BOILING SPRINGS — No. 2 Kennesaw State scored 49 unanswered points Saturday afternoon to top Gardner-Webb, 56-17, on homecoming in Ernest W. Spangler Stadium.

Things looked promising early for Gardner-Webb (1-6, 0-1 Big South) when the Runnin’ Bulldogs stuffed the Owls (6-1, 2-0 Big South) on the game’s initial drive and drove 49 yards for a 3-0 lead on Tre’ Jackson’s 35-yard field goal with 8:09 to play in the first quarter.

The game deteriorated from there, as Jackson’s ensuing kickoff to the goal line was returned by Isaac Foster 100 yards to give Kennesaw State the lead for good. The Owls scored twice on Chandler Burks’ runs and a 48-yard Darnell Holland run to lead 28-3 at the break.

Kennesaw added two more scores in the third quarter for a 49-3 lead, before a back-and-forth burst in the fourth quarter that saw the teams trade touchdown runs or 50+ yards on four consecutive possessions.

Gardner-Webb, which has battled injuries throughout one of the nation’s toughest early-season schedules, had just 66 players dressed for Saturday’s game. Kennesaw State was the third top-10 team the Runnin’ Bulldogs have faced this season.

“We’re really still having to put guys out there on the field who are facing things for the first time and today that came against a really good football team,” said head coach Carroll McCray. “Some of them really stepped up at times. Cam (McCutcheon) came in and played well and we had some young linebackers play well at times. Dexter (Brown) was able to show off his speed and on a day where we only had two backs healthy and available he picked up more snaps.

“We are beat and bruised and our ego is down but this open date will allow us to heal up and freshen up,” McCray added. “I really think if we can get a few of our key guys back, freshen up and continue to grow we can really show a much different football team over these next four games to close out the season.”

Kennesaw State finished the day with 490 yards rushing on 69 attempts and posted 528 yards of total offense. The Owls possessed the ball for more than 10 minutes in each of the final two quarters and were 9-of-14 on third down.

Holland led five different ball carriers who posted 70 or more yards on the ground, carrying six times for 78 yards and his long touchdown run. Shaquil Terry (9-79), Burks (14-77, 3 TD), Adeolu Adeleke (4-73, TD) and Jake McKenzie (6-72, TD) also had big days on the ground. Adeleke scored on a 60-yard run and McKenzie burst up the gut for a 54-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Gardner-Webb rushed for 214 yards in the game, but had just 236 yards of total offense. The Runnin’ Bulldogs had a tough day moving the chains overall, finishing 1-of-11 on third down against one of the toughest defensive groups in the FCS.

Jaylen Myers led the ground game, coming off the bench to finish with 82 yards and a 63-yard touchdown run on five carries. Dexter Brown scored on a 75-yard run to get Gardner-Webb on the board in the fourth quarter and A.J. Moses darted for 46 yards on 10 carries in his first start of the season.

Cameron McCutcheon and Shai Thomas each had nine tackles for Gardner-Webb, with Thomas posting 2.0 tackles for loss. Corey Horne (8 tackles) and Darien Reynolds (7 tackles) also had busy days for the Runnin’ Bulldogs on defense.

Gardner-Webb will enjoy a needed open date next weekend, before hitting the road again to face Big South newcomer Campbell on October 27. That game will air live on ESPN3, with a scheduled kickoff of 4 p.m. in Buies Creek.