ATHENS, Ohio — When everything else is basically the same, the little things end up making all the difference.
Visiting Kent State forced three turnovers and led wire-to-wire Saturday during a 34-27 victory over the Ohio University football team in a Mid-American Conference East Division matchup at Peden Stadium.
Both the Golden Flashes (4-4, 3-1 MAC East) and host Bobcats (1-7, 1-3) produced 457 yards of total offense apiece, with OU running one more offensive play (77-76) while Kent State gained one more first down (28-27) overall.
In the end, however, it was the KSU plus-3 effort in turnover differential that ultimately made the greatest impact, with the Blue and Gold forcing all three of those takeaways in the first half.
To its credit, Ohio surrendered only three points off of those miscues, but the turnovers happened on the third, fifth and sixth Bobcat drives of the game while already trailing 7-0. The hole eventually proved to be too deep to dig out, down 10-0 with 7:36 remaining in the first half.
The loss officially eliminates Ohio from postseason bowl contention as the Green and White are also assured of their first losing campaign since 2008. The Golden Flashes also snapped a 6-game losing skid against the Bobcats, who still lead the all-time series by a 29-21-2 overall margin.
KSU built a 7-0 lead at the 10:09 mark of the first as Dustin Crum found Dante Cephas with a 33-yard touchdown pass, then Elvis Hines recovered a fumble at the Ohio 44 nearly four minutes later for the first takeaway of the day.
The guests covered 30 yards in eight plays and tacked on a 31-yard Andrew Glass field goal with four minutes left in the opening frame, giving the Blue and Gold a 10-point cushion.
After the Bobcats worked the turnover bug out of their system, the hosts put together an 11-play, 69-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard De’Montre Tuggle touchdown run for a 10-7 deficit with 2:04 left until halftime.
Kent State, however, answered with an 8-play, 71-yard drive that was finished off by a 4-yard run by Crum with 15 seconds remaining, giving the Golden Flashes a 17-7 cushion entering the break.
KSU opened the second half with a 7-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a Xavier Williams 15-yard TD run with 13:28 left in the third frame, giving the guests a 24-7 advantage.
The Bobcats answered with a 9-play, 57-yard drive and a 9-yard Kurtis Rourke touchdown run with 9:37 remaining for a 24-14 deficit, but a Marquez Cooper 15-yard TD run four minutes later pushed the Kent State lead back out to 17 points.
Facing a 4th-and-3 situation late in the third stanza, OU elected to take a successful 23-yard field goal from Stephen Johnson with 1:12 left. The hosts went into the fourth quarter trailing 31-17.
After a defensive stop, the Bobcats strung together an 11-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a Rourke 1-yard scamper with 7:44 remaining in regulation.
The Golden Flashes, however, answered with an 11-play drive that resulted in a 34-24 edge following a 27-yard field goal by Glass with 3:04 left.
Ohio put together a 12-play, 61-yard drive that included a 1st-and-goal situation at the KSU 1-yard line, but the hosts ultimately had to settle for a 20-yard field from Johnson with 49 seconds left for a 34-27 deficit.
The Bobcats’ ensuing onside kick attempt was recovered by the Golden Flashes at their own 47. The guests took a pair of kneel downs to run the final 47 seconds off the clock from there, completing the 7-point triumph.
KSU claimed a 200-135 advantage in rushing yards, while the hosts posted a 322-257 advantage through the air. Both teams had eight successful third down conversions and each squad was perfect in the kicking game in regards to points.
Ohio — the lone MAC program without a home win this fall — made a switch at quarterback after falling behind 10-0 late in the first quarter, going with the more pass-friendly Rourke instead of starter Armani Rogers.
Rourke completed 31-of-38 passes to 11 different receivers for 308 yards and threw one interception, plus also ran for 49 yards and a pair of scores on seven tries.
Tuggle led Ohio with 59 rushing yards on 13 attempts, while Isiah Cox and O’Shaan Allison both hauled in seven catches apiece for 73 and 52 yards respectively.
Cannon Blauser paced the Bobcats defense with 14 tackles and Bryce Houston added 11 stops. Houston and Bryce Stai combined on the lone Ohio sack of the game.
Crum completed 26-of-31 passes for 257 yards and a score, plus led the rushing attack with 93 yards on 17 carries. Cephas hauled in nine passes for 103 yards and Nykiem Johnson added eight grabs for 86 yards.
Mandela Lawrence-Burke led the KSU defense with 14 tackles. Hines and Brandon Coleman each recovered a fumble in the opening period, while Keith Sherald, Jr. picked off a pass early in the second quarter.
The Bobcats return to action on Tuesday, Nov. 2, when they host rival Miami (OH) in a MAC contest at Peden Stadium. Kickoff will be at either 7 p.m. or 7:30 p.m., but the time has yet to be confirmed.
Editor’s Note: This story will appear in the Wednesday sports editions of the Gallipolis Daily Tribune, Point Pleasant Register and The Daily Sentinel.
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Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.