MIAMI (AStateRedWolves.com) –A number of big plays and a noteworthy team performance all around by the Arkansas State University football team vaulted the Red Wolves to a defining 34-20 triumph over Florida International Thursday (Oct. 4) night in their Sun Belt Conference road opener on Alfonso Field at FIU Stadium in Miami, Fla.
A-State (3-3; 1-1 SBC) turned in several big plays throughout the contest as the Red Wolves' defense created opportunities for the offense with two key interceptions against Florida International (1-5; 0-2 SBC). ASU also had a big night offensively as senior quarterback Ryan Aplin became the Sun Belt Conference's all-time leader in career offense with 10,365 yards, throwing for a game-leading 223 with 15-of-23 completions. Meanwhile, junior running back David Oku would tally three rushing touchdowns and freshman J.D. McKissic posted his first 100-yard receiving game with a game-high 124 yards on five catches and a TD.
"This was going to be a defining game for our season – not a must win, but close," said ASU head coach Gus Malzahn. "It was tough on a short week and it took a great effort."
Florida International was the first to strike as Jack Griffin's 28-yard field goal was good with just over five minutes left in the first quarter after ASU kicker Brian Davis had his 43-yarder sail wide left of the uprights six-plus minutes earlier. A-State would erase the 3-0 deficit early in the second quarter as the Red Wolves' scoring play came in a big way. ASU would go 82 yards on only two plays as Ryan Aplin hit a wide open J.D. McKissic, who proceeded to outrun the nearest FIU defender for a 74-yard score. The Aplin to McKissic pass tied for the longest play by the A-State offense this season.
The Panthers regained the advantage at 10-7 with 4:30 to play in the second quarter thanks to some trickery as Josh Brisk faked a punt on a fourth-and-10 situation and proceeded to run upfield 33 yards to a first down. The FIU drive-saving play would eventually result in a 19-yard scoring toss from quarterback E.J. Hilliard to Jacob Younger. The ASU defense would rise to the occasion on the Panthers' next possession as Sterling Young intercepted a pass and returned to the ball 29 yards to the FIU seven-yard line. The big defensive play would set up a David Oku one-yard TD run with 29 seconds remaining before the half.
"The interception was a turning point for the game," said Malzahn. "To have a short field and be able to score during a close game, it was definitely a turning point."
The Red Wolves would build on their 14-10 halftime advantage in the third quarter with two unanswered touchdowns. Ryan Aplin scored on a 10-yard TD run at 8:45 before David Oku went in from two yards out with 6:11 to go in the stanza, giving A-State a commanding 27-10 lead. FIU would get three points back with 20 seconds left on a Jack Griffin 31-yard field.
David Oku would register his third TD of the game with 14:37 remaining to put the visitors up 34-13 before FIU would net the contest's final points on Darian Mallary's five-yard scoring run with 6:32 left in the game.
A-State produced 421 total yards offensively, which included 223 passing, in comparison to FIU's 341 yards of total offense. The 400-plus yards of offense represented the fourth time this fall in which the Red Wolves have attained such total. Freshman running back Rocky Hayes paced ASU on the ground with a game-high 84yards on three attempts while David Oku chalked up 53 yards on 16 rushes to go with his career game-best three TD's.
The A-State defense featured five individuals with at least eight tackles apiece, led by junior linebacker Qushaun Lee's game-high 12 stops. Lee, who racked up nine solos in the contest and claimed double digits in tackles for the second time this season, also recorded a key passinterception midway through the third quarter which resulted in a A-State touchdown.
With the win, the Red Wolves extended their conference road winning streak to five games and also marked ASU's first victory at FIU in Miami since 2006.