The Red Wolves (5-2, 3-0) won their first home conference game of the season defeating preseason conference favorite Florida International 34-16 after winning consecutive road games in conference play for the first time in school history.
The Red Wolves took over the game by outscoring Florida International 21-0 in the fourth quarter after being down 16-13. Quarterback Ryan Aplin connected with junior receiver Allen Muse from four yards out just under a minute into the last quarter to give ASU the lead for good 20-16. Aplin added his second touchdown of the night with 3:20 to play and senior running back Derek Lawson added a score on a nine yard run after an interception by the Red Wolf defense.
The two teams alternated field goals in the first half for a 6-6 tie at the half after neither team was able to reach 150 yards total offense over the first two quarters. The Red Wolves looked to be going into the half down 6-3 after a 33-yard field goal by FIU with 22 seconds left in the second quarter but after a good return Arkansas State was able to run three plays for 24-yards to set up sophomore kicker Bobby Zalud's 49-yard field goal as time expired to tie the game.
Aplin scored the first touchdown of the game for either team when he guided Arkansas State to a second half opening 90-yard scoring drive over 11 plays that covered 4:15 and highlighted by Aplin's 22-yard scoring run for a 13-6 lead after the extra point.
Arkansas State handed the lead right back to Florida International though allowing FIU's T.Y. Hilton to score on a 46-yard pass from Wesley Carroll on the third play of FIU's ensuing possession to tie the game and a 44-yard field goal by FIU's Jack Griffin to give the Panthers a 16-13 lead with 1:59 to play in the third quarter. Arkansas State was forced to punt in between the two FIU scores.
"We preach to our kids every single game that it is a 60-minute game and we want to get stronger as the game goes on. Fortunately we have had some success earlier in the fourth quarter and that has bred some confidence in them," ASU head coach Hugh Freeze said. "We went in at the half with a little momentum with a field goal to tie it up and at the half our coaches just felt like we would continue to get stronger as the game went on."
Despite coming into the game averaging 28.7 points per game on 444.2 yards of offense, the Arkansas State offense was held scoreless in the first quarter for the third time this season after previously being shut out the first quarter at Illinois in the season opener and at Western Kentucky on Oct 1. The six points scored in the first half against Florida International were a season-low through seven games for Arkansas State. The previous low was seven points in the first half at Virginia Tech.
In a bizarre stat both Florida International kept the ball for exactly thirty minutes. ASU was also 4 of 4 in red zone chances with four touchdowns and converted 8 of 15 third-down attempts. The Red Wolves were 2 of 2 on fourth down.
Defensively, the Red Wolves still haven't allowed a 100 yard rusher this season after holding Florida International to a season-low 66 yards as a team.
Keep An Eye On: LB Nick Nelms led Arkansas State with eight tackles and forced a fumble in his second straight game while playing opposite All-SBC linebacker Demario Davis.
Looking Good: After beginning the season with only one returning starter in senior center Tom Castilaw, the Arkansas State offensive line drew praise from its head coach after defeating FIU and only allowing two sacks and helping the offense rush for 238 yards.
Still Needs Work: ASU running backs accounted for only 72 of the teams 238 rushing yards led by freshman Frankie Jackson's 39. Senior Derek Lawson ran the ball seven times for 26 yards and the game's final touchdown.
Quote To Note: "I just like our confidence. It's a quiet confidence and it's not a boastful confidence but I just feel that our kids believe that they are supposed to win."-ASU head coach Hugh Freeze.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
QB Ryan Aplin completed 14 of 24 passes for 147 yards and a touchdown. He also threw an interception to give him seven touchdowns and nine interceptions for the year. Aplin also punted one time for 36 yards and ran for another 164, the most by an ASU player since 2008.
RB Frankie Jackson was the leading statistical player of the game behind for ASU behind Aplin. Jackson ran the ball 12 times for 39 yards while showing a quick burst on some runs after missing some time recently due to injury. Jackson also led the team with 44 yards rushing on two catches.
FS Sterling Young, a redshirt freshman making the first start of his career was second on the team with seven tackles. He also had a sack and fumble recovery while filling in for A.J. Hills.
FS A.J. Hills has been suspended from the team following an off the field incident.