STATESBORO, Ga. (10/4/17) – The Arkansas State offense scored five of its six touchdowns from 25 or more yards out as the Red Wolves won their Sun Belt Conference opener by a score of 43-25 against Georgia Southern at Allen E. Paulson Stadium in Statesboro in a game that was broadcast on ESPN2.
A-State (2-2, 1-0 SBC) won its fifth straight conference opener and improved to 19-2 in the month of October since 2010. Additionally, the win moved the team to 20-4 over its last 24 road SBC games as head coach Blake Anderson became the fastest coach in school history to reach 26 career victories.
“1-0 is all that matters,” Anderson said. “When we had to respond we did, but I thought we tried to slow the game down too early, which benefited them. We had three, three-and-outs in a row that made it a lot closer than it needed to be, but we made a big play when we needed to at the end.”
Chris Murray was the receiving star of the night with 188 yards on five catches to tie Chet Douthit (1970 vs. Louisiana Tech) for the fourth-most in a single game in school history and the 188 yards was also the fourth most by a player in the nation this season. Justice Hansen threw for 316 yards on just 12 completions, but tossed four touchdowns passes along with four interceptions. All four of Hansen’s scoring passes went for 29 yards or more with two going for 56 and 57 yards to Murray.
“We knew coming in that Justice was only going to be 80 to 90 percent, so you could tell he wasn’t quite himself,” continued Anderson. “We knew it was going to be a physical game so there would be some times he’d have to run it and you could tell they changed their personality defensively to try do that very thing. The turnovers will eat him up all the way home, but he made some great throws too and converted some key third downs.”
Georgia Southern (0-4, 0-1 SBC) outgained A-State 493-381 and forced five A-State turnovers, but was only able to score seven points off those turnovers. Meanwhile, the Red Wolves forced four turnovers of their own and scored 13 points off of them while holding the Eagles to 3-for-15 on third-down conversions.
Neither team was able to get much offense working in the first quarter, but the Red Wolves did get on the board late in the period when Sawyer Williams connected on a career-long 43-yard field goal. However, the Eagles were able to respond with a field goal of their own early in the second quarter to tie the game 3-3.
Two big plays for both teams highlighted the next couple of drives with Hansen connecting with Murray for a 56-yard score to put A-State on top 9-3 after the extra point from Williams hit the upright. Georgia Southern wasted little time responding with Monteo Garrett taking an option pitch 74 yards to pay dirt to put the home team in front 10-9 after a successful extra point.
Both teams turned the ball over on their next drives with A-State’s Caleb Caston forcing a fumble on a sack that was recovered by Hunter Moreton after the Eagles had taken over on an interception of a Hansen pass. The drive for the Red Wolves started on the Georgia Southern 25-yard line and Warren Wand scampered to the end zone on the first play, but another missed extra point set the score at 15-10.
The Eagles regained the lead on an eight-yard touchdown run by Wesley Fields late in the quarter after a Hansen interception and appeared poised to take the lead into the halftime break. The Red Wolves had other plans as Hansen found Murray on a 57-yard touchdown after two runs by Jamal Jones to push the Red Wolves in front 22-17 at the break.
The Red Wolves wasted little time out of the gates in the second half when Hansen found Blake Mack for a 29-yard score just 45 seconds in to make the score 29-17. Safety Michael Johnson picked off a pass on the Eagles’ next drive for his first career interception and set up another Wand touchdown run, this time from 12 yards out, to push the A-State advantage to 36-17 less than four minutes into the third period.
Georgia Southern climbed within 36-25 on a 50-yard strike to Obe Fortune early in the fourth quarter and had a chance to cut into the A-State edge more, but turned the ball over on downs with just over six minutes left in the contest. The Red Wolves scored on the second play after that when Omar Bayless hauled in a one-handed 37-yard strike in spite of defensive pass interference to put the score at 43-25.
Wand was the leading rusher for the Red Wolves with 61 yards on 11 carries, while Mack was the only receiver other than Murray with more than one catch as the Lonoke, Ark., native registered three catches for 54 yards.
Defensively, Kyle Wilson led the team with 13 tackles, while BJ Edmonds had a career-high 11. Ja'Von Rolland-Jones picked up two sacks to give him 32.5 for his career, while Christian Howard notched his first career sack. Trent Ellis-Brewer ended the Eagles’ last scoring threat with his first career interception with six seconds remaining in the game.
Arkansas State returns action Saturday, Oct. 14 in its homecoming game versus Coastal Carolina. Kickoff from Centennial Bank Stadium is set for 6 p.m.