Kent State tops Rutgers for first win over ranked team

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Luke Batton stood outside the locker room after Kent State handed No. 15 Rutgers its first loss, 35-23, on Saturday and was asked about the program's first triumph over a ranked opponent.
"Never knew that," the junior linebacker said. "But we're just trying to go out there prepared every week and it doesn't matter the opponent. It's exciting, that's for sure. It's definitely a big-time win."
Spencer Keith threw for 121 yards and two touchdowns, and Trayion Durham rushed for a career-high 131 yards and a score as Kent State spoiled a Rutgers homecoming by snapping a 0-23 slide vs. ranked foes.
"This is a great win for our program," said Kent State coach Darrell Hazell, a New Jersey native who spent three years as an assistant on Rutgers' staff (2001-03). "We take each game as they are, but this is a huge game for our program. We'll relish this one for a while. Our guys are excited."
Kent State (7-1) became the latest Mid-American Conference team to post a major upset, spoiling Rutgers' dreams of an unbeaten season after scoring 21 points off seven turnovers. Rutgers (7-1) joined Iowa, Connecticut, Penn State, South Florida and Cincinnati as the latest victim as Kent State recorded the MAC's 15th win over a FBS non-conference foe this season.
"Tremendous effort by (Kent State)," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. "A really fine football team, as we knew going into the game. I thought they played exceptionally well and certainly would not surprise me to see them go on and continue to have success as the season progresses.
"We're certainly disappointed."
Mark Fackler had a hand in a pair of turnovers, snagging two of Gary Nova's school-record six interceptions, including one that Fackler returned 25 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter.
"(We were) dropping some of the inside guys and I just saw (Nova's) eye and was right there on the first one," Fackler said following his first two-interception game since high school. "The second one was a play call. We were going that way, and I saw what he did. That was a play that was going to happen. It was there."
Nova finished with 313 yards and two touchdowns on 25-for-46 passing, but he surpassed his season interception tally (three) midway through the second quarter.
"It's definitely a tough loss," Nova said. "It's a terrible feeling. You never want to feel like this, especially with all the hard work you put in. But you just have to take the punches and just keep rolling."
Dri Archer, who entered as the nation's leader in all-purpose yardage with 212.9 per game, combined for 137 yards and scored once as Kent State won for the 11th time in its last 13 games dating back to Oct. 29, 2011.
Durham befuddled the Scarlet Knights, who entered with the nation's third-ranked rush defense. The 6-foot, 250-pound Durham snapped Rutgers' string of 11 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher.
"That's huge," Hazell said of Durham's 131 yards. "I didn't realize he rushed for that many. He continues to get better and better each week. He runs so hard that guys go backwards."
After the teams traded turnovers on their first possessions, Rutgers scored first as Nick Borgese drilled a career-long 42-yard field goal six minutes into the game.
Kent State responded on the ensuing series, marching 67 yards in seven plays and reaching the end zone when Keith hit defensive end-turned-fullback Zack Hitchens from the 1-yard line off a play-action bootleg.
The Golden Flashes added to their lead two minutes into the second quarter as Fackler snagged his second interception, picking off a screen pass and racing 25 yards for a score.
After Batton grabbed Nova's third interception inside the 10-yard line, Archer capped a seven-play, 45-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown run as the Golden Flashes jumped ahead 21-3 with 5:54 to play in the half.
Nova threw his fourth interception three minutes later, but Kent State failed to capitalize and Rutgers' sophomore quarterback rebounded to lead the Scarlet Knights to a score late in the half. Four plays after Jamison gave Rutgers some life with a 45-yard run, Nova avoided a sack, rolled right and hit Tim Wright for a 19-yard touchdown with four seconds left.
But any possible momentum the Scarlet Knights gained was squashed seven minutes into the third quarter, when Durham rushed in from 3 yards to help give the Golden Flashes a 28-10 advantage.
Kent State's second 18-point advantage didn't last long, as Rutgers answered with a nine-play, 72-yard drive capped by Nova's 24-yard scoring strike to Brandon Coleman.
After the Golden Flashes extended their lead to 35-17 behind Keith's 15-yard scoring strike to Josh Boyle with 11:30 to play, the Scarlet Knights pulled within 12 points a minute later thanks to Jawan Jamison's 2-yard touchdown run.
Rutgers couldn't get any closer over the final 10 minutes, as Luke Wollet recorded Nova's sixth interception with four minutes to play and Kent State managed to run out the clock.
"One (goal) is gone -- that's the reality," Flood said. "With the exception of maybe three, four, five teams in the country, to play for a national championship, you have to be undefeated. That's the reality of the system we're in right now.
"There's a goal that is in front of us that's never been done at Rutgers, the Big East championship. And we have an opportunity sitting in conference play 4-0 to be able to do that over the last three games of our season. I think we'll be very motivated, there's no doubt about that."
NOTES: Rutgers dominated most of the offensive statistics, outgaining Kent State 409-355 in yards. ... Rutgers and Kent State entered the game as two of the nation's best in turnover margin. The Golden Flashes, who entered plus-14 in the statistic, won the turnover battle 7-2. ... The meeting was the first between Rutgers and Kent State since 2004, with Rutgers holding a 2-0 series lead before Saturday's game. ... Flood dropped the first game of his tenure after he had become the first Scarlet Knights rookie coach to begin his career 7-0. ... Rutgers saw its record against MAC foes drop to 13-5-1.