JONESBORO, Ark. (10/10/20) – Despite being engaged in a defensive showdown and facing a 6-2 deficit early, offensive fireworks eventually showed out, as Arkansas State won a 50-27 shootout versus Central Arkansas on Saturday at a rainy and windy Centennial Bank Stadium.
Battling heavy rain in the first half and high wind gusts the entire game, it took around 20 minutes for the A-State offense to take off. But when the Red Wolves (2-2) began to click offensively and defensively, they did so to the tune of outscoring the Bears (2-3) 42-7 through the second and third quarters.
UCA scored 14 unanswered early in the fourth, but A-State managed to pick up late defensive stops and a score late to put the contest out of reach. With the win, A-State improved to 33-14 all-time in home openers and has now won its home opener in 13 of the last 16 seasons.
“We dug ourselves in a little hole early and the weather wasn’t making things easy,” head coach Blake Anderson said. “We missed several great opportunities (to get turnovers). I thought the guys did a good job. We finally started to get some momentum and were able to throw and catch a little bit better. I don’t like some of the mistakes we made later in the second half, but during that stretch (in the middle of the game) we got the momentum on our side and made it tough on them. That’s how we have to respond when things aren’t going great.”
A-State’s first five drives only gained 86 yards, but on the next five, the Red Wolves churned out 407 yards, finishing with 573 total on the day. The Scarlet and Black’s 50 points was a season high and went over the 500-yard mark for the first time since recorded 525 versus FIU in the 2019 Camellia Bowl.
Logan Bonner and Layne Hatcher combined to complete 21 of 38 passes for 392 yards and six touchdowns, which was a season high and tied for the second-most in a single game in program history. The Red Wolves' running backs churned out 181 yards on 36 carries. Through the air, Jonathan Adams, Jr. led with six catches for 101 yards while Dahu Green caught six balls for 94 yards. Both receivers grabbed a pair of touchdowns. Four different A-State receivers caught touchdown passes on the day.
Justin Rice led A-State defensively with 12 tackles (4 TFL), including three sacks and a key QB hurry that resulted in a fourth-quarter interception by Antonio Fletcher. In the punting game, Ryan Hanson had a tremendous afternoon, averaging 52.0 yards per kick with punts of 69 and 64 yards, with three of his five punts landing inside the 20.
UCA quarterback Breylin Smith completed 24 of 49 passes for 302 yards and two scores while also throwing a pair of interceptions. Tyler Hudson was the leading receiver for the Bears, hauling in 12 catches for 154 yards. Lujuan Winningham grabbed three touchdowns as part of a four-catch, 93-yard performance. On the ground, the Red Wolves held the Bears to just 78 yards on 37 carries for a 2.1-yard average. Kierre Crossley was UCA’s leading rusher with 83 yards on 17 carries. As a team, UCA totaled 411 yards of offense.
After forcing a three-and-out on UCA’s first possession, the Red Wolves drove it all the way down to the UCA 5 before being forced to kick a 22-yard field goal. Blake Grupe’s kick was kicked right into the line and recovered by Dre Matthews, who returned it all the way to the A-State 23. UCA moved the ball down to the 19 before Hayden Ray put the Bears on the board first with a 36-yard field goal at the 8:07 mark.
Ryan Hanson then boomed a 64-yard punt that was downed at the UCA 2, after which A-State’s defense held strong and pushed the Bears back to the 1. Then, a mishandled snap by Smith fell to the turf, with Smith falling on it in the end zone for a safety to make it 3-2 with 6:04 remaining in the first. UCA led 3-2 after one quarter.
A-State’s first second-quarter drive came to a halt after falling short on a fourth-and-short try at its own 29. UCA then took over but only advanced four yards before Ray trotted out for a 42-yard field goal attempt. The kick sailed through the uprights to put the score at 6-2 with 10:44 to go in the half.
On the next drive, Hatcher led the Red Wolves on a 13-play, 75-yard scoring drive that was capped off by a four-yard toss to Adams in the back of the end zone on fourth down to give A-State a 9-6 lead with 5:22 left in the half. Marcel Murray opened that drive in a big way, dashing 36 yards across midfield.
A-State scored again about two minutes later, this time on the defensive end, when Samy Johnson picked off a pass by Smith and returned it 60 yards for the touchdown, making the Red Wolves' lead 16-6 with 3:14 to go in the half. The pick six was A-State’s first defensive touchdown of the season and the first since Nov. 16, 2019 versus Coastal Carolina (Caleb Bonner – 66-yard INT return).
After a fumble recovery by Dari Davenport on the first play of A-State’s next possession, Smith found Winningham for a 23-yard score at the 1:31 mark to make it 16-13 Red Wolves.
The Red Wolves responded on the next drive with an 8-play, 73-yard series that resulted in a 15-yard pass from Hatcher to Bowling, who dove over the pylon for the score. His touchdown made A-State’s lead 23-13 at the half.
On the first play of the second half, Bonner connected with Reed Tyler for a 32-yard gain into UCA territory, followed by a 24-yard scamper by Lincoln Pare down to the UCA 19. The drive ended with Bonner finding Green just across the goal line for a touchdown to make it 30-13 with 13:40 remaining in the third. The Bears then looked to respond with a score, driving all the way down into A-State territory. Smith then found Hudson, who made it to the Red Wolves' 15 but the ball was stripped by Anthony Switzer and recovered by Elery Alexander to hand possession back to the Scarlet and Black.
The Red Wolves turned that ensuing drive into points, as Hatcher led the offense on a six-play drive capped off by a 22-yard completion to Adams that made it 37-13 with 8:19 left in the third. On that drive, Green had two key catches for 56 yards while a 15-yard scramble by Hatcher set up the scoring pass to Adams. UCA then drove it 69 yards down to the A-State 1, where the Bears failed on a fourth-and-goal attempt at the 1 as Smith recovered his own fumble at the 6.
With his back to his own end zone, Bonner found Giles Amos for a 65-yard reception that gave A-State a fresh set of downs at the UCA 30. Four plays later, Bonner connected with Green in the back of the end zone for the fourth consecutive score for the Red Wolves. Grupe’s extra point was no good, as A-State took a 43-13 lead into the fourth.
Central Arkansas broke the scoring drought with 13:32 left in the contest when Smith found Winningham for the touchdown that made it 43-20 A-State. The Bears then recovered an onside kick to regain possession, which resulted in another scoring pass – this time a 31-yard strike from running back Marshun Douglas to Winningham to make it 43-27 with 11:32 to go.
After forcing a three-and-out, UCA regained possession with a chance to trim the lead once more, driving inside the A-State 30. Smith then faced immense pressure from the Red Wolves' defense, being sacked for an 11-yard loss by Rice and then tossing a hurried pass right into the arms of Fletcher at the 18. Fletcher’s pick turned into points, as Bonner piloted a six-play scoring drive resulting in a 56-yard touchdown pass to Corey Rucker to make it 50-27 with 5:14 left. That would round out the scoring for the day, as a 69-yard punt by Hanson pinned the Bears deep in their own territory, where the game would end.
A-State has a short turnaround, hosting Georgia State Thursday, Oct. 15. Kickoff from Centennial Bank Stadium is set for 6:30 p.m. and the game will be broadcasted live on ESPN. Every Red Wolves football game can be heard live on 107.9 FM in the Northeast Arkansas area. The live radio broadcast can also be accessed on the official A-State Athletics web site (AStateRedWolves.com).