This is college football.
A tougher, grittier, more physical battle you will rarely see, as both sides put it all on the line to get the win in a game where you hated to see either side lose.
In the end, Kent State (2-3, 1-0 MAC East) rallied from multiple fourth-quarter deficits on the heroics of WR Dante Cephas to beat the visiting Ohio Bobcats (2-3, 0-1 MAC East) in overtime for the Homecoming win on Saturday evening.
Spearheaded by Cephas and RB Marquez Cooper, Kent State amassed an incredible 736 yards offense on the night.
Kent State came into the contest as 12.5-point favorites and looked the part on the first drive. Mixing the run and pass beautifully on a crisp, six-play, 90-yard drive, KSU hit paydirt on a three-yard run by Marquez Cooper to open the scoring account at 7-0.
We knew coming in Cooper was a workhorse for Kent State but he took his game to the next level, finishing with 40 carries for 240 yards and two rushing scores.
The Golden Flashes defense also got off to the expected start, containing the Bobcats on the first two drives, forcing punts on both.
KSU looked to be gaining momentum later in the first as QB Collin Schlee guided the offense down to the Ohio 11 on what was a 13-play drive. With the end zone in Kent State’s sights, Ohio turned in a huge play on a strip sack by DE Jack McCrory. Kent recovered the fumble, but the 24-yard loss took KSU out of field goal range, forcing a punt.
It was one of four or five fumbles by KSU, who were fortunate to lose only two.
Ohio went on a ten-point run, starting with a 13-play, 80-yard drive that matched KSU’s first drive in terms of a good run/pass balance. The key play to the drive was a fourth-and-one at KSU’s five where Ohio got a huge break.
On the critical play, the Bobcats attempted misdirection to the right with a throwback to the left in the flats to tackle-eligible Hagen Meservy. The Golden Flashes read the beautifully, snuffing out a dangerous throw. The play was replayed because an inadvertent ref whistle occurred during the play.
Ohio took advantage of its new life when QB Kurtis Rourke hit RB Nolan McCormack in the flats for the five-yard score.
With a 10-7 lead later in the 2nd Quarter, KSU got another drive going, moving into the redzone. Ohio LB Keye Thompson, who had an inspired performance with multiple physical stops, was injured on the play that brought the ball to Ohio’s 13 yard-line. On the next play, Thompson’s substitute made a huge play as Cannon Blauser’s strip sack of Schlee was recovered by ‘Cats rising talented defensive end redshirt freshman Bradley Weaver.
2021 All-MAC performer Tariq Drake showed why he earned that honor when he kept KSU from points with some key plays on the last drive of the half. Drake caught up with an open receiver to get a deflection to prevent a big play. Then, on the drive’s last play, Drake knocked down Schlee’s Hail Mary in the endzone.
The third quarter started with near disaster for Kent as a muffed kickoff return was recovered by the Flashes at their own four-yard line.
After catching that break, KSU’s running game went on to dominate most of the third quarter, but some timely defensive plays— combined with several KSU miscues limited the Golden Flashes to just three points on four promising drives.
Marquez Cooper was stripped of the ball at the end of a long run by Ohio defensive end Jack McCrory, with cornerback Justin Birchette recoveing to kill the first drive, with Kent State settling for a 50-yard Andrew Glass FG to tie the score at 10 after a holding penalty stalled the second drive of the quarter. And so went the rest of the third for Kent, missing a field goal from 47 yards out on its final possession of the framer.
Ohio’s offense then got things rolling at the end of the third to take the lead 17-10 on a run by RB Sieh Bangura. KSU had contained Ohio to 63 yards on its first 20 carries, but run number 21 was a different story, as Ohio’s commitment to the run paid off with Sieh Bangura bursting through the middle of the line for a 50-yard score.
The run was the longest of Bangura’s young Bobcat career, besting his 40-yard gallop on his first carry of his Ohio career last season.
The Bobcats defense rose twice to thwart KSU drives to start the fourth quarter, stopping the Golden Flashes on back-to-back fourth down conversion attempts.
Starting in the mid-fourth though, the scoring went off at a breathtaking pace. At the center of it all was Dante Cephas, who turned in a final act for the ages in a bid to will his team to victory.
With seven minutes left and KSU starting in the shadow of its own goal post and down by seven, WR Dante Cephas took over, showing what a first-team All-MAC and NFL prospect looks like. Early on the drive, Cephas caught a seven-yard crossing route and turned it into a 45-yard gain, evading or breaking multiple tackles. Cephas capped off the drive on a a lights-out grab in the right corner of the endzone, dragging a foot while hanging on to the ball. The 29-yard score tied the game at 17.
Ohio answered quickly on the next drive, with Kurtis Rourke hitting Ohio State transfer receiver Sam Wiglusz on a 70-yard score on its first offensive play of the ensuing drive, stunning the assembled crowd at Dix Stadium.
Rourke had another strong performance in this one, with 322 yards passing and two touchdown passes, with this strike giving Ohio a 24-17 lead.
It wouldn’t be for long, however, as Kent State quickly tied it again on a 75-yard drive that took just over two minutes.
Cephas came up clutch again in the final moments after the KSU defense forced an Ohio punt, with a 54-yard catch-and-run that set up the Flashes on the final play for a potential game-winning 47-yard field goal attempt. But Ohio captain DT Kai Caesar came up with the biggest play of regulation when his paw sent the kick careening back at Andrew Glass for the block that sent the game to overtime.
In overtime, KSU got the initial shot on offense and Cephas stuck again, a 24-yard spirited catch-and-run which took the ball to the Ohio one-yard line. Cephas tore up the competition on the night with 13 catches for 246 yards and a score, but what was perhaps most impressive was his will to win. He was almost unstoppable in the final quarter and OT.
After Cooper got the score on a one-yard run, Ohio moved inside the KSU five-yard on a Sieh Bangura reception to grant a new set of downs, but the drive would stall there, as the fourth-down pass from Rourke intended for Miles Cross fell incomplete, sealing the win for the Golden Flashes.
After a well-earned rest, these competitors will head to week two of the conference season, with Ohio hosting the Akron Zips, while Kent State heads to Oxford to take on the Miami RedHawks.