A-State overcomes turnovers & penalties to rally past Utah State in OT 21-14
JONESBORO - A 24-yard touchdown pass from Fredi Knighten to Dijon Paschal in overtime and a last second blocked field goal by Artez Brown in regulation Saturday night proved to the difference as Arkansas State rallied for a thrilling 21-14 overtime win over Utah State at Centennial Bank Stadium.
A-State, which was playing in its first overtime outing since 2010, evened its overall record this season to 2-2 with the extra-session non-league victory over the Aggies in front of an energized crowd of 29,029 fans and an ESPN3 television audience.
"I was really proud of the guys," A-State head coach Blake Anderson said. "It was as ugly as it could have possibly been at times. Maybe even more at times. The majority of the game at times on offense we were not clicking. The defense did a great job of keeping us in it throughout the game. All in all is was a very sloppy game, but we will take as many ugly wins as we can get."
The Red Wolves, who donned red helmets for the first time since the late 1970's, blocked a last-second Utah State field goal in regulation to force overtime. A-State then received first possession in overtime after the Aggies won the toss and elected to start on defense. The Red Wolves, who started the extra session on the 25-yard line, scored the go-ahead TD on a second-and-9 situation in their offensive series with Knighten completing a 24-yard pass to redshirt freshman wide receiver Dijon Paschal and junior kicker Luke Ferguson's PAT followed to five A-State a 21-14 lead. On its ensuing possession, Utah State could only produce three net yards in as many plays as the Aggies were hampered by a five-yard false start penalty to push the ball back from the A-State 17 to the 22-yard line. A-State's redshirt junior nickelback Charleston Girley dashed any Utah State hopes to tie the contest by breaking up quarterback Darell Garretson's fourth-and-7 pass attempt to end the game and hand the Red Wolves' a dramatic comeback decision.
The first half was a quiet one in terms of scoring as Utah State accounted for the only points, which came in the opening quarter. On the first play of its second possession, USU quarterback Darell Garretson hooked up with wide receiver Hunter Sharp for an 81-yard score as the Aggies lead 7-0 with 7:47 remaining in the quarter. A-State did little to help its cause in the first half as the Red Wolves were hampered by three turnovers and penalties, five for 40 yards. The best scoring opportunity for the Red Wolves came on the game's opening possession as A-State drove to the USU 19-yard line, but any scoring opportunity was dashed as the Aggies recovered A-State Tres Houston's fumble.
Utah State was well on the way to potentially increasing its lead early in the second quarter as the Aggies had the ball at the A-State six-yard line on a third-and-goal situation. However, senior free safety Sterling Young picked off a Garretson pass at the two-yard line to end the threat. A-State then moved the ball from its two-yard line all the way into Utah State territory to the 44-yard line before a Fredi Knighten fumble was recovered by the Aggies. Utah State had a chance to put more points on the scoreboard with 24 seconds to go before the half, but kicker Jake Thompson's 45-yard field goal attempt fell short.
The ball turned to A-State's favor early in the second half as the Red Wolves pulled into a 7-7 tie with 7:40 to be played in the third quarter, taking advantage of a Utah State fumble. The Aggies botched a punt attempt at its own 22-yard line as punter Jason Bentrude recovered his own fumble at the visitor's 13-yard line with 8:40 on the clock. Three plays later, redshirt junior wideout J.D. McKissic tallied his first touchdown of this season and second career rushing TD on a 12-yard reverse play to cap a 13-yard, three-play A-State scoring drive. McKissic tallied after taking a pitch from redshirt freshman running back Johnston White around left end and breaking a tackle near the goal line to find the end zone. However, Utah State answered with a TD of its own as wide receiver Ronald Butler caught a Darell Garretson in the middle of the Red Wolves' defense and outran all defenders to the end zone for a 41-yard scoring play as the Aggies regained the lead at 14-7 with 3:43 left in the third quarter.
A-State had scoring chances on its first two fourth-quarter possessions and would cash in on its second series as Johnston White followed his blockers into the end zone for a four-yard TD run with just under five minutes left in the game for the equalizer as the Red Wolves tied it at 14 apiece following Luke Ferguson's successful extra-point kick. A 15-yard pass interference penalty by Utah State on a fourth-and-nine yard situation gave A-State second life and the ball at the USU three-yard line.
The Red Wolves committed what potentially could have been a costly turnover with 47 seconds left as Fredi Knighten fumbled on a pass attempt and the Aggies recovered at their opponent's 38-yard line. Utah State had an opportunity to win the game in regulation following a timeout with three seconds remaining, but senior cornerback Artez Brown arguably turned in the play of the game by blocking Nick Diaz's 38-yard attempt which sophomore defensive end Chris Odom recovered at the Red Wolves' one-yard line as time expired to force overtime.
Offensively for A-State, Fredi Knighten threw for 190 yards and a TD on 19-of-33 in the passing department as the Red Wolves chalked up 316 total yards. J.D. McKissic was on the receiving end of six Knighten aerials for 43 yards and redshirt junior tight end Darion Griswold grabbed four passes for 68 yards. Johnston White's 100 rushing yards led all rushers as A-State registered 126 yards on the ground for the game. Utah State, which drops to 2-2 overall, accumulated 413 yards in total offense with 268 coming through the air. Darell Garretson passed for 268 yards and a pair of TD's after completing 27-of-46 for Utah State and Hunter Sharp was his favorite target, catching nine passes for a game-high 130 yards.
A pair of linebackers, redshirt senior Qushaun Lee and sophomore Xavier Woodson, paced the A-State defense with 13 tackles apiece. Lee totaled 10 solo stops while Woodson compiled nine solo tackles. Redshirt senior cornerback Andrew Tryon contributed eight tackles (six solos) for the Red Wolves. Utah State, which forced four Red Wolves' turnovers in the game, featured three individuals with double-digit tackles led by inside linebacker Zach Vigil's game-leading 14 stops (12 solos).
The overtime victory improved A-State's record to 3-4 all-time in such games dating back to 1998 and was the Red Wolves' first overtime encounter since 2010, which resulted in a 36-35 setback to Western Kentucky. Prior to tonight's win, A-State's last overtime victory occured in 2005 with a 3-0 home decision over Florida Atlantic.
"I'm most proud of the effort of the guys," Anderson said. "That's four weeks in a row that they have given us everything that they've got regardless of the circumstances. You got to give credit to Matt Shadeed and his staff cause they are in great shape and they were running just as fast and hard in the fourth quarter as they were in the first quarter. I have to believe that played a factor in it at some point that we were able to get ourselves back in the game against what I think is a really good football team."
The Red Wolves are idle next weekend before resuming action at home versus the UL Monroe (ULM) Warhawks Saturday, Oct. 4, in Jonesboro. A 6 p.m. (CT) kickoff is scheduled for A-State's Sun Belt Conference (SBC) opener at Centennial Bank Stadium. Tickets may be purchased by contacting the A-State Central Box Office at 870-972-2781 or 1-888-ASU-FANS or online at tickets.astate.edu.