Kent State scores biggest win in program history
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP)
After hugs and chest bumps at midfield following the final whistle, Kent State players and coaches raced to the corner of the stadium and serenaded the small contingent of its fans lucky enough to witness the biggest win in school history.
Seven turnovers, including two interceptions by defensive end Mark Fackler, led to a 35-23 upset for Kent State over No. 18 Rutgers on Saturday that knocked the Scarlet Knights from the undefeated ranks in front a homecoming crowd of 49,345 at High Point Solutions Stadium.
''That's a ritual for us,'' coach Darrell Hazell said. ''We always sing the school's fight song to show our appreciation to our loyal fans.''
Hazell made it sound as though it was routine, but the reaction of the players told a different story as they whooped and hollered their way off the field. And, as if on cue, a burst of fireworks went off above the stadium as the team ran for the locker room.
Kent State (7-1) had been 0-22 in games against ranked teams in its 92-year history before produced a victory worthy of fireworks against Rutgers (7-1). It also marked the first time the Golden Flashes have won six in a row since 1940.
''We take each game as they are, but this was a huge game for our program,'' Hazell said. ''We'll relish this one for a while.''
Kent State grabbed four of its six interceptions of Gary Nova in the first half when it built a 21-10 lead. None was bigger than Fackler's one-handed grab and sprint for a 25-yard touchdown early in the second quarter.
''That turnover by Mark (Fackler), the pick six, inspired our sideline,'' Hazell said. ''We were zone-blitzing and dropping off our linemen. We try to affect the quarterback as many ways as we can. Put pressure on him, drop lineman, and give them different looks.''
Fackler gave a hint that it would be a long day for Nova and the Rutgers' offense. On the third play of the game, the 6-3, 255-pound left end made his first interception.
''I just followed his eyes, and it was right there,'' Fackler said. ''The second one, I saw my key and I knew that was the play that was going to happen. Two interceptions in a game? Maybe in high school. Preparation has a lot to do with it, and I actually had one like that in practice this week.
''I had my hand on a third (pass by Nova). It was the exact same play as the first one, but I couldn't hold on to it. It was disappointing.''
It might have been the only disappointment of the game for Kent State, which received 131 yards rushing and a touchdown from Trayion Durham, and two touchdown passes from Spencer Keith, who didn't throw an interception.
''It always builds momentum when you get turnovers,'' Kent State middle linebacker Luke Batton said. ''It gets your whole team up, especially the defense. Everyone wants to get a piece of the pie, and it snowballs.
''I never knew that (we hadn't beaten an ranked team), but it's a huge win. It's definitely a big-time win. Huge for the program.''
Batton registered 13 tackles, an interception and a sack during a tremendous day for the defense. He also tipped a pass that Sidney Saulter grabbed for another pick. Leon Green and Luke Wollet also had interceptions for the Golden Flashes. Saulter came up with a fumble recovery, too.
Rutgers had plenty of trouble with defensive ends such as Fackler and Hitchens, who gave Kent State the lead for good with his first career TD catch in the first.
Dri Archer, the nation's leader in touchdowns coming into this week, scored on a 7-yard run, and Trayion Durham tallied from 3-yards out.
Nova, the Big East's top offensive player last week, threw touchdowns of 19 yards to Tim Wright and 24 to Brandon Coleman. Jawan Jamison scored on a 2-yard run to cut Rutgers' deficit to 12 with 10:35 to play.
On first down, Nova went to throw a quick flanker screen. His toss down the line of scrimmage was intercepted with one hand by Fackler, who never broke stride and ran into the end zone to make it 14-3.
Rutgers never got any closer.
''I knew they had talent and I knew they had good players,'' Rutgers defensive tackle Scott Vallone said. ''Personally, I thought we were the better football team, but they came out and they played a lot better than us and they came out and won the game. They took it from us, period.''