straight road wins are the most since 1977.
Kent State is outscoring opponents 41-10 in the first quarter this season.
The Flashes forced a season-high seven turnovers, raising their turnover margin to +19 on the year.
The Flashes ran for over 200 yards (224) for the fourth time this season.
KSU had over 35 minutes in time of possession for the fourth time this season.
Kent State became the fourth MAC team to defeat a Big East team this season.
For the third time in four games, the Flashes' offensive line did not allow a sack.
Ten players on the Kent State defense have intercepted passes this season.
Rutgers carried a +14 turnover ratio prior to Saturday.
Postgame Quotes: Head Coach Darrell Hazell
Opening Statement: "This is a great win for our program. We came on the road against a very tough opponent. We knew they were going to be tough, and they did a great job prior to playing us. I thought our kids prepared like crazy this week. We made enough plays early in the game to keep those guys off balance. Rutgers kept fighting back, and our guys kept fighting them off. There are a lot of guys who played extremely well on ourfootball team, and we were able to create a lot of turnovers. I thought ouroffense was very efficient. For the most part, we took care of the ball. Wedropped a couple, but for the most part we took care of the ball. One of our goals coming out of the locker room today was that we wanted to be plus one in turnover margin, and I think we accomplished that. I can't say enough about the guys in our locker room. I'm just so happy for those guys."
On the biggest win in the program's history: "We take each game as they are, but this is a huge game for our program. We'll relish this one for a while. Our guys are excited."
On the Mark Fackler pick-6: "That turnover by Mark, the pick 6, I think it sparked our sidelines. I thought our defense really started thriving off of that."
On preparing the defense for Gary Nova and Rutgers offense: "We were zone blitzing and dropping off of our defensive lineman. I thought that created a little bit of an issue. We did it a couple of times and batted another one down a little bit later in the game. We try toaffect the quarterback in as many ways as we can. One is by bringing pressure, another is by dropping defensive lineman, and another one is giving them different looks. I thought we did a good job of blending all three of thosetoday."
On running to Kent State fans in the stands post-game: "That's kind of a ritual for us. For our great fans who come and support us no matter where we go, we like to sing our fight song to those guys after the game to show our appreciation."
On the momentum shift before halftime: "That was a big play that they made. It was a big drive. They had to come down, and I told the guys, 'They're going to make some plays on us. But we can't panic and you have to show some poise.' That's one of the things we talked about all week. When you play a good football team, you better show some poise because they're going to make some big plays. I thought out guys weren't rattled. They were mad but they weren't rattled."
On Gary Nova's interceptions: "We were packing it in with our safeties and our backers. We tried to take the middle of the field from him a little bit. We played man-to-man coverage on the outside and they were running crossing routes. We were able to sneak a few out."
On Trayion Durham's big night: "That's huge. I didn't realize he rushed for that many. He continues to get better and better each week. I think he had two on the ground, which you never want to have. He runs so hard that guys go backwards."
Post-Game Player Quotes
#47 Junior Mark Fackler, DE
On the last time he had two interceptions in one game: "Two interceptions in one game? I think maybe in high school."
On being in a position to get two interceptions: "Just listening to the coaches, watching a lot of film and preparation (helped me get two interceptions). I felt like I prepared a lot this week and it just helped us out a lot. I actually did that earlier in practice this week."
On bunching in the middle and dropping back: "[We were] dropping some of the inside guys and I just saw his eyes, followed his eyes and was right there on the first one. The second one was a play call. We were going that way and I saw what he did. That was a play that was going to happen. It was there."
On going for three interceptions: "I got my hand on another one. I was mad at myself. It was the exact same play as the first one. The defense as a whole was doing their job. We had other guys coming, and he had to get rid of it, so I knew it was coming in there somewhere."
#30 Senior Luke Batton, LB
On turnovers having a snowball effect: "It always builds momentum when you get turnovers. It gets your whole team up, especially the defense. Everyone is trying to get a little piece of the pie. I guess you can say it snowballs."
On never beating a ranked team: "Never knew that, but we're just trying to go out there prepared every week as hard as we can and it doesn't matter the opponent. We're going to come out and prepare the same way every week so that was a huge win for us. It's exciting that's for sure. It's definitely a big time win. It was definitely huge for us and for the program itself."
#3 Senior Spencer Keith, QB
On strong defense making it easier on offense: "It definitely makes my job easier, and our job as an offense (easier). Having a short field like that, it really helps just because obviously we have feweryards to go and it changes our play calling so we can run the ball a littlemore. Once that happens, the momentum changes so fast and we try to build off the defense and I think we did a pretty good job out there today."