Arkansas State’s usually prolific offence struggled against Kent State, but the consistent Aplin-to-McKissic connection and a stingy defence was enough to help the Red Wolves to their first bowl win since joining the Football Bowl Subdivision in 1992.
Kent State was driving late in the game when quarterback Spencer Keith tried to scramble on fourth down and was stopped a few yards short of the marker with 52 seconds left. Neither team scored a touchdown in the second half.
Veteran defensive co-ordinator John Thompson coached the Red Wolves after Gus Malzahn left to take the Auburn job last month. It was the second straight season Arkansas State had to play its bowl game without the coach that led them to a Sun Belt championship — Hugh Freeze left for Mississippi in 2011 before last year’s GoDaddy.com Bowl, which the Red Wolves lost 38-20 to Northern Illinois.
The results were much better this time.
But the Red Wolves had to rely on their defence in this one while the offence slowly warmed up. Kent State took a 7-0 lead on Dri Archer’s 16-yard touchdown run and the margin could have been worse, but Arkansas State linebacker Nathan Herrold picked off a tipped pass in the end zone to end a promising drive for the Golden Flashes.
The Golden Flashes put together one last drive in the final minutes, with Keith completing a clutch 15-yard pass over the middle on fourth down with less than two minutes remaining. He was headed for another fourth-down conversion just four plays later, but was tripped up on a scramble deep in Arkansas State territory and the Red Wolves began to celebrate on their sideline.
It was a disappointing end to an otherwise breakthrough season for Kent State. The Golden Flashes set a school record with 11 victories, including a 10-game winning streak that lasted nearly three months. But they dropped their last two games, including a 44-37 double-overtime loss to Northern Illinois on Nov. 30 in the Mid-American Conference championship game.
One reason Kent State was able to win 11 games was a dynamic rushing attack that averaged more than 250 yards per game. But the duo of Archer and Trayion Durham didn’t have a particularly good game against the Red Wolves.
Archer, who missed much of the second half with an apparent injury, led the Golden Flashes with 77 yards rushing while Durham added 68.
Aplin completed 21 of 30 passes in his final college game. The six-foot-one, 200-pound senior owns nearly every school passing record and is the Sun Belt two-time player of the year.
That was no small feat against Kent State, which led the nation with 38 takeaways coming into the game. They couldn’t get one against the Red Wolves.
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