Inconsistency continued to haunt Kent State in a 23-13 loss to South Alabama on Saturday at Dix Stadium.
The Golden Flashes watched too many negative plays either stall their own drives or extend their opponent's. After struggling to move the chains for most of the day, their offense created sparks of hope late in both halves. On defense, the Flashes forced the Jaguars to punt on five consecutive second-half possessions before finally wearing down on a game-sealing touchdown march in the final minutes.
Before that final drive closed in a 23-yard touchdown run by Jay Jones with 1:12 to play, Kent State still managed to put itself in position for a 32-yard field goal that could have tied the game with 4:04 remaining.
The kick by Anthony Melchiori narrowly missed. Adding insult to injury, a South Alabama player appeared to jump and stay in the neutral zone just prior to Melchiori's attempt. The protest that followed drew Kent State's second flag for unsportsmanlike conduct, shortening the field for the Jaguars game-clinching drive.
"Again, we came up short," said Kent State head coach Paul Haynes, whose Golden Flashes fell to 0-2 at home to start the season. "I still like our fight. I still like our attitude … But we are not good enough to get negative plays and overcome them.
"There is a lot of football to play. We have to make sure we continue to do the things we are doing well, and then make sure we look at the things we are not doing well and improve."
For the second consecutive week, Kent State's biggest issues were on offense. The running game managed just 64 yards on 28 attempts for a 2.3-per-carry average. Quarterback Colin Reardon also struggled, despite tossing touchdown passes of 8 yards to Nick Holley late in the second quarter and 44 yards to Casey Pierce in the fourth.
Reardon completed just one of his first 10 passes as South Alabama built an early 16-0 lead, then finished with 213 yards on 17-of-40 passing, including a late interception.
"The good thing is you look at these first two games and we still had chances to win," said Haynes. "If we play a little better early, we are probably ahead … We had a couple of good runs, and that helped us, but we have a long way to go to be consistent in running the football. It will help us throwing the football if we can become a better running team."
The touchdown throw to Holley marked the first career score for the sophomore wide reciever-turned-running back. Holley also led the Flashes with 47 yards on 14 carries.
South Alabama grabbed 2-0 first-quarter lead on a safety after Reardon was called for intentional grounding while trying to elude pressure on a throw from his own end zone. The Jaguars extended their advantage to 9-0 on a 1-yard touchdown throw from Brandon Bridge to Shavarez Smith.
Two plays before that first touchdown, Kent State lost what they thought was a drive-ending, tipped-ball interception in the end zone by Nate Holley when cornerback Najee Murray was flagged for a questionable pass-interference penalty.
The Jaguars added another 1-yard touchdown on a Jones run with 8:01 to play. But after that, Kent State's defense held strong until the final minutes.
"They played hard," Haynes said of his defense. "They got us off the field with those three-and-outs … When you play a spread team with two running backs, it is tough to defend. You are playing the game from 20-yard line-to-20-yard line. So, we don't talk about yardage because you are going to give up yardage. You just have to buckle down in the red zone, and our guys did a good job of buckling down on those (five) straight drives in the second half."
Bridge completed 15-of-25 passes for 161 yards while Jones finished with 102 yards on 21 carries for South Alabama (1-0).
Kent State (0-2) will travel to Ohio State next weekend for a noon kickoff with the Buckeyes.
The Kent State defense held South Alabama to 30 yards passing in the second half.
Senior Casey Pierce caught his sixth career touchdown pass. Pierce has made four or more catches in his last three games. He led the Flashes with a career-high 80 yards receiving.
Sophomore Nick Holley made his first career start at running back and scored his first career touchdown on an eight-yard pass from Colin Reardon. Holley had three carries for 30 yards on the scoring drive.
Reardon has a pair of touchdown passes in each of his two games this season.
Senior Chris Humphrey has made a catch in 22 straight games
Redshirt freshman Kris White made his first career start at wide receiver and made his first career catch.
Redshirt freshman Jontey Byrd recorded his first career sack and had 2.0 tackles for loss.
Freshman defensive tackle Zach Singer made his collegiate debut.
After having just one carry in his first game at Ohio, freshman Miles Hibbler had career-highs of four carries for 13 yards.
Sophomore Nate Holley was the Flashes' leading tackler for the second straight week. With nine tackles on the day, Holley has 27 stops in two games.
Sophomore defensive end Terence Waugh had a career-high eight tackles.
