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JONESBORO - Arkansas State clinched back-to-back conference championships Saturday night at Liberty Bank Stadium after a 45-0 blow-out victory over Middle Tennessee.
This was the first time in school history that Middle Tennessee had been shut out by a Sun Belt conference opponent.
"That offense has been playing very well against some good teams," said head coach Gus Malzahn. "They have put up some points, and for us to shut them out, that was really big. Coach Thompson, the defensive staff and the players, that was an unbelievable job."
"It's big to shut out anybody," Malzahn continued. "It's hard to do that in college football, especially against a team playing for a conference championship. They will go to a bowl, and they will be successful."
The Red Wolves would begin their dominance with 12:22 to play in the first quarter, as quarterback Ryan Aplin found pay dirt from four-yards out. Brian Davis' kick gave the early 7-0 lead.
Just seven plays later, linebacker Nathan Herrold stepped in front of a Logan Kilgore pass, and returned it 45 yards into Middle Tennessee territory. It would take Arkansas State just five plays to score, as running back David Oku scored from five yards out.
"Nathan is an unbelievable player," said Malzahn. "He is like a coach on the field. That was a huge play to give us the ball in our territory."
The route would continue as Aplin connected with wide receiver Josh Jarboe from six yards out as the first quarter expired.
The Red Wolves would score two more times in the first half, with the first coming with 9:41 to play as Aplin connected with Julian Jones for a 59-yard score, and again with 23 seconds remaining as Rocky Hayes scored from 12-yards out.
Tight end Kedric Murry caught a six yard pass from Aplin with 9:49 to play in the third quarter. Davis' kick put the Red Wolves up 42-0, and Davis added a 21-yard field goal with 14:48 to play to wrap up the scoring, and the conference championship for the Red Wolves.
The game was a near-perfect performance for the Red Wolves. It was a performance the head coach was proud of.
"This was a very big game," said Malzahn. "I felt like our guys played their best game of the year in the biggest moment. I'm very proud of them, and I'm proud of the coaches. We played a very good team, and we played our best game."
Malzahn also gave his thoughts on his first year as a division one head coach.
"We are in the process of building [this program]," said Malzahn. "There may have been expectations, but we may have had the least amount of returning starters in the league. We have some good young talent, we had some pieces of the puzzle, the older guys like Aplin and Herrold, guys that have been here and won a championship."
"It took us a while to come together," Malzahn continued. "We had some major growing pains. We won a couple of games, but we didn't play good, solid football. It started clicking about six or seven weeks ago. Today, we could have played with just about anybody."
Arkansas State should find out which bowl game they will play in by 7:00 p.m. Saturday night.
Early reports on social media had the Red Wolves playing in the Liberty Bowl, but a Liberty Bowl representative told RedWolfReport.com that they cannot take Arkansas State at this time due to their contracts not being broken by any conference affiliated teams.
The GoDaddy.com Bowl also had representatives at the game.
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