“Every time we made a stop, somehow some way they ended up getting more opportunities. It was unfortunate that we had to overcome those things.” Red Wolves Head Football Coach Bryan Harsin
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Aided by three A-State penalties, Western Kentucky marched 99 yards on 16 plays and took the lead for good on a two-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Doughty to Willie McNeal to defeat the Red Wolves 34-31.
A-State (7-5, 5-2 SBC) took the lead 31-27 with 9:27 in the fourth quarter after an Eddie Porter forced fumble and Sterling Young recovery led to a five-play, 22-yard drive capped by a J.D. McKissic six-yard touchdown pass to Julian Jones. Western Kentucky (7-5, 4-3 SBC) started its final drive with 5:30 left in the game and used all but 10 seconds to earn the game-winning score and prevent Arkansas State from obtaining its eighth win of the season.
After an injury to Adam Kennedy in the second quarter, Fredi Knighten took over at QB and was 11-of-17 passing for 61 yards and had 12 rushes for 47 yards and two touchdowns. Michael Gordon led the Red Wolves on the ground with 132 yards on 19 carries. McKissic led A-State with seven catches for 35 yards and also added a passing touchdown. Defensively, Qushaun Lee led A-State with 10 tackles andArtez Brown had five tackles, three pass breakups, one sack, and one forced fumble.
The Red Wolves received the opening kickoff and used three third-down conversions to take a 7-0 lead, the last being a one-yard touchdown run by Ryan Carrethers, who lined up at fullback on the 3rd-and-goal play. Senior receivers R.J. Fleming and Allen Muse each recorded 16-yard receptions to spark the Red Wolves on the opening touchdown drive. Western Kentucky quickly responded with a 31-yard completion from Brandon Doughty to Mitchell Henry on the first play after the kickoff that set up a one-yard touchdown run by Keshawn Simpson two plays later with 8:41 to go in the first quarter.
The Hilltoppers forced an A-State three-and-out and obtained a 14-7 lead after a 24-yard touchdown pass from Doughty to Willie McNeal at the 4:07 mark in the first quarter. WKU stretched its lead out to 20-7 on the first play of the second quarter with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Doughty to Nicholas Norris to cap a seven-play, 59-yard drive for the Hilltoppers. The extra point was no good.
A-State cut the deficit to 20-14 when Knighten found the end zone on a one-yard run that capped a 15-play, 85-yard drive for the Red Wolves. Arkansas State registered 61 yards on the ground during the drive that ended with 2:46 left in the second quarter. The Hilltoppers drove to the A-State nine-yard line before Qushaun Lee forced a fumble that Kyle Coleman recovered with 17 seconds left in the half to keep the score at 20-14 going into halftime.
The opening kickoff of the second half bounced off of WKU and right into the hands of A-State’s Raziel Valgis. After converting a 3rd and five on a 10-yard completion to Julian Jones, Knighten scampered into the end zone to give A-State a 21-20 lead. The Red Wolves extended the lead to 24-20 when Brian Davis kicked a 45-yard field goal to cap a 13-play, 44-yard drive with 5:07 left in the third quarter. Western Kentucky struck back with an eight-play, 69-yard drive to regain the lead 27-24 after a two-yard run from Antonio Andrews.
Arkansas State now waits to see if it will receive a postseason bowl bid.
Quotes from the coaches:
“Wow. What a great win for us. I’m just really proud of our players. We stuck together and kept competing. We had a number of things that didn’t go our way and certainly could have cashed it in. It just a credit to our seniors… to stay fighting. When you win a game like that, there’s a lot of plays earlier in the game that allowed us to get into position to win it like that. Real excited about it, very happy about it, and very proud of our assistant coaches, who did an excellent job, and our players that just competed extremely hard.”
On the final drive…
“The only thing I kept thinking the whole time is ‘Okay, I need to use Antonio (Andrews). How do I get him the ball?’ We decided to throw a screen to him. He made a great play on that. We gave him the ball on a draw, he made another great play. He got us in a position where we had an opportunity to win the game. You can’t say enough about JB’s (Jamarielle Brown) catch on the sideline. It certainly was a game of inches on that one. We just kept competing. It looked like we had won it earlier. We got a penalty and got backed up. Then we were fortunate they roughed the quarterback, got us back in a position. We just made the plays to win so it’s a great way to win.”
On ever winning a game with that many chances…
“Not that I can remember. We’ve had a lot of good wins and last minute wins like the Army one which you never forget. I don’t think I’ve ever been in that came down to a play like that. My plans at the end were to throw it a couple times and then if we didn’t have any more downs or time on the clock, we were going to run the ball on the last play of the game and give Antonio (Andrews) another chance to score at the end. He told me he would have gotten it in so we didn’t have to worry about it.”
On having two bounce back wins this season…
“It just shows how competitive they are and how well they’ve practiced because you practice things like that and you work hard on situations. It shows our strength and conditioning staff how well they work our players because we’re in good condition. That was a hard drive at the end to have to go 99 yards and that kind of intensity and enthusiasm takes a lot out of you but they stuck in there and fought and competed extremely hard. Like I said, there were a lot of big plays not only that drive but throughout the game.”
On the bowl chances…
“I hope so because our players deserve it. They’ve worked extremely hard. We were .500 at one time and we talked about, let’s just keep competing, play one game at a time, and put a really nice four-game win streak together. Like I said, I’m just proud of them and the assistant coaches.”
On living up to pre-season expectations…
“I would have liked to win the championship. But you get to a point where once that’s taken away from you, it’s about improvement and building and going out and playing one game at a time. I think Herm Edwards said ‘You play to win the game.’ So when you get taken out of a championship contention, you just really work on being a competitor and preparing and playing one game at a time. We have a lot of kids that struggle and the ups and downs throughout the season will help them when they’re done playing football. I think that’s the thing that’s pretty cool for them.”
“I don’t know. We’ll see what happens. Hopefully, we’ll get to keep practicing and get ready for a bowl game.”
On the game
“We are disappointed, we came here to win. We talked about going into this game, about how this game is a game of inches. It really came down to that in the end. Some of the things that happened in that game were. Every time we made a stop, somehow some way they ended up getting more opportunities. It was unfortunate that we had to overcome those things. Bottom line is that we had our chances to win the game.”
Here is video from the Western Kentucky sideline of the play that sealed the victory for the Hilltoppers