Dixie State football’s comeback bid in Georgia falls short at No. 9 Kennesaw State

Dixie State football quarterback Kody Wilstead throws a pass in the team's loss to Tarleton State at Greater Zion Stadium, St. George, Utah, March 13, 2021 | File photo by Rich Allen, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Dixie State football team closed the road portion of its 2021 spring schedule on Saturday, dropping a 37-27 decision to No. 9-ranked Kennesaw State at Fifth Third Bank Stadium in Kennesaw, Ga., to fall 1-3 on the season.

Tarleton State football at Dixie State, Greater Zion Stadium, St. George, Utah, March 13, 2021 | File photo by Rich Allen, St. George News

The Trailblazers’ first-ever trip to the state of Georgia got off to a picture-perfect start, as they took the game’s opening drive 71 yards in 12 plays for a touchdown to build a 7-0 advantage. Kody Wilstead completed 4-of-5 passes for 23 yards and rushed for another 14 yards on the drive, while Quali Conley rushed for 44 yards on six carries, including a 10-yard scamper into the end zone to give the visitors the lead.

Kennesaw State, ranked ninth NCAA Football Championship Series subdivision, in the top countered the early Trailblazer touchdown with a 12-play, 65-yard drive into the Trailblazers’ territory, but the Dixie State defense stiffened, forcing the Owls to settle for a Nathan Robertson 23-yard field goal to cut the lead to 7-3.

Then, the dream start turned into a nightmare for the ‘Blazers.

After being forced to punt on its second drive, Dixie saw a fumbled snap on the punt attempt returned 15 yards for a Kennesaw touchdown to give the home squad its first lead at 10-7 less than a minute into the second quarter.

Kennesaw State would tack on another touchdown on a 1-yard run by Tommy Bryant and a second Robertson field goal, this time from 30 yards. Meanwhile, Dixie State saw two field goal attempts, from 45 and 51 yards, miss during the second quarter. That sent the home side to a 20-7 halftime lead.

Both teams would trade scores over the final two quarters, as neither squad attempted a punt in the second half.

Tarleton State football at Dixie State, Greater Zion Stadium, St. George, Utah, March 13, 2021 | File photo by Rich Allen, St. George News

The Owls picked up where they left off on the opening drive of the half, marching 80 yards in 12 plays to push the lead to 27-7. Bryant rushed for 53 yards on the drive, including his second 1-yard touchdown dive of the contest.

Dixie State snapped the Owls’ streak of 27 consecutive points on the ensuing possession when Wilstead found Deven Osborne for a 27-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 27-14. The touchdown toss capped a drive that saw the Trailblazers move 75 yards on nine plays, including a fourth-down conversion when Wilstead dove ahead for 3 yards on 4th-and-1 from the Kennesaw State 30-yard line.

The Owls needed just three plays to move into the red zone on its next possession, thanks to a 41-yard pass from Bryant to Will Haigler. With its back against the wall, the Trailblazer defense stiffened again, holding the Owls on the next three plays to force a 30-yard field goal. Robertson converted the attempt to push the lead back to 30-14 with less than a minute to go in the third quarter.

The Trailblazers answered with their longest scoring drive of the day, driving 75 yards in 17 plays, capped by a 5-yard touchdown pass from Wilstead to Chase Hess. The ensuing two-point try would fall incomplete, and the score remained 30-20 at the 9:50 mark of the final period.

Dixie State converted twice on fourth down on the drive, as Wilstead found Osborne for a 6-yard toss on 4th-and-2 from the Kennesaw State 49-yard line, before keeping the ball for a 25-yard run on 4th-and-10 from the 43-yard line four plays later. A third fourth-down try saw the Dixie State drive extended by a defensive holding penalty, setting up the Wilstead to Hess touchdown.

Kennesaw State countered the Dixie State score with a 9-play, 65-yard drive, capped by a 10-yard touchdown run by Kyle Glover to extend advantage back to 17 points at 37-20 with 5:56 remaining.

Unfazed, Dixie State quickly responded with a 7-play, 75-yard scoring drive in less than two minutes. Wilstead opened the drive with a 44-yard strike to Osborne to move into Kennesaw State territory. After a pair of incomplete passes, Wilstead found Osborne again for 15 yards and another first down. Two plays later, Wilstead scampered three yards into the end zone for his second rushing touchdown of the game to cut the lead to 37-27.

With 4:04 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Trailblazers needed to recover an onside kick to keep its winning hopes alive. However, the Owls recovered the attempt, and picked up the two first downs needed to run out the clock and seal the victory.

Dixie State finished the game with 351 yards (230 passing, 121 rushing) of total offense. Wilstead finished with 230 yards passing and two touchdowns, completing 21-of-39 attempts. Osborne enjoyed a career day, racking up 121 yards receiving and one touchdown on nine catches. Conley added 81 yards rushing on 18 attempts.

Defensively, the Trailblazers conceded 408 yards (309 rushing, 99 passing). Isaac Fotu led the defense with 10 tackles, including six solo stops, while Trace Tupe and Anthony Yarbrough added nine tackles each.

Dixie State now returns to Greater Zion Stadium to close the 2021 spring season, hosting former Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference foe Fort Lewis on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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