MONTGOMERY, Ala. (12/21/19) – Despite a persistent downpour for nearly the entire game, the Arkansas State football team put out record numbers through the air and came up with key defensive plays late to hold off Florida International, 34-26, on Saturday night in the 2019 Camellia Bowl.
The Red Wolves (8-5) led for the entire night and braved the rain while Layne Hatcher passed for a Camellia Bowl-record 393 yards and four touchdowns on 27-of-51 passing. With the win over the Panthers (6-7), A-State reaches eight victories for the second year in a row.
“We tried to make it as stressful as we possibly could,” A-State head coach Blake Anderson said. “The guys wanted it and they prepared really well. You could tell that in the energy in the team meeting before we even came over [to the Cramton Bowl] today. I knew we were going to get their best. That’s all we had, and it was enough. I’m proud of this group.”
With nine catches and a bowl-record 180 yards, consensus All-American Omar Bayless garnered MVP honors. Kirk Merritt and Jonathan Adams also found the end zone off the arm of Hatcher, with Merritt hauling in six catches for 43 yards and Adams grabbing four passes for 63 yards. Marcel Murray also caught five passes for 52 yards in addition to churning out 45 yards on the ground. Reed Tyler was the fourth Red Wolf to haul in a score, doing so in the third quarter.
Defensively, Logan Wescott and Darreon Jackson both tallied 13 total tackles to lead the Red Wolves. B.J. Edmonds recorded 10 total tackles to round out the trio of A-State defenders with double-digit tackles.
After holding FIU to a three-and-out on the game’s opening drive, Hatcher led A-State on a 15-play, 80-yard drive to strike first, finding Bayless in the back of the end zone from four yards out to give the Red Wolves a 7-0 lead with 9:25 to go in the first.
The A-State defense continued to stymie the FIU attack in the opening quarter, forcing two more punts. With 55 seconds left, the Red Wolves struck again, this time with Hatcher finding a diving Merritt for a 9-yard score that gave the Scarlet and Black a two-touchdown lead.
On both of those scoring drives, Hatcher’s running ability was key to keeping the drives alive with scampers of 22 yards (a career long) and 14 yards on third-and-10.
The Panthers got their ground game going on the ensuing drive, with eight of their nine plays being rushing plays and Napoleon Maxwell capping off the drive with a three-yard plunge up the middle to make it a 14-7 score with 12:50 left in the half.
Blake Grupe then posted another score for A-State, drilling a 46-yard field goal with 9:31 left to make it 17-7 after a 10-play, 47-yard drive. With the kick, Grupe moved into the top spot in points by kicking in a single season, passing Brian Davis (2012). The field goal also tied him for second in made field goals in a season.
FIU answered with a field goal of its own with 5:30 to go, as Jose Borregales knocked through a 25-yard kick to cut it down to a one-score game again at 17-10.
Grupe split the uprights again with 3:05 left in the second quarter, this time from 37 yards out to cap off an eight-play drive in which Hatcher found Bayless for a 51-yard pass in the driving rain to set up the kick. FIU scored once again before the half, with Borregales drilling another 25-yard kick to make it 20-13 with 40 seconds left.
A-State took the ball to open the second half, with Hatcher leading his offense on an 11-play drive that ended with him finding Tyler for a 15-yard strike in the back of the end zone to make it a 27-13 contest.
FIU cut it back to a one-score affair when the Panthers cashed in on a fumble recovery inside A-State territory, as Morgan found Austin Maloney two plays later on a 19-yard touchdown pass with 3:48 left in the third. Borregales showcased his strong leg once again, hitting a 48-yard field goal with 38 seconds left in the third quarter to cut A-State’s lead down to just 27-23 with one quarter to go.
With 11:52 left, Borregales hit his fourth field goal of the night, a Camellia Bowl-record 52-yarder, to cut the deficit down to one at 27-26 after the Panthers took over on their own 33 following an interception by Rishard Dames on a deep pass from Hatcher to Merritt.
Borregales then lined up for what would be the go-ahead field goal from 29 yards out with just over five minutes remaining. However, the kick fell just left of the uprights, giving the Red Wolves the ball back. Hatcher then completed three clutch passes in the face of pressure, including a 52-yard strike to Bayless that moved the offense down to the FIU 12-yard line.
After a Jones rush and an FIU timeout, Hatcher found Adams in the end zone from 13 yards out with 3:37 left to extend A-State’s lead back out to 34-26.
The Panthers looked to respond with another score of their own, but a deep pass fell right into the arms of Jeremy Smith, who returned it 21 yards down to FIU’s 41-yard line. After a Cody Grace punt pinned the Panthers deep in their own territory, Jackson snagged a pass to seal the victory for the Red Wolves.
For FIU, Morgan completed 22 of 38 passes for 312 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions – both inside the last six minutes of the contest. Maxwell gained 70 yards on the ground while Maloney hauled in a bowl-record 10 catches for 178 yards.
Defensively, the Panthers were led by Sage Lewis, who racked up 13 total tackles while Dames recorded FIU’s lone interception. Lewis and Stantley Thomas-Oliver III both forced a fumble.
Original article source: https://astateredwolves.com/news/2019/12/21/football-a-state-holds-off-fiu-in-rain-soaked-camellia-bowl-34-26.aspx | Article may or may not reflect the views of KLEK 102.5 FM or The Voice of Arkansas Minority Advocacy Council