Kennesaw State can breathe a sigh of relief.
The No. 15 Owls found a way to beat Campbell 38-35 on Saturday in Buies Creek, North Carolina.
The victory kept Kennesaw State’s chances of winning a third straight Big South Conference championship alive, and it also saved the Owls’ shot at a potential at-large bid in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
However, it did not come easy.
“We had a lot of fight today,” Kennesaw State coach Brian Bohannon said during the postgame television interview. “Our kids fought through a lot of adversity. I think our kids grew up today with a lot of adversity.”
Tommy Bryant came in for an injured Daniel David at quarterback in the second quarter and offered a spark to the offense.
He finished with 105 rushing yards and three touchdowns. More importantly, though, Bryant completed 5-of-7 passing for 91 yards and touchdowns of 20 and 26 yards to Shaquil Terry to help secure the win.
Bryant’s efforts were needed because, for the second week in a row, the Kennesaw State defense had issues stopping an elusive dual-threat quarterback.
Campbell’s Hajj-Malik Williams, a Jerry Rice Award nominee as the best freshman in the FCS, completed 15 of 33 passes for 223 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 110 yards and two touchdowns, often finding ways to keep plays alive when it looked like Kennesaw State defenders were about to bring him down.
Campbell (6-3, 3-1) rolled up 386 yards and had a 21-17 lead at the half, but Kennesaw State (8-2, 3-1) got a modicum of revenge in the third quarter.
Williams tried to throw a deep pass down the sideline to his top receiver Caleb Snead, but Markeith Montgomery made a juggling interception for the first turnover of the game.
The Owls then marched 80 yards in 12 plays and capped the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run by Bryant to take the lead for the first time at 24-21.
On the ensuing drive, former Kell High School standout Bryson Armstrong intercepted a tipped pass inside Campbell territory. On the next play, Bryant connected with Terry for the 26-yard touchdown to put Kennesaw State up 31-21.
It looked like the Owls were about to put the game away when Bryant fumbled a handoff. Campbell recovered at the Kennesaw State 34 and needed only three plays to cut into the Owls’ lead. A 21-yard pass to Snead, who finished with six catches for 99 yards and a touchdown, set up Cameron Davis’ 3-yard touchdown run.
While Bryant accounted for five touchdowns on the day, he was set up for success by the return teams, and there was no bigger play in the game than the ensuing kickoff following Davis’ touchdown.
Antavious Grier returned the kick 58 yards to set Kennesaw State up at the Campbell 37. Grier finished the game with four returns for 137 yards, while Terry added one kickoff return of 30 yards and a punt return of 20.
Bryant engineered a 10-play scoring drive that ended with his 1-yard touchdown that took nearly 6 minutes off the clock. It allowed Kennesaw State to regain a 10-point lead at 38-28.
Early on, it looked as if the Owls may lose back-to-back games for the first time since their inaugural season of 2015.
Campbell jumped out to a 14-3 lead, which could have been worse. The Camels missed a field goal on their opening drive after moving the ball 70 yards. After the first quarter, Campbell had outgained Kennesaw State 129-39 and held the ball for nearly 10 minutes.
With 11:08 to play in the second quarter, David ran for a 14-yard gain, but he came down hard on his right shoulder. He left the game and was later seen on the sideline with his throwing arm in a sling.
The offense picked up the tempo and began to run with Bryant under center and he completed that 68-yard scoring drive with an 8-yard touchdown run.
Down 21-10 with just under 2 minutes before the half, Grier returned a kickoff 33 yards, and an unsportsmanlike penalty on Campbell moved the ball to the Camels’ 46-yard line. Four plays later, Bryant hit Terry for a 20-yard touchdown to cut the lead to pull the Owls within four at the half.
Terry caught all five of Bryant’s completions for 91 yards. The Owls finished with 252 rushing yards.
With the win, Kennesaw State remained one game behind conference leader Monmouth. The Owls will travel to Virginia next week to face Big South newcomer Hampton, then will close the regular season by hosting Gardner-Webb.