Running Back Nick Holley
Guys were fighting hard I just think we need to study more and work harder on off days and practice. Guys need to get in the film room more and study and need to take it seriously, we all need to fight our butts off every play and that's what it takes to win
With football momentum switches every other play. Once we start to pick up momentum, that's the thing about our team they wait till something good happens and then we go go go when we need to be able to create our momentum and continue from there
For the most part I think we did fairly well we just have a long way to go.
Losing is never fun, I hate to lose. Guys on the team hate to lose. Losing is enough for me.
Nose tackle Jontey Byrd
Our coaches' emphasis is 'get turnovers.'
We consider ourselves as a second half team so we try to come out and play harder in the second half.
We knew at some point coming in this year we would face adversity. We preached on how we respond to adversity, pretty much we take it one game at a time. We have two losses right now. It's a long season so it's all about how we respond
Head Coach Paul Haynes
The game came up short, I still like our guys fight and attitude. We're not good enough to get negative plays and overcome them. That what we have to do a better job of is win on first downs so we don't put ourselves in the hole and do things better on a consistent basis and we gotta get ourselves to be that disciplined to do that and we will. There's a lot of football to continue to play and look at the things were doing well and continue to do those things and look st the things were not doing well and make sure we improve. Got a lot of good guys that are fighting we just gotta get it out of everybody.
If we sit there and play a little bit better early then you're probably ahead. 2 drives have to be 8 to 10 drives and on a consistent basis. Guys gotta make plays and stay on blocks
We gotta get better at them (field goals). Anthony is capable of making them, he's just not. When you're in a slump you gotta keep swinging. Gotta keep sticking with him and making sure that he's fundamentally sound. He's a good kicker
It wasn't on rhythm (14's field goal miss). That one's a first for me, but The play is never over until they blow the whistle. You gotta make sure you continue to go through but you live and learn through situations. And I gotta put them in that situation so our guys can continue to play and stay on rhythm, don't leave it to chance
We didn't do a good job at blocking on the perimeter. Everybody has to do a better job at blocking when you're talking about running the football. We got a long way to go in being consistent in running the football because it will help us throw the football a little better if we can be a better running team
We can't have negative plays. We're not good enough to overcome those negative plays. We tried to come out and get something going and we didn't. Just came up short
When you play an offense like that, we always talk about the key is to keep these guys outta the endzone. When you play a spread team that really has 2 RBs back there it's tough to defend.
South Alabama coach Joey Jones opening statement:
"This is a big win for us on the road. We came up here last time and didn't play really well, they beat us 33-25. We played well early in the game, the offensive was moving the ball well then started to struggle during the middle of the game. Our defense played lights out through the whole game. I thought our special teams were really good today, so I was real pleased with that. The thing I'm most proud is that we finished the game. Last year in the first ball game we let somebody drive on us and score and I look at the difference, just that mentality that we're not going to get beat late in the game. I'm so proud of the defense for stopping them and our offense for driving down and scoring late in the game when they could of come back and won the ball game easily. My hat's off to our players who really bought in. We have some things we can work on and there's always next week. That's the thing about football, you never play at a 100% level, you always have things to work on."
On offensive play:
"The good thing is we didn't panic, on the sideline when they went down and scored and came within three, the guys didn't panic, we've done this a bunch. We drove the ball down the field, Jay ran the ball real well, the offensive line blocked real well on that last drive. You just manage the game and you win the ball game, sometimes it isn't pretty, sometimes you don't have 500 yards of offensive, but who cares it's a win."
On Jay Jones:
"Jay Jones is a winner, he's a guy you can count on 1st quarter, 2nd quarter, 3rd quarter, 4th quarter it doesn't matter. He's going to do what he has to do, he's very smart and he runs the very hard. If you look at him on that last drive he ran the ball even harder because he knew we had to win the ball game and he took the ball in his hands and made some great runs."
South Alabama quarterback Brandon Bridge on 1st start:
"I'm proud that I got a win. It was a great team effort, the offense came out rolling in the 1st half. The defense did a heck of a job holding them to six points in the first half. My hat goes off to the defense. I think I did well in 1st half, in the 2nd half they started dropping a lot so it closed some throwing lanes, but coach said if it's not there start running it and make me a threat. I'm happy for the win, but I'm not happy how we won."
"I'm really proud of the offensive line, before we started the last drive I rallied the guys and told them we had to score on this drive, we're going to kill some clock, but we have to score and if we score the game is done. Some guys went down with injuries, but this year we have a lot of depth at every position and the new guys came in and did a heck of job creating some big holes for Jay to run in. We did an excellent job on that last drive."