JONESBORO, Ark. (12/2/17) – The Arkansas State football team scored a go-ahead touchdown with 1:28 to play, but Troy regained the lead with 17 seconds remaining to defeat the Red Wolves 32-25 at Centennial Bank Stadium Saturday night in a nationally televised game on ESPN2.
The Red Wolves finish the regular season at 7-4 with a 6-2 mark in Sun Belt play. Troy improved to 10-2 overall and shares the SBC title with Appalachian State with a 7-1 league record.
“Congratulations to (Troy head coach) Neal (Brown) and his team because they made plays when they had to,” A-State head football coach Blake Anderson said. “It is not about stats, it is about points and they got more than we do so they get to carry the trophy so this one hurts.”
Arkansas State outgained the Trojans 606-293 offensively, but allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown along with an interception return for a touchdown. A-State also turned the ball over three times, while Troy had just one turnover.
“I’m heartbroken for our senior class and fans.” Anderson added. “I’ve honestly never been through a game quite like what we just went through. To move the ball the way we did up and down the field and come away with a loss is disappointing. We can’t give up turnovers, but we did. We can’t give up a touchdown on a kickoff return two weeks in a row and at the end of the game we had to get a stop and we didn’t.”
Justice Hansen passed for 437 yards to set the single-season school record for passing yards with 3,630 to break the total of 3,588 by Ryan Aplin in 2011. Additionally, Hansen tossed two touchdown passes to give him the most in a single season in Sun Belt Conference history with 34. Blake Mack led the team with 104 yards receiving on six receptions, while Johnston White was the leading rusher with 65 yards.
Defensively, B.J. Edmonds, Darreon Jackson, and Kyle Wilson led the team with seven tackles each, while Dee Liner posted a career-high 2.5 tackles-for-loss. Ja'Von Rolland-Jones had the Red Wolves’ only sack to give him 43.5 for his career, just a half sack shy of tying the NCAA FBS record. Damon Foncham had a solid night punting with four punts for a 42 yard average with three pinning Troy inside its own 20.
“This senior class has done everything that we have asked them to do,” continued Anderson. “We had 10 guys that we went out and recruited that believed in what we were doing. We had four solid walk-ons that earned scholarships and four seniors that signed five years ago that went through three head coaches and won three championships along with playing for another one tonight. It was a misfit of guys and they pulled together and became family and we just didn’t get it done tonight, but we are going to enjoy this group of guys at a bowl somewhere.”
The two teams failed to score in the first quarter, but A-State put the first points on the board when Sawyer Williams connected on a 26-yard field goal early in the second quarter. However, the lead was short-lived as Troy’s Marcus Jones ran the ensuing kickoff back 99 yards for a score. The Red Wolves would go on to regain the lead on a six-play, 55-yard drive later in the second period when Hansen scored on a five-yard run to make the score 10-7, which would be the halftime tally.
Williams gave A-State a 13-10 advantage with just over five minutes remaining in the third quarter with a 28-yard field goal, but Troy’s Brandon Silvers connected with Tray Eafford for a 44-yard touchdown on the next possession to take a 17-13 edge. The score would remain the same until Jones intercepted a Hansen pass in the end zone and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown to put the Trojans on top 24-13 midway through the final period.
The Red Wolves scored the next 12 points, grabbing a 25-24 advantage with 1:28 to play, but Troy scored with 17 seconds remaining to take the win. A-State, despite turnovers on back-to-back passing plays, were able to take the 25-24 lead with Hansen connecting with Christian Booker for a 39-yard touchdown pass. After the Red Wolves took the lead with 1:28 to play, Troy used nine plays to cover the 72 yards for the go-ahead score when Silvers found Deondre Douglas in the end zone.
“We had too many mistakes this year to have the season we wanted,” Anderson stated. “Second place is not what we are about and we could have very easily talked about this being a transition year with all the new people, but we didn’t so nobody expected it to be like that, but at the end of the day we just came up short.”
A-State awaits its bowl selection to find out where they will play next. The Red Wolves are bowl bound for seventh consecutive season (2011-17) and 8th time over the last 13 years.