A second-half comeback fell short for the Arkansas State football team Saturday at H.A. Chapman Stadium, as the Red Wolves dropped a 41-34 contest at Tulsa.
A-State (1-3) trailed by as much as 17 in the contest, but cut it to a one-score game twice and scored a pair of special teams touchdowns. The Golden Hurricane (1-3) churned out 663 yards in a balanced attack, passing for 355 yards and grinding out 308 on the ground behind a pair of 100-yard rushers.
“I thought we made a monumental leap this week in the way we approached the week and practiced,” head coach Butch Jones said. “We knew we were coming in to play a very good football team who has played a lot of quality opponents, but our kids kept fighting. The next evolution in learning how to win games, especially on the road, is being able to withstand the mental swings and changes. I thought, at times, we didn’t keep that consistent pace.”
James Blackman passed for 321 yards on 23 of 37 passing for a pair of touchdowns. Corey Rucker hauled in four passes for a team-leading 115 yards. On special teams, Johnnie Lang Jr. scored on a first-quarter punt return while Alan Lamar returned a kickoff for a score in the third. Saturday marked the first time since Nov. 11, 2000, versus North Texas that A-State returned both a punt and kickoff for a score in the same game. It was also only the second time a Sun Belt Conference team accomplished the feat (Louisiana, Sept. 12, 2020, at Iowa State).
“Our special teams gave us an opportunity to win,” Jones continued. “At the end of the day, it comes down to being a line-of-scrimmage game. You’re not going to win a lot of games if you can’t stop the run and can’t run the ball. That will continue to be a point of emphasis. I’m proud of our players and I thought our team took a step forward. There are no moral victories but I can see the progress we are making. The most important game is next week at Georgia Southern and we need to get ready to go and find a way to win a football game on the road.”
Defensively, Elery Alexander collected a career-best 14 tackles, while Kivon Bennett posted a monster day at defensive end with 11 tackles, 2.5 for loss. Joe Ozougwu led up front with 3.5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks on the day.
Davis Brin completed 17 of 25 passes for 355 yards and three scores while coughing up an interception to Jarius Reimonenq in the third quarter. Two of his receivers – Josh Johnson and Sam Crawford Jr. – racked up 127 and 105 yards receiving, respectively. Crawford Jr. scored twice while JuanCarlos Santana scored once on five receptions for 99 yards.
In Tulsa’s ground game, Shamari Brooks rushed 22 times for 155 yards while Anthony Watkins amassed 115 yards on just seven carries.
A-State got on the board first after a defensive stand, as Lang Jr. fielded a punt and returned it 63 yards to the house. Tulsa responded with an 88-yard touchdown pass from Brin to Crawford Jr. to tie it, but Blackman then found Dahu Green for a 39-yard strike to give the Red Wolves a 14-7 lead after one quarter.
The Golden Hurricane closed out the first half with 17 unanswered points to lead 24-14 at the break. Brooks tied it at 14 with a 25-yard rushing score before Brin connected with Santana for a 34-yard touchdown pass. Zack Long drilled a 41-yard field goal with a second remaining to end the half.
Tulsa extended its lead in the opening drive of the second half on a 17-yard pass from Brin to Crawford Jr., but A-State then began clawing back. First, Blackman found Jeff Foreman for a 7-yard strike, but the Golden Hurricane punched back on the next play with a 75-yard rushing touchdown by Watkins to make it 38-21 less than five minutes into the third.
A-State got its second special teams touchdown of the day when Lamar returned the ensuing kickoff 93 yards to cut the deficit to 10 at 38-28. Blake Grupe added a 38-yard field goal to make it a one-score affair late in the third, giving Tulsa a 38-31 lead entering the fourth quarter. Long then connected again on a 45-yard kick before Grupe drilled a 50-yard field goal to make it a one-score game again.
Tulsa drove down the field in the game’s final drive looking to put the game out of reach, but the clock ran out with the Golden Hurricane inside A-State’s 5-yard line.
A-State concludes its three-game road swing Saturday, Oct. 2, traveling to face Georgia Southern to open Sun Belt Conference play. Kickoff at Allen G. Paulson Stadium is slated for 3 p.m. CT on ESPN+.