For the second straight season, Kennesaw State’s bid to win the Big South Conference championship came to an end at the hands of Monmouth.
The Hawks (3-0, 3-0) ran through, passed over and shut down the Owls (4-1, 2-1) on Saturday to post a 42-17 victory at Kessler Stadium in West Long Branch, New Jersey, claim the conference title and earn the Big South’s automatic bid into the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, which begin later this month.
When the two teams met the last time, Monmouth jumped out to a 45-7 lead before KSU scored a couple of late touchdowns to make the score a little more respectable 45-21. This time around followed the same script as the Hawks let 35-3 late into the third quarter.
“I think we were ready to play,” KSU coach Brian Bohannon said. “But we weren’t able to sustain blocks to really get anything going, and when we did, there was a penalty.”
The Owls were ranked seventh in FCS coming into the game, but that is not likely enough to earn them one of the spots in the FCS playoff bracket. With the field being limited to 16 teams — 10 automatic bids and six at large — Bohannon said he believes when the field is announced on April 18 that KSU will be left on the outside looking in.
“I told the kids there likely was only going to be one bid from the Big South,” he said. “We’ll come back to campus and reevaluate on Monday. I can’t tell you how hard this season has been, but in my mind we’re done.”
No. 20 Monmouth shredded a normally stout Kennesaw State defense by rolling up 492 yards of total offense. Running back Juwon Farri carried the ball 22 times for 179 yards and two touchdowns, but the biggest game may have come from freshman quarterback Tony Muskett, who completed 19 of 23 passes for 290 yards and four touchdowns.
The first came with 3:49 left in the first quarter when the Hawks, who had already missed a short field goal on their opening drive, went for it on fourth-and-goal at the 5. Muskett completed a pass in the flat to tight end Gene Scott for a 7-0 lead.
After a Nathan Robinson 44-yard field goal made it 7-3, Muskett connected on a shuffle pass to a wide open Lonnie Moore, who caught eight passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns, on Monmouth’s next drive. Moore worked his way through the middle of the KSU defense for a 43-yard touchdown to make it 14-3.
On the Owls next drive, starting quarterback Jonathan Murphy, who was seeing his first action since March 13 against Charleston Southern, had a pass tipped at the line of scrimmage on third-and-4 from the 37. Monmouth linebacker Eddie Hahn made a diving interception to set up the Hawks offense at the KSU 46.
Three plays later, Farri broke free up the middle for a 29-yard touchdown run and with 7:20 left in the half, it was 21-3.
“They are a good football team and they whipped us in some areas,” Bohannon said. “We didn’t block well. Sometimes the defense played OK, and then other times they made big plays. That’s to their credit.”
Monmouth struck one more time before halftime. Muskett hit Terrance Greene, who finished with five catches for 119 yards, in stride for a 72-yard touchdown.
The Hawks had 330 yards of total offense in the first two quarters and led 28-3 at the break.
Kennesaw State was held to a season-low 161 yards rushing, and forced to pass to try to get back into the game, the offensive line did not protect Murphy. Monmouth recorded six sacks, nine tackles for loss and four additional quarterback hits.
When Murphy was given time to throw the ball, he was effective completing 9 of 18 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown.
KSU scored a pair of touchdowns late on a 19-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Foster and a 1-yard run by Preston Daniels. Daniels led the team with 50 yards rushing. Murphy had 47 and Foster added 40 and led the team with 64 yards receiving.