Piscataway, NJ – Spencer Keith threw for two touchdowns and Kent State's defense forced seven turnovers as the Golden Flashes upset the No. 18 Rutgers Scarlet Knights, 35-23, to hand them their first loss of the season.
Trayion Durham paced all rushers with 131 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, while Dri Archer added a score and 79 yards on 18 totes for Kent State (7-1), which beat a ranked opponent for the first time in school history.
"This is a great win for our program," said Kent State coach Darrell Hazell. "We came on the road against a very tough opponent. We knew they were going to be tough, and they did a great job prior to playing us. I thought our kids prepared like crazy this week. We made enough plays early in the game to keep those guys off balance."
Keith completed 14-of-21 throws for 121 yards and stayed turnover free, while counterpart Gary Nova was unable to do the same. Nova threw six interceptions which Kent State converted into 21 points, while completing just 25-of-46 passes for Rutgers (7-1), which saw its hopes for an undefeated season come to an end.
"Seven turnovers. Very difficult to win a football game when you turn it over seven times," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. "All the reasons really we've been standing here and talking about how we've won games, protecting the football, running the football, starting field position. Really all three of those phases hurt us in one way or another today."
Jawan Jamison ran for 84 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries and led all receivers with eight catches for 88 yards in the setback.
Despite Nova's first five interceptions, Rutgers still found themselves within striking distance, trailing 35-23 following Durham's second fumble of the game with six minutes to play. However, Luke Wollet of Kent State picked off Nova for the sixth and final time with 4:48 remaining to seal the upset for the Golden Flashes.
Nova, who came into the contest with just three interceptions on the season, threw four in the first half to put Rutgers in an early 21-3 hole.
The Scarlet Knights took a 3-0 lead after neutralizing Mark Fackler's first pick of Nova by forcing Durham to fumble on the ensuing Kent State possession. Rutgers took over on its own 42 and advanced to the Kent State 32 following consecutive completions to Brandon Coleman and Jamison for 8 and 12 yards, respectively.
Jamison hauled in a 9-yard pass on 3rd-and-8 to give Rutgers a first down, but the drive stalled and Nick Borgese drilled a 42-yard field goal for the early lead.
But their advantage did not last long, as Kent State drove down the field on its next touch for a score. On the first play of the drive, Keith found Archer for 21 yards near midfield. Following rushes of 10 yards by Archer and 15 yards by Durham, Josh Boyle sprinted for 12 to give Kent State 1st-and-goal. Two plays later, Keith threw a 1-yard pass to Zack Hitchens for a touchdown.
The Golden Flashes marched down the field on their next touch as well, but came up short after Freddy Cortez's 40-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Lorenzo Waters.
However, Kent State got back on the board on the very next play, as Fackler once again intercepted Nova, this time running it back for a 29-yard score to make it 14-3.
"That turnover by Mark, the pick six, I think it sparked our sidelines," said Hazell. "I thought our defense really started thriving off of that."
Nova was picked off yet again on Rutgers' next possession, this time by Leon Green, after attempting to throw a deep pass down the field. Green returned the bad throw 48 yards to the Scarlet Knights' 45, and the Golden Flashes again capitalized off the turnover.
Faced with 3rd-and-2 twice on the drive, Durham carried the ball both times to give Kent State first downs. After rushing for 12 yards to convert on the first attempt, he ran for 10 more to move the Golden Flashes inside the Scarlet Knights' 10. Archer then took the ensuing carry seven yards for a score, giving Kent State a 21-3 advantage.
With less than two minutes to play in the second quarter, Nova again found trouble, with Luke Batton coming up with the takeaway on the missed throw this time. However, Rutgers forced Kent State three-and-out following the turnover and finally got something going just before the end of the quarter to make it 21-10.
On the first play from Rutgers' own 17, Jamison took a handoff 45 yards into Golden Flashes' territory. Faced with 3rd-and-1, Nova completed consecutive passes, throwing short to Jamison for a 10-yard gain and with the clock winding down, rolled to his right and found Tim Wright in the end zone for a 19-yard score with four seconds left until halftime.
Durham scored on 3-yard scamper for Kent State in the third following an exchange of punts. After crossing midfield, the Golden Flashes faced 2nd-and-7 twice on the drive, and both times picked up gains of 15 yards. The first was a run by Durham and the second a reception by Archer that advanced the football to the Scarlet Knights' 5. Durham then took three straight handoffs, the last to cross the goal line to give Kent State a 28-10 lead.
The Scarlet Knights responded on their next touch, as Nova led a 9-play, 72- yard touchdown march to cut the deficit back to 11. He converted two third downs on the drive, completing passes both times to Jamison, the second for 16 yards to move Rutgers to the Kent State 39. After Coleman hauled in a 6-yard pass on 2nd-and-1, he caught a 24-yard bomb on the following play from Nova, who found the receiver in the back corner of the end zone for the score.
Rutgers' defense forced a three-and-out on the ensuing Kent State possession, but the Golden Flashes quickly killed the momentum. After Nova found Quron Pratt for a 26-yard pickup on the first play of the drive, the receiver lost control of the football and Sidney Saulter of Kent State recovered.
The Scarlet Knights' defense once again got a stop, but Nova was picked off for the fifth time on the ensuing possession. On 3rd-and-12, Nova's pass was intercepted by Saulter and Kent State turned the turnover into seven points.
Keith ran on the first two plays, picking up 34 yards to the Rutgers' 27 before completing a 15-yard pass to Boyle for a touchdown to make it 35-17 early in the fourth quarter.
Rutgers answered back on its next touch, with Jamison's 2-yard rushing score making it a 35-23 game with 10:35 left.
After completing his first three throws, Nova lofted a pass to Coleman, who drew a pass interference penalty in the end zone to put Rutgers on the Kent State 2. On the next play, Jamison ran it in for a score to account for the final margin.
Kent State denied Rutgers its third 8-0 start since 1976 ... The Scarlet Knights fell to 10-3 in homecoming games since 2000 ... Durham was the first player to run for 100 yards against Rutgers in 11 games ... Kent State extended its winning streak to six games, its longest since 1940 ... The Golden Flashes outrushed the Scarlet Knights, 224-96.