Knighten threw for a career-high 403 yards, while Mays hauled in five receptions for a career-high 138 yards to pace the squad, but the Red Wolves were forced to play catchup all night as Toledo jumped out to an early 21-7 lead and held on late despite a late flurry from A-State.
“Obviously, this is not the way we wanted the season to end,” A-State head coach Blake Anderson said. “We wanted to find a way to win against a good opponent, but it all came down to one key which is that you can't spot a good football team 14 points. With that being said, I thought our kids played really hard. We flew around and speed was the thing that kept us in it, especially on the offensive side of the ball.”
Arkansas State (7-6), which made its fourth straight appearance in the bowl, trailed 49-31 with 11:46 to go in to game after the Rockets' (9-4) Kareem Hunt scored a GoDaddy Bowl record fifth touchdown. The Red Wolves closed the gap to 49-38 after Knighten connected with Mays for the third time, but the Rockets scored again with 6:33 to go to push the advantage to 56-38.
A-State got within 12 points when Knighten threw his fifth touchdown of the night to Darion Griswold on a 3-yard pass to make the score 56-44, but A-State failed to recover the ensuing onside kick attempt and Toledo scored again with just over a minute remaining to set the final at 63-44.
The teams combined for the highest scoring first quarter in GoDaddy Bowl history with 35 points, although the Red Wolves did not begin with the most auspicious of starts. Knighten fumbled on the first play of the game inside his own 20 and the Rockets recovered in the end zone to take an early 7-0 lead.
A-State responded with a quick strike in the way of a 44-yard touchdown pass to Mays to tie the game before two minutes had ticked off the game clock.
The Rockets countered with the longest drive of the quarter to take a 14-7 lead on a 4-yard run by Hunt. Toledo marched down the field on a 12-play, 88-yard drive that took 4:35 off the clock. The lead swelled to 21-7 on Hunt's second touchdown of the quarter, a 44-yard scamper down the left side of the field, to build a 14 point advantage.
The Red Wolves answered quickly and pulled within 21-14 when Knighten connected with Tres Houston on a screen pass and the junior out ran the defense for the 66-yard score to get within a touchdown.
The A-State defense was on the field for over 10 minutes in the opening frame and forced the Rockets to fumble three times, but was unable to recover any of the miscues.
A-State got within four points after Logan Spry connected on a 31-yard field goal midway through the second quarter, but the Rockets responded with 14 unanswered points to end the half with a 35-17 advantage.
Hunt scored his third touchdown of the half on a fourth-and-3 play from 29 yards to push the lead to 28-17 and Knighten fumbled on a blind side hit and Allen Covington picked up the loose ball and ran 67 yards for the score to take an 18-point advantage into the break.
“Momentum is a crazy thing in football,” Anderson said. “You have to try and keep it on your side. After giving them a seven-point start, we were able to come back and things rolling again. We started having those conversations of make one more play and one more stop in the second half, but we just couldn't get one.”
Hunt scored his fourth touchdown of the game on Toledo's opening drive of the second half to push deficit to 42-17, but A-State refused to quietly.
Mays hauled in his second touchdown reception of the night on a 55-yard reception from Knighten down the right hash to cut the lead to 42-24 with 4:40 to play in the quarter. A-State failed to recover an onside kick attempt following the touchdown, but the defense came up with a big turnover to swing momentum back in the Red Wolves favor.
The Rockets marched the ball deep into A-State territory, but Money Hunter picked off Logan Woodside and returned it 94-yard to get within 42-31 with 2:06 left in the quarter. The return was the longest scoring play in GoDaddy Bowl history and the fourth longest interception return in Arkansas State history.
The good fortunes would not last long however, as Toledo marched down the field on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Hunt's fifth touchdown of the night to push the Rockets' lead to 49-31.
A-State answered right back with Mays' third touchdown on the night on a 27-yard reception to get within 49-38, but Toledo responded with a touchdown on its ensuing drive to push the lead to 56-38 with 6:33 to go.
“This is the beginning for us,” Anderson said. “I am coming back and we are going to get this going in the right direction.”