In a season riddled with injuries and defensive holes, Arkansas State’s defensive effort proved a major difference in the Red Wolves’ 28-27 win over Coastal Carolina as A-State gained bowl eligibility for the ninth straight season.
Quarterback Layne Hatcher led a game winning drive with 2:25 left on the clock to give the Red Wolves (6-4, 4-2 SBC) a come from behind victory over the Chanticleers.
Down 27-21, the Red Wolves drove 76 yards and capped the drive on a Hatcher touchdown pass to Kirk Merritt.
“In my head I was just trying to think how can I get myself ready,” Hatcher said about what he was thinking before the game winning drive. “Ultimately it came down to the point where I was just like everything in my life has lead to this moment. You know, just leaving, then getting my chance this year, so I just tried to put it all in perspective that way.”
Merritt fumbled on a kick off return that led to Coastal taking the lead 27-21. Merritt made amends for his fumble and came up clutch on the last drive.
“It felt great,” Merritt said about his game winning touchdown. “I fumbled, I really don’t do that at all. I’m just fortunate to have teammates behind me just picking me up. I felt bad. I felt like I let the team down. Just being to overcome that with my teammates’ help means a lot.”
Hatcher mentioned how he threw his arm around Merritt after the game winning pass. Merritt said he was emotional in the moment.
“Basically I was just crying,” Merritt said. “This team means a lot to me. I’m just fortunate Layne looked my way. I just kept telling him look my way on that particular play. He trusted in me and I trusted him.”
In the post game press conference, A-State head coach Blake Anderson was clearly disappointed with the lack of discipline his team showed. The Red Wolves turned the ball over five times and committed 14 penalties for 116 yards in the game.
“(Beyond the win), I’m as frustrated as I think I’ve been as a head coach,” Anderson said. “Maybe as embarrassed as I’ve been as a head coach in terms of how undisciplined that we played.”
A-State’s defense came away with two interceptions, including a pick-six by Caleb Bonner in the third quarter when the Red Wolves’ offense was not performing well. Bonner ran the interception back 66-yards and was trailed by Coastal’s quarterback Bryce Carpenter.
“I would have never heard the last of it if that quarterback would have hauled me down,” Bonner said. “We all knew we needed a play. Coach Duggan called a great play. Logan Wescott made a great hit on the quarterback. I just made a play.”
Coastal Carolina had the ball with 32 seconds left in the game with a chance to go on a game winning drive of their own. On their own 34-yard line in a fourth and one situation, Coastal attempted to run for a first down as they had all night deep in their own territory. However, B.J. Edmonds and William Bradley-King were there to secure the victory for A-State.
“We just knew it was a huge play,” Edmonds said about the fourth down stop. “We knew a run was coming. We just had to buckle down.”
A-State started the fourth quarter with two disappointing drives. The Red Wolves ran the ball on fourth and one from the Coastal 11-yard line but were stopped short.
Then, on A-State’s next offensive possession, Hatcher threw an interception on the first play of the drive.
Coastal capitalized on the turnover and scored a touchdown but failed on a two point conversion to make the score 21-19 in favor of A-State.
Then the game turned wild. Merritt fumbled which led to a Jacqez Hairston rushing touchdown and a successful two-point conversion to make the game 27-21 in favor of the Chanticleers. This set up the game winning drive from A-State.
Things were looking bleak for A-State as the Red Wolves’ offensive production was faltering and the game only got worse when Hatcher threw an interception to start the third quarter.
However, the Red Wolves’ defense came alive in the third period and absolutely carried A-State forward.
Caleb Bonner intercepted Carpenter for a 66-yard pick-six to put A-State back on top 14-13.
The Red Wolves would need their defense to come up huge again as the Chanticleers drove the ball down the field to A-State’s 38-yard line. On fourth and one, the Red Wolves held strong and forced a turnover on downs.
Seemingly invigorated by the defense’s contributions, A-State’s offense picked up steam. Hatcher connected with Bayless with just over a minute left in the third quarter on a seven yard touchdown pass to increase the Red Wolves’ lead 21-13.
On the ensuing Coastal drive, A-State’s defense came up big again when Jarius Reimonenq intercepted a Fred Payton pass.
The third quarter ended 21-13 in A-State’s favor.
The Chanticleers turned the game around in the second quarter. The Red Wolves almost flew out of the gates with a Jermey Smith interception to start the second period but he just could not bring the ball into his hands.
Not too long after that, A-State’s Jamal Jones fumbled on a rushing attempt and the Chanticleer’s recovered the ball on A-State’s 38-yard line. Coastal turned the turnover into points as Massimo Biscardi connected on a 45-yard field goal to bring the Chanticleers within one at a 7-6 scoreline.
Coastal caught the Red Wolves off guard by lining up for a fourth down conversion attempt deep in their own territory at the 19-yard line. A-State was forced into a timeout after seeing the visitors send out their offense.
Despite the timeout, the Red Wolves could not stop the Chanticleers at their own 19-yard line as they rushed for a first down on fourth and one.
The bold move paid off when Payton connected with Jai Williams to put Coastal ahead 13-7 after an extra point.
The teams went into the locker rooms at a 13-7 scoreline.
Coastal Carolina drove the ball all the way to the Red Wolves’ 13-yard line to start the first quarter. However, the Chanticleers rushed the ball on a fourth down attempt that came up short and gave A-State a big opening drive stop.
Despite a 39-yard pass on A-State’s first offensive snap from Hatcher to Jonathan Adams Jr., nothing came of the Red Wolves’ first drive as they punted the ball.
Grace pinned Coastal deep in their own territory and on an option play, Carpenter fumbled the ball for Bradley-King to recover on Coastal’s seven yard line.
The turnover set up a passing touchdown from Hatcher to Merritt to give the Red Wolves a 7-0 lead. Merritt’s touchdown reception place him tied for second in total touchdown receptions in school history.
Coastal Carolina managed to get on the board despite almost throwing an interception to Antonio Fletcher in the end zone on a third down play. A 25-yard Biscardi field goal made the scoreline 7-3.
A-State returns to action Nov. 23 when the Red Wolves take on Georgia Southern in Jonesboro. Kick off is set for 2 p.m.
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