KENT: It had been a quiet start for Buffalo’s best defensive player until about two minutes before halftime Saturday at Dix Stadium.
That’s when the Bulls senior linebacker Khalil Mack made his presence felt in a memorable way, helping visiting Buffalo take a 13-point halftime lead that sparked a momentum shift and ultimately led the visitors to a 41-21 Mid-American Conference victory.
Mack’s one-handed interception of a Colin Reardon pass in the red zone with 37 seconds to go in the second quarter and Buffalo leading 13-7 set up a Brandon Oliver 17-yard touchdown run that flipped a potential one-point halftime lead into a 13-point deficit from which Kent State never recovered.
“It was a play we put in this week and I was running it good all week,” said Reardon, who passed for a career-high 260 yards on 20-of-33 passing. “I just stared it down a little bit. [Mack] did make a great play, I thought there was no way he was going to pick that. If anything, I thought it was the guy who was behind [receiver] Chris [Humphrey]. But he went by and just stuck his hand out and caught it.”
Mack, who entered the game ranked 14th in the nation in sacks (six) and 13th in tackles for loss (10), made the game-changing play, but it was Oliver who continued to put distance between the teams in the second half once the Flashes’ offense got rolling with a no-huddle approach.
Adding to his two first half touchdowns, Oliver tacked on two more in the second half to nearly match his season total of five, beginning with a 38-yarder midway through the third quarter that gave the Bulls (6-2, 4-0 MAC) a 27-7 lead.
“He’s a good tailback who’s not the hardest to bring down,” KSU defensive lineman Roosevelt Nix said of Oliver, who carried the ball 31 times for 185 yards and four touchdowns. “But when they run their offense, he’s the gear that turns it.”
On the Flashes’ ensuing possession, Reardon threw his second interception. With Mack providing heavy pressure on a third-down play, Bulls defensive back Cortney Lester intercepted Reardon’s throw with 6:13 to go in the third quarter. Just like the first turnover, the second one resulted in another seven points for the Bulls when Oliver tacked on his final touchdown, a 4-yarder that increased Buffalo’s lead to 34-7.
But with KSU’s no-huddle offense causing some confusion for the Bulls’ defense, the Flashes (2-7, 1-4) showed some life late in the third quarter. Versatile senior Dri Archer took an inside handoff 17 yards for a touchdown that capped a four-play, 52-yard drive that trimmed the deficit to 34-14. With the touchdown, Archer took over sole possession of fourth place in career touchdowns at KSU with 36, passing Eugene Baker.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, a Reardon-to-Tyshon Goode 18-yard touchdown reception kept the Flashes’ hopes alive. But Buffalo responded with a 30-yard touchdown catch by receiver Devon Hughes that once again put 20 points between the teams en route to Buffalo’s first six-game winning streak since 1959.
In the first half, Buffalo struck first with 3:02 left in the first quarter on an 8-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Joe Licata to receiver Alex Neutz. But KSU’s top defender Nix blocked the extra point.
“I was just playing hard, that’s all there is to it,” said an obviously disappointed Nix, who has battled a nagging back injury most of the season and returned to action after missing last week’s game.
Kent State quickly mounted a response to Buffalo’s score, driving down to the red zone before the quarter came to an end. It didn’t matter that the Flashes were then going against a brisk wind, as a Reardon bootleg run gained seven yards to set up a 5-yard touchdown plunge by running back Trayion Durham with 14:27 to go in the second quarter. Brad Miller’s extra point gave the Flashes a 7-6 advantage.
But the Bulls responded to the Flashes’ score with another of their own to go ahead 13-7, quickly reeling off a 4-play, 66-yard drive that took just 1:19 and was capped by Oliver’s 5-yard touchdown run. But the fateful sequence of events at the end of the half turned the game in Buffalo’s favor for the remainder of the evening.
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 http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.