ETSU opener: Owls ride big plays to 56-16 win

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Sep 3, 2015 at 11:52 PM

Although Kennesaw State’s roster is filled with athletic players, it was a big defensive lineman whose play at the end of the first half provided the defining moment in the Owls’ blowout victory 56-16 over East Tennessee State on Thursday night at Kermit Tipton Stadium.

Kennesaw defensive lineman Nick Perrota picked off Nick Sexton’s screen pass and returned it 19 yards for a touchdown for a 21-13 lead heading into the half.

With the momentum on their side, the Owls didn’t let up in the second half, outscoring the Bucs 35-3. All total, the Owls scored 49 unanswered points before ETSU scored in the fourth quarter.

“If we play like we did for a quarter and a half, we might win the ball game,” ETSU head coach Carl Torbush said. “We had to play for two and a half more quarters. I’m obviously disappointed with the big plays we gave up, and the two interceptions hurt a bunch. Then the defense got really tired and we missed a bunch of tackles late. There are a lot of things to work on, but they are correctable.”

The Owls controlled the line of scrimmage, particularly in that second half.

While the Bucs had outgained the Owls 189-160 in the first half, the final tally showed 512 yards for Kennesaw and 312 for ETSU. The rushing total had 416 yards for the Owls with quarterback Trey White leading the way with 16 carries for 95 yards. Meanwhile, the Bucs only mustered 98 rushing yards.

“We’ve got a long way to go, obviously you can see that,” Torbush said. “But, I see some bright spots. Down the road, I can see us being a pretty good football team. We’re a really young football team, but they don’t ask you that or put an asterisk by your win-loss record.”

It was nearly 12 years, 4,303 days to be exact, between the Bucs’ last home game, a 16-13 win over The Citadel in Nov. 2003, and Thursday night’s game.

Playing in front of an enthusiastic crowd and an announced sell-out of 8,217 fans, ETSU scored on its opening drive, going 16 plays for 57 yards with a 36-yard field goal by JJ Jerman.

Kennesaw answered with its own 12 play, 84-yard drive capped off by a six-yard touchdown run by Trey White.

The score remained 7-3 until the end of the first quarter.

Dylan Weigel forced a fumble and recovered at the Kennesaw 12. Four plays later, Jerman kicked his second field goal, this one 31 yards, to cut the deficit to 7-6 with 12:50 remaining in the second quarter.

After forcing the Owls to turn the ball over on downs, the Bucs went 50 yards in seven plays with Jajuan Stinson busting up the middle on a 12-yard touchdown run for a 13-7 lead.

It was pretty much all Kennesaw from there.

The Owls scored on a nine-play, 54-yard drive later in the quarter with Jae Bowen scoring on a two-yard touchdown run.

Perrota’s pick-six then gave the Owls the eight-point lead at the half.

Kennesaw then struck on the second play from scrimmage in the second half. Justin Sumpter took a 15-yard pass from White and a spin move later was headed 69 yards down the left sideline for an Owls touchdown.

The Owls added four rushing touchdowns, including a 63-yard sprint by Darnell Holland before Jerman ended ETSU’s scoring drought with a 46-yard field goal.

The Bucs will play at home again next Thursday when they host Maryville College.

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