JONESBORO, Ark.-Defensive back Adrian Hills and running back Anthony Robinson combined for big plays in the fourth quarter to help the Arkansas State Red Wolves rally from a 16-9 deficit to defeat the Florida Atlantic Owls by the final score of 37-16.
The rally began at the 12:50 mark in the fourth quarter when quarterback Ryan Aplin connected with Robinson for a 28 yard pass following a 6 play 69 yard drive. Bobby Zalud's kick would tie the game at 16 all.
Aplin would finish the day 28 of 46 passing with 230 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also gained 64 yards on 14 carries with a touchdown.
Robinson finished with 8 carries for 88 yards and a touchdown.
Following the kickoff, Hills would pick off a Jeff Van Camp pass, and return it 37 yards for the score to put the Red Wolves up 23-16 with 9:23 to play. The interception was the first of three turnovers in a 2 minute 11 second time span. The Red Wolves would turn all three turnovers into points.
Brandon Joiner would recover a fumble on the FAU 1 yard line, and Jermaine Robertson would score on 1st and Goal just three seconds later to put Arkansas State up 30-16 with 8:22 to play.
Anthony Robinson would tack on the final score with 7:12 to play from 4 yards out to help the Red Wolves complete the rally.
Arkansas State head coach Steve Roberts was pleased with his team's performance following the game.
"It is great to get a win." he said. "It was very excited about the way we finished that ball game in the fourth quarter putting up the last 28 points of the ball game. The rally was sparked by the play of our defense. They did a super job of getting pressure on their quarterback and forcing arid throws and making plays on the ball. We had some big hits and people flying in there when Adrian Hills picked that ball off and took it in for a touchdown, then we come back and get a sack causing the fumble, and was able to push it in from the one [yard line]. From that point, we just blew the game wide open."
Before the rally, the ball game was played very tight. A strong 20 plus mile per hour wind blowing south to north forcing both teams into different play calling situations, to include a successfully converted fake punt by the Red Wolves.
"[The fake punt] was all on Neely Sullivent. We saw it on film, and talked about it all week and in practice we felt like if we could get into that situation, we would take it." said Roberts. "We needed them to line up in a specific look, and we got exactly what we needed. Neely has an option to punt the football or to run it if he is sure he can get the first down. He was sure, and he did a great job of getting us a first down on that fake, and sparking a touchdown in the first half."
Coach Roberts also spoke of other ways the wind affected the ball game.
"The wind was obviously a huge factor." he said. "The wind was causing the ball to float in the air a little bit, and even caused it to fly backwards on one kickoff. You don't see that happen very often. The ball went to about the 30 and flew back, and it was a great job by [FAU] to be aware of that and get the ball. We were lucky they were off-sides on that kickoff, and we were able to get another kick and get the ball."
Two of Florida Atlantic's three scores came off of big plays. The first with 11:40 to play in the second quarter when Van Camp connected with Rob Housler for a 29 yard score, then again with 8:13 to play in the third quarter on a 80 yard screen play by Lester Jean.
Ross Gornall would add a 36 yard field goal with 14:57 to play in the game to give the Owls their third and final score.
FAU head coach Howard Schnellenberger also gave his thoughts following the game.
"For a period of time we did things that were very good for our football team, made some improvement particularly on the defensive side." he said. "The offensive side had some rough spots, but had done some good things until that total collapse that happened late in the third and fourth quarter. [Arkansas State] is a good football team, and right now we're not a good football team. We've got t learn from our mistakes and live with the bad things that we did, or things that we didn't get accomplished."
With the win, Arkansas State moves to 3-5 overall and 3-2 in Sun Belt action, while Florida Atlantic falls to 1-5 overall and 0-3 in Sun Belt play.