Jonesboro, AR (A-State) – Central Arkansas turned four Arkansas State turnovers into 15 points and defeated the Red Wolves 28-23 Saturday at Centennial Bank Stadium.
The Red Wolves finished with a 469-382 edge in total offense, but Central Arkansas limited A-State to 45 yards rushing on 34 attempts. Sophomore quarterback Justice Hansen passed for 424 yards completing 21-of-38 attempts for three touchdowns while throwing two interceptions. Junior tight end Blake Mack had eight catches for 142 yards and junior Cam Echols-Luper had three catches for 121 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Warren Wand had 15 carries for 53 yards while catching three passes for 67 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, A-State was led by 12 tackles from sophomore Justin Clifton and senior Money Hunter. Junior Blaise Taylor had two of the Red Wolves five pass breakups while freshman Trent Ellis-Brewer registered his first career sack and first two career tackles for loss.
"Central Arkansas came in and played a good game," said A-State head coach Blake Anderson. "They came in and didn't turn the ball over and we did. We had a breakdown in special teams for seven points, and 34 minutes of possession for them just left our defense on the field too long. I felt like the momentum was getting away from us and we were stalling out offensively and leaving our defense out there too much. I felt like we would make a play at some point to stop it and we didn't. The kids didn't quit playing, they just didn't play well. We had execution issues across the board that we have got to fix."
The Red Wolves forced a three and out on the Bears first possession and the A-State offense used a quick trick play to flip field position. On the first play, A-State dialed up the flea-flicker and Cam Echols-Luper hauled in the 36-yard pass to put the Red Wolves in the red zone. A-State couldn't find the end zone, but J.D. Houston converted the 33-yard field goal to give the Red Wolves a 3-0 lead with 12:15 left in the first quarter.
After Central Arkansas returned a Red Wolves punt 47 yards for a touchdown, A-State recovered an onside kick and used three plays to retake the lead. The Red Wolves started the drive at the Bears 48 yard line and picked up 40 yards on a completion to Blake Mack. After White gained three yards Hansen spotted Kendall Sanders in the endzone and Sanders hauled in the pass for the touchdown and A-State regained the lead.
A-State extended the lead to 16-7 with a 48-yard touchdown pass from Hansen to Warren Wand, but the Bears converted two field goals in the second quarter to send it to halftime with A-State leading 16-13. A 30-yard punt return set up the Bears in good field position, but the defense held inside the red zone to force the 29-yard field goal. The Bears converted a 43-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.
The Red Wolves had first crack at scoring in the second half, but an eight-play drive ended with a punt and the Bears took over at their own six yard line. Central Arkansas used a methodical 15-play drive to move downfield, but A-State again held the Bears out of the endzone. The Bears converted on third down three times on the drive, but Chris Humes broke up a pass on third down inside the red zone to force another field goal. Central Arkansas nailed the 25-yard field goal to tie the score at 16 with 6:06 left in the third quarter.
A-State responded quickly as three plays, including a 58-yard touchdown pass to Echols-Luper, to break the tie. Two rush plays moved the chains and Hansen followed with the 58-yard completion to Echols-Luper to put the Red Wolves ahead 23-16 with 5:16 left in the third quarter.
The Bears recovered an A-State fumble late in the third quarter and marched down the field to potentially tie the game. Central Arkansas used 10 plays to set up a fourth and goal from the three and decided to go for the tie. The rush play resulted in a touchdown, but the Bears missed the extra point keeping the Red Wolves in the lead, 23-22, with 13:12 remaining.
Central Arkansas took the lead with 6:23 remaining after an 11-play, 86-yard drive ran 5:13 off the clock. A 35-yard pass completion put the Bears on the move and an 18-yard touchdown completed the scoring drive. Central Arkansas went for the two-point conversion, but the conversion failed to make the scored 28-23.
A-State earned two more possessions for a chance to regain the lead. An interception ended a Red Wolves drive with 1:46 remaining in the game, but the A-State defense coupled with two timeouts forced Central Arkansas to punt with 38 seconds left. Hansen hit Echols-Luper for a gain of 27 yards with 16 seconds left, but two attempts to find the end zone were unsuccessful for the Red Wolves.
"The biggest disappointment is the fact that we didn't run the ball well at all," added Anderson. "We struggled to take the pressure off the quarterback all night. I thought Justice did some good things at times, but obviously way too many mistakes to be effective even though the numbers were big. Moving forward we have to stop turning the ball over, we have to play better in all three phases and quit hurting ourselves. Central Arkansas played a great football game. They had a good game plan, they ran it well, and really played good in all three phases. We cannot turn the ball over," said A-State head coach Blake Anderson. "