A-State Football Takes Outright Sun Belt Title In Dominating Fashion
-- Courtesy A-State Sports Information Office
JONESBORO -– The Arkansas State football squad completed an undefeated run through the Sun Belt Conference to clinch the league’s outright title Saturday afternoon at Centennial Bank Stadium, racking up 535 yards total offense while forcing three turnovers in a 51-17 victory over Texas State.
With the victory, A-State (9-3, 8-0) becomes the second Sun Belt program to win three outright conference championships (2011, 2012, 2015). The Red Wolves have won 33 of 39 Sun Belt games while winning four of the last five SBC Championships.
A-State quarterback Fredi Knighten was 12-for-16 passing for 192 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 29 yards and a touchdown in his final home game. Senior running back Michael Gordon had 20 carries for 151 yards and a touchdown, his third game over 100 yards this season and 12th of his career. Freshman Logan Moragne had three carries for 72 yards and Johnston White had four carries for 59 yards and a touchdown.
Senior Tres Houston led the Red Wolves with three catches for 62 yards and Chris Murray had two catches for 50 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown catch. Junior Money Hunter and junior Xavier Woodson-Luster led the Red Wolves with eight tackles each. Woodson-Luster had 2.5 tackles for loss and senior Austin Copeland had a sack and three tackles for loss.
“Unbelievable group of kids, great staff too, just tons of great folks that make my job really easy,” said A-State head coach Blake Anderson. “I don’t remember the last time I was this nervous going into a game. I just wanted to make sure that we did what we needed to do and didn’t have a let down. I don’t think there was any chance of that happening. The guys came out and played, with an exception of a couple mistakes, a great game all day long. A lot of people got involved. We want to win one more but we’re going to enjoy this one a little bit. To go undefeated in this league, as good of football as being played. The guys did a great job.”
Two conversions on 3rd-and-long helped the Red Wolves complete the opening drive with a touchdown. Gordon rushed for 20 yards on the first play and picked up a total of 33 yards on the opening possession. Knighten found Darion Griswold for a gain of 19 yards on 3rd-and-10 and found Dijon Paschal for a gain of 13 yards on 3rd-and-12 later in the drive. Gordon capped the drive with a three-yard rush into the endzone for his ninth touchdown of the season and a 7-0 A-State lead.
After the Red Wolves forced the Bobcats to go three-and-out on their first possession, A-State’s offense used a quick four play, 70-yard drive to take control with a 14-0 lead just eight minutes into the game. Knighten picked up five on a keeper to start the drive and a six-yard gain by Warren Wand moved the chains. Gordon followed with a rush for 29 yards and the quick pace led to Murray hauling in his third touchdown reception of the year, a 32-yard score that was the 18th touchdown pass of the year for Knighten.
Texas State gained some momentum and put together a drive, moving as far as the A-State three-yard line, but Money Hunter stepped in front of the pass at the one and returned it 99 yards for the touchdown. The 99-yard interception return for a touchdown marked the longest return in school history and the second longest in Sun Belt Conference history.
The Bobcats’ C.J. Best scored a 12-yard rushing touchdown on the next possession to cut the Red Wolves lead to 20-7, but A-State got the score back on the ensuing drive. Knighten passed three times on the 10-play drive and was 3-for-3 for 35 yards. It was the rushing attack that got the Red Wolves into the end zone, as Wand bulldozed his way for a six-yard gain and the fourth score of the day for the Red Wolves.
A blocked field goal by Chris Odom, his third of the season, helped A-State take a 27-7 advantage to halftime. The Red Wolves had 260 yards of total offense in the first half, 145 of which came on the ground.
A-State forced the second turnover of the game by Texas State as Ja’Von Rolland-Jones sacked Bobcats quarterback Tyler Jones and forced a fumble that was recovered by Copeland. The Red Wolves took over at the Bobcats 18-yard line and four plays later J.D. McKissic caught a seven yard touchdown pass to give A-State a 34-7 lead.
The Red Wolves muffed a Texas State punt and the Bobcats were able to convert the turnover into a 46-yard field goal to give A-State a 34-10 lead. Knighten capped off the Red Wolves ensuing drive with a 7-yard touchdown scamper. The Red Wolves used six plays to cover 79 yards for the score with Knighten plowing into the end zone to set the new program and Sun Belt record for points in a single season.
Rocky Hayes picked off a pass for the second interception of the day and third turnover forced by the Red Wolves. With his interception, the Red Wolves set a new single-season record and Sun Belt record with 26 passes intercepted.
After the Bobcats found the end zone to make it 41-17, A-State scored the final 14 points of the game to set the final score of 55-17. White rumbled 48 yards for the first of the two touchdowns while Griswold rushed four yards for the final score.
An official announcement on the bowl game destination will be made Sunday afternoon.# # #