university park, Pa.: The NCAA likely would have looked down its nose at such unconventional attire. But few could have blamed the Kent State and Penn State players had they jogged onto the field at Beaver Stadium on Saturday afternoon wearing goggles and galoshes along with their pads and helmets.
Nine minutes before the 3:42 p.m. kickoff in Happy Valley, a torrential downpour swept in from the northeast end of the stadium. The foreboding and fast-moving weather system put an exclamation point on an already wet morning and afternoon, inviting the natural grass field to play more like one giant, slick slip-and-slide.
Paul Haynes predicted wet weather would play a role in the game during a team meeting late Friday night. The Flashes’ first-year coach even suggested that his underdog troops embrace the wet weather and have some fun in the mud like they used to as kids playing youth football.
But the idea of an afternoon of childlike fun fell by the wayside as injuries and endurance became key factors that allowed the host Nittany Lions to tack on 13 fourth-quarter points in a 34-0 victory.
“Our guys went out there and fought, but they kind of got worn down out there at the end,” Haynes said. “We started getting a couple guys banged up again and [when we] start going down the line with our guys it’s tough against a physical team like Penn State and in an environment like it is here.”
The Flashes (1-3) missed on their first — and only — opportunity in the red zone when sophomore Anthony Melchiori’s 31-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide right on Kent State’s first drive of the game.
“You want to try to get momentum with points on the board,” Haynes said. “It was definitely in Anthony’s range to make, he just pulled it.”
Kent State never made it that close to the end zone again, while Penn State amassed 463 yards to the Flashes’ 190, with 287 coming on the ground to KSU’s 56.
The Kent State defense started strong before wearing down, forcing a three-and-out on Penn State’s game-opening drive. Kent State was then gifted with great field position when an interference call on the ensuing punt gave them the ball at the Penn State 36-yard line.
Playing aggressively on offense from the start, KSU freshman quarterback Colin Reardon promptly tossed a play-action pass to Tyshon Goode near the right corner of the end zone. But the ball was slightly underthrown after getting caught up in the wet wind and was dropped by the senior receiver.
It took Penn State a couple more trips up and down the field before it got its offense going in the steady rain during the opening quarter. But with nine seconds remaining, running back Bill Belton snagged a 15-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg to cap a nine-play, 87-yard drive that put Penn State up 7-0.
Injuries began to take a toll on the Flashes in the second quarter. Defensive lineman Chris Fairchild had to be helped off the field with an injury to his lower right leg with 11:26 left before halftime. Fairchild started at nose tackle in place of Nate Terhune, who broke his right leg last week at LSU.
The injury leaves the Flashes without a defensive lineman bigger than 270 pounds.
“We know its part of the game, but it’s one of those years where it’s starting to happen a little bit more for us,” Haynes said. “To me, that’s the luck of football. When people talk about being lucky, they stay healthy.”
Moments after Fairchild slowly made his way off the soggy field with help, Penn State opened its lead to 14-0 on running back Zach Zwinak’s first of three scores — a 2-yard dash with 9:26 left in the half.
At halftime, Penn State had outrushed Kent State 74 yards to 18 and also led the Flashes 142 to 83 in passing yards. However, the Nittany Lions led by only two scores. The deficit stayed close with KSU’s defense holding Penn State to a lone touchdown in the third quarter, even as a series of events went Penn State’s way down the stretch.
The Flashes looked to have caught their first real break in the third quarter when cornerback Dylan Farrington picked off Hackenberg. But on the next play, Reardon suffered his first interception of the season.
Later, Kent State appeared to have recovered a fumble in its end zone. However, the referees decided the ground caused the fumble and gave the ball back to the Nittany Lions at the 1-yard line. On the next play, Zwinak dove into the end zone for his second score as the Nittany Lions’ lead swelled to 21-0.
Penn State’s offense was just warming up entering the final quarter of play. Zwinak added another 1-yard score sandwiched between a pair of Sam Ficken field goals — including a career-long 54-yarder with 2:45 remaining.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/sports.abj.