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Red Wolves: A-State outduels Troy in SBC Opener

JONESBORO — A 13-yard touchdown run by Arkansas State’s Fredi Knighten with just under four minutes remaining coupled with four Troy turnovers led the Red Wolves to a 41-34 Sun Belt Conference (SBC) opening win over Troy this Thursday night (Sept. 12) in front of 26,012 fans at A-State’s Liberty Bank Stadium in Jonesboro.

Arkansas State (2-1; 1-0 SBC) bolted out to a 20-7 first-quarter lead in the ESPNU televised contest before Troy (2-1, 0-1 SBC) answered by scoring 14 straight second-quarter points to lead 21-20 at the half. The second half featured three lead changes with the Red Wolves snapping a 34-all deadlock late in the game to win their eighth consecutive conference outing dating back to last season.

“I was really proud of our defense tonight, we had four turnovers and that’s the key to the game,” said A-State head coach Bryan Harsin. “To be quite honest with you, that’s what we talked about was the challenge our defense had accepted all week. We needed to get turnovers and you hope to get three a game and we were able to get four. That’s important to us so my hat is off to the defense.”

Troy would have the game’s first scoring chance, but was able to cash in as kicker Will Scott’s field goal attempt from 49 yards out fell short. The Red Wolves took possession on their 32-yard line and moved the ball down the field to the A-State 45-yard line before senior quarterback Adam Kennedy lofted a pass toward the right sideline into the hands of senior wide receiver Allen Muse for a 55-yard touchdown at 7:50 to cap a four-play, 68-yard scoring drive. A-State would increase its lead to 13-0 as senior running back David Oku found the end zone on a two-yard slant with 6:31 left in the opening quarter, finishing a 45-yard drive covering three plays.

A 29-yard halfback pass from sophomore wideout Tres Houston to sophomore tight end Darion Griswold followed by a 14-yard Oku rush set up the A-State’s second score after senior defensive tackle Amos Draper intercepted Troy quarterback Corey Robinson’s pass, which was initially tipped at the line of scrimmage by senior defensive tackle Dexter Blackmon.

The Trojans rallied on their next possession, cutting A-State’s lead to 13-7 as running back Jordan Chunn tallied on a one-yard TD plunge with 4:38 remaining in the first quarter. However, the Red Wolves would get erase those Troy points as David Oku lined up as quarterback in the Wildcat formation and outraced the Troy defenders to the goal line for a three-yard score to cap a 75-yard drive putting the hosts up 20-7 at the quarter’s 2:08 mark. A 43-yard Adam Kennedy aerial to Allen Muse on the previous play set up the A-State touchdown as the hosts lead by 13 (20-7) after 15 minutes of action.

A two-yard TD keeper by backup signal-caller Deon Anthony 13 seconds into the second quarter narrowed Troy’s deficit to 20-14, which was aided by an A-State pass interference call giving the Trojans a first-and-goal situation at the two-yard line. A-State maintained the lead until six seconds left in the stanza when Robinson connected with wide receiver Eric Thomas on a three-yard TD pass to claim a 21-20 halftime advantage. The Trojans received the ball with 1:33 left in the quarter and proceeded to march 43 yards in seven plays culminating in the score.

Arkansas State regained the lead in the third quarter at 27-21 as sophomore running back Michael Gordon took a David Oku handoff in the Wildcat formation and dashed 11 yards to paydirt at the 8:35 mark to conclude a 14-play, 80-yard drive. But Troy would strike back less than two minutes later as Corey Robinson hooked up with wide receiver Bryan Holmes on a 58-yard strike as the Trojans took a 28-27 lead with 7:02 on the clock.

The Red Wolves would erase the deficit on one play, a 64-yard TD run by Michael Gordon as the hosts would go back out in front 34-28. Gordon netted his second TD of the night as A-State’s blockers created an opening in Troy’s interior line as Gordon ran untouched into the end zone with 3:50 left on the board.

Troy managed to tie the contest at 34-apiece with 12:18 to be played as Deon Anthony hit wideout Chandler Worthy on a 53-yard scoring pass, but the Red Wolves caught a break as Will Scott missed the extra-point attempt. On the ensuing possession, A-State went three and out as Troy gained the ball at its own 18-yard line and drove into Red Wolves’ territory to the ASU 43 before sophomore cornerback Rocky Hayes picked off a Corey Robinson pass at the A-State 40-yard line. The Red Wolves proceeded to capitalize on another of Troy’s four turnovers in the contest as Fredi Knighten, a sophomore, recorded the game-winning score on a 13-yard quarterback keeper with 3:56 left to be played.

Troy would use up most of the time remaining, starting from its 25-yard line and moving the ball all the way down to the A-State 26 to potentially create a scoring opportunity. But, the A-State defense rose to the occasion once again as junior Frankie Jackson intercepted Robinson at the six-yard line and returned the ball to the Red Wolves’ 25-yard line as the home team ran off the final 55 seconds.

The conference opener featured a combined 1,153 yards in total offense as Troy racked up 614 of those yards to A-State’s 539-yards output. The Red Wolves produced 228 yards on the ground and 311 in the air while the Trojans garnered 504 passing yards to go with 110 rushing yards. Individually, Adam Kennedy completed 20-of-34 for 282 yards and a TD with senior wide receiver Julian Jones catching a game-high eight for 65 yards. Allen Muse turned in his best performance at A-State by amassing 158 receiving yards on six grabs.

Michael Gordon paced the Red Wolves’ ground assault with a game-leading 115 rushing yards and two TD’s on eight carries while David Oku ran for 74 along with twoTD’s on 21 attempts. For Troy, Corey Robinson passed for 371 yards and a pair of TD’s on 30-of-51 passing but threw two interceptions. The Trojans’ other quarterback, Deon Anthony was five-of-six for 110 yards and a TD. Eric Thomas and Bryan Holmes were both on the receiving end of six passes for 125 and 117 yards, respectively.

Defensively, junior linebacker Qushaun Lee’s 12 tackles (six solos) led all players. Senior defensive end Eddie Porter notched eight stops and a fumble recovery while senior defensive tackle Ryan Carrethers, junior linebacker Kyle Coleman, and sophomore rover Chris Humes had seven tackles apiece. Amos Draper, Rocky Hayes, and Frankie Jackson all collected a passtheft.

“Overall, I feel that our players and coaches coming off a short week prepared very well because you never really know if you’re going to be fresh enough coming off such a short week like we did,” Harsin said. “The energy these guys showed today, going out and playing a really physical football team like Troy the way we did isjust tremendous.”

Arkansas State opens a two-game non-conference road swing beginning next Saturday, Sept. 21, versus the Memphis Tigers. Opening kickoff for the game is set for 3:30 p.m. (CT) at the Liberty Bowl MemorialStadium in Memphis, Tenn., and will be televised live on ESPN3.

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