MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (ASU) — The Arkansas State Red Wolves clinched at least a share of the Sun Belt Conference championship and a berth in the GoDaddy.com Bowl with a 45-19 victory over the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders Saturday afternoon at Floyd Stadium. With the victory, the Red Wolves improved to 9-2 overall and a perfect 7-0 in SBC action. Arkansas State is just the third school in SBC history to start 7-0 in league play.
Led by 294 yards passing and three touchdowns from quarterback Ryan Aplin, 141 yards receiving on 10 catches from wideout Dwayne Frampton and a season-best 85 yards and a touchdown from running back Jermaine Robertson, the Red Wolves' offense rolled up 536 yards on the night. Arkansas State's defense held MTSU's offense, which averaged 432 yards on the season, to 299, including just 68 in the second half. The ASU defense was led by defensive backs Tausean Holmes and Sterling Young with seven tackles each. Defensive lineman Brandon Joiner added four tackles and a quarterback sack to bring his season sack total to 11.5, which leads the SBC this season.
The Red Wolves held a one-game lead over Western Kentucky heading into Saturday's game, and can clinch the league title outright with loss by WKU in either of its final two games, or an ASU victory over Troy in the Dec. 3 regular-season finale.
"I am extremely proud of this football team for what we have accomplished this season," said ASU head coach Hugh Freeze. "To come here and grab a share of the conference title on the road was very tough and we are very appreciative of the many fans who made the trip over here to support us. We are also very happy to accept an invitation to the GoDaddy.com Bowl. It's a great reward for this program and our fans, and I couldn't be more thrilled. We realize we still have one game left in the regular season and we want to finish strong at home when Troy comes to town in two weeks."
Arkansas State wasted no time in getting on the board. Just three plays and 44 seconds into the opening drive, Aplin hit Frampton down the left sideline for a 26-yard touchdown pass, and holder Neely Sullivent hooked up with Nathan Herrold on the two-point conversion for thequick 8-0 ASU advantage.
Middle Tennessee turned a blocked punt into a safety with 5:42 remaining in the first quarter to cut the Red Wolves' advantage to 8-2, but the ASU defense helped set up the next Arkansas State touchdown when linebacker Demario Davis recovered a MTSU fumble caused by Tausean Holmes at the Blue Raider 19. Two plays later, Aplin found tight end Anthony Kincy alone across the middle for a 21-yard scoring strike. Placekicker Brian Davis added the extra point to stretch the A-State lead to 15-2 with 44 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Arkansas State added an 8-yard touchdown run from running back Frankie Jackson midway through the second quarter, then tacked on a 24-yard field goal from Davis with 5:54 remaining in the half to go up 25-2. Middle Tennessee countered with a 1-yard touchdown run from Benny Cunningham just over two minutes later to cut the ASU lead to 25-9.
A pair of Arkansas State turnovers led to two more MTSU scores before halftime. The Blue Raiders took advantage of a fumble from Jackson to set up a 26-yard field goal, and an interception of an Aplin pass with less than a minute to go before the break led to a 12-yard touchdown pass from Jeff Murphy to wide receiver Sancho McDonald and trimmed the ASU lead to 25-19.
Arkansas State would not allow the Blue Raiders to complete the comeback in the second half, however, as the Red Wolves' defense held MTSU scoreless and the offense tacked on 20 points to put the game away.
Jackson scored on a two-yard run on the Red Wolves first possession of the second half, a 30-yard run from Robertson made it 39-19 with 3:49 to go in the third quarter, and Aplin closed out the scoring with a two-yard run midway through the final quarter.
The Red Wolves will now try to complete their sweep through the Sun Belt Conference when they close out the regular season Dec. 3 at home against Troy. Kickoff at ASU Stadium is set for 2:00 p.m.