KENNESAW — Kennesaw State coach Brian Bohannon would like to see Fifth Third Bank Stadium filled this Saturday when the Owls face South Dakota State in the quarterfinals of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
Whether it happens or not is still to be seen.
Last week, the paid attendance in the Owls’ second-round playoff game against Wofford was announced at 3,515 — the smallest crowd in team history — and the actual attendance was significantly smaller.
If this Saturday’s crowd is anything like that, Bohannon is going to be disappointed.
“There are 35,000 students here, and you tell me we can’t get 2,000 to come to a football game?” Bohannon asked Tuesday during his weekly news conference. “There’s over a million people in Cobb, Cherokee and Paulding County, and we can’t get 4,000 or 5,000 to come to a game?
“This is our community. This is what we’re about. We lean on one another. We want everyone to be proud of what is going on. Not just for our football program, but for our university. For everyone that’s involved in it. For the community. This is a proud, tight-knit community.
“That’s what we want, and I am fired up about it because it’s for our kids.”
Saturday’s game could be one full of emotion.
In addition to it being the first matchup of two top-five teams in stadium history, it could be the final home game for quarterback Chandler Burks, running back Darnell Holland, wide receiver Justin Sumpter, linebacker Anthony Gore Jr. and the other 14 seniors who helped build the program from scratch.
In the last four years of the program, the seniors have been part of a program that has gone from not having a football, to one that is on the verge of playing for a national championship.
Bohannon would like to see them go out on a high note.
“They put that ‘KS’ on. It isn’t just for their teammates,” Bohannon said. “It’s for the university, faculty, staff, the students, the community. It’s important. I get frustrated because they deserve better, and when I don’t see its right, I’m going to communicate it.
“I’m passionate about this program, and I’m passionate about our kids. I want that stadium to be filled up for of our kids. They deserve it. They’ve worked their tails off. Our kids are 37-11, they’ve won two conference championships and they have not lost a home game since Oct. 15, 2016.”
The Kennesaw State athletic department is offering free tickets for the first 1,000 students, and Bohannon said it will be important for students to come out en masse, as they could be the difference between a win and a loss.
“If we have the 12th man at Fifth Third Bank Stadium, it could be the difference in us making the semifinals for the first time in program history. Without a doubt,” Bohannon said. “Because that’s what you need. That’s why you play for home-field advantage.
“Now, we have to have the people there. The students, the faculty, the staff, the community, everybody on board.
“I can’t control the weather (rain is in the forecast for Saturday), but I can tell you what time the game starts, and I can promise you there are going to be two really good football teams going at it, and I can tell you this. If we have a packed Fifth Third Bank Stadium, it’s going to help us win the ball game.”
BRINGING IN THE HONORS
On Monday, Burks was recognized as one of the three finalists for the Walter Payton Award as the best offensive player in the FCS.
Gore was a semifinalist for the Buck Buchannan Award as the best defensive player, though he did not reach the finals. Of the 25 players considered, the Statesboro native finished 1oth in the voting.
“I can’t say enough about our kids,” Bohannon said. “Chandler and Anthony, they deserve all the accolades they get. I’m proud of both of them.”
Burks leads the FCS with 29 rushing touchdowns. He has rushed for 871 yards, while passing for 1,031 yards and another 10 touchdowns.
Gore leads the team with 73 tackles, including 15 for loss and six sacks. He had the best statistical game of his career last Saturday against Wofford, totaling 12 tackles, six tackles for loss and a sack to help the Owls grind out a 13-10 win.