LINCOLN, Neb. (9/2/17) – The Arkansas State football team took two shots at the end zone from 11 yards out in the final seconds of its season-opening game at Nebraska, but the Huskers held off the Red Wolves 43-36 in front of 90,171 fans at Memorial Stadium Saturday.
Quarterback Justice Hansen completed 46-of-68 passes for 415 yards and three touchdowns. His 46 completions established a single-game school record and he connected with nine different receivers. Chris Murray had nine catches for 90 yards and a touchdown while Kendrick Edwards hauled in eight passes for 100 yards and a touchdown. Christian Booker (7-72), Omar Bayless (7-42) and Blake Mack (5-50) each had over five receptions.
The Red Wolves out-gained Nebraska 497-463 on the game with 415 of the 497 total yards coming via the passing game. The Huskers churned 225 rushing yards while quarterback Tanner Lee was 19-of-32 passing for 238 yards. Kyle Wilson led the A-State defense with 10 tackles while B.J. Edmonds added career-high nine total tackles, six solo.
“We had so many opportunities,” A-State head football coach Blake Anderson said. “We didn’t create a lot of turnovers, which is something we pride ourselves on and we had a lot of dropped passes, two of which would have been touchdowns and that changes the game. All of that is fixable and it is all within our control but not what we expected either.”
“Their running game is powerful, but I thought our defense did a good job with bend and don’t break. We put them in some tough situations a couple of times with field position, but offensively we couldn’t get any rhythm going in the third quarter. We kept getting close and we had a couple balls over the middle that didn’t pan out like we wanted, but that is on me and it is something we will get better at. We have the makings of a really good football team, if we just correct the mistakes we made tonight. There is no quit in this football team and there is no quit in this staff. I think people realize we are going to play 60 minutes regardless of the score and these guys are never going to give up.”
Trailing 43-29 with 4:18 to play, A-State used a 12-play, 63-yard drive to get within one score. Hansen completed 7-of-9 attempts on the drive, hitting six different receivers along the way. Edwards snagged his first career touchdown reception with a 3-yard grab with 47 seconds remaining to set the stage for a potential game-tying score.
A-State lined up for the onside kick and Murray batted the ball away from an awaiting Nebraska hands team member and recovered at the Nebraska 44-yard line. Hansen connected with Mack on first down for 12 yards, but back-to-back incompletions saw A-State face 3rd-and-10 at the 32-yard line. Hansen spotted Edwards on the left side of the field for an 11-yard gain and a penalty moved A-State to the Nebraska 11-yard line.
Nine seconds was showing on the clock and the Red Wolves targeted Justin McInnis in the end zone on first down, but the pass was deflected setting up one more chance at a tie score. Hansen elected to target Edwards in the back of the end zone on the next play, but the pass was just out of his reach setting the final score.
Nebraska opened the scoring on the night with a 21-yard field goal, but the A-State defense held strong inside the 10-yard line to keep the Cornhuskers to the three points. The Red Wolves would respond in a big way as Blaise Taylor returned a punt 63-yards for a score to give A-State a 7-3 lead with 4:53 on the first quarter clock. It was Taylor’s fourth career punt return touchdown.
The Cornhuskers answered right back with a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to lead 10-7. A-State worked a nine-play, 87-yard drive to retake the lead at 14-10 with 2:12 remaining in the first quarter. Hansen was 8-for-8 covering 83 yards on the drive and found Chris Murray for a 29-yard touchdown strike.
After Nebraska scored on each of their next two possessions to lead 24-14 five minutes into the second quarter, A-State drove deep inside Nebraska territory. The Cornhuskers came up with the first turnover of the game as a defensive lineman batted a pass by Hansen and the Huskers came up with the interception at the one yard line. The Red Wolves defense swarmed on the first play and Kyle Wilson came away with safety to make it a one possession game again at 24-16 with 6:54 left in the first half.
The Red Wolves used a 10-play, 61-yard drive following the free kick trimming the deficit to 24-23. Hansen completed 6-of-8 on the drive for 36 yards and he connected with Blake Mack for a three-yard touchdown pass.
Despite Nebraska advancing 41 yards on the ensuing drive, the A-State defense held the Huskers to a field goal. Trailing 27-23 approaching halftime, the Red Wolves had one final attempt at scoring. Hansen added 30 more yards to his passing total and his final pass of the first half, an 11-yard completion to Mack, set up the Red Wolves with a look at a field goal as time expired in the first half. Sawyer Williams lined up a 39-yard field goal and split the uprights to send the game to halftime with A-State trailing 27-26.
Nebraska scored a pair of touchdowns before A-State found the scoring column in the second half. Trailing 41-26, A-State took over at the 25-yardline looking to drive the field to make it a one possession game. Hansen added five more completions to reach a new-single game school record of 38, but replay overturned a second touchdown for Murray and A-State settled for a field goal. Williams booted the field through from 31 yards to make it 41-29 with under 10 minutes to play.
A-State hosts Miami (Fla.) Saturday at 2:30 p.m. inside Centennial Bank Stadium for a nationally-televised contest on ESPNU. Tickets are available by visiting AStateRedWolves.com/tickets or by calling 870-972-2781.