MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Ryan Aplin threw three second-half touchdown passes Saturday, leading Arkansas State to a 36-29 Sun Belt Conference football victory over the University of South Alabama at Liberty Bank Stadium.
The preseason Sun Belt Conference player of the year, Aplin — who finished with 203 yards while completing 17-of-22 passes — helped the Red Wolves (4-3, 2-1 Sun Belt) pull away from the Jaguars (1-5, 0-2 SBC) after leading by just one at the half.
On the first possession of the third quarter, the Red Wolves needed just over two minutes and five plays to move 73 yards before extending the advantage to 21-13 on a 10-yard screen pass from Aplin to J.D. McKissic. ASU crossed midfield when Aplin found Frankie Jackson for a pickup of 39 yards, with the Red Wolves adding another 15 yards on a roughing the passer call after an incomplete pass one snap later.
The Jags answered with a six-minute drive that culminated in a 13-yard scoring pass from Ross Metheny to Jeremé Jones with just under seven minutes to go in the third period. Terrance Timmons began the march — which covered 75 yards in 14 plays — with a 10-yard rush, while a nine-yard completion to Corey Besteda left the Jaguars facing fourth-and-inches from the ASU-44. Desmond Jones picked up the first down with a gain of three yards, and when USA faced third-and-one two players later Trey Fetner came on and rushed for six yards. Fetner converted another fourth-and-one with a four-yard rush, which was followed by back-to-back completions from Metheny to Lavender for 12 yards and Jones for the score.
When USA's pass on a two-point conversion attempt fell short, the score was 21-19 Red Wolves.
Two minutes later, ASU went ahead 28-19 on a 15-yard touchdown reception to Josh Jarboe. The Red Wolves' drive started with a 10-yard sack of Aplin by Andy Dalgleish, but he completed passes on the next two plays to Taylor Stockemer for gains of 20 and 27 yards to move to the USA-28. On the snap prior to the score, Aplin and Jarboe connected for a 10-yard completion.
Michel Chapuseaux's third field goal of the night — this one from 42 yards on the first play of the final quarter — cut the Jaguar deficit to six, but Aplin found Stockemer for a nine-yard touchdown with just under 12 minutes remaining in regulation to answer; when David Oku crossed the goal line on the Red Wolves' third two-point conversion attempt the score was 36-22.
Oku finished with 84 yards on 22 carries, with ASU posting 316 yards of total offense in the contest. McKissic recorded seven catches for 41 yards, Stockemer added four receptions a game-high 65 yards and Jarboe posted three for 34 more. The trio accounted for all but three of the Red Wolves' completions in the contest.
Metheny countered by going 24-of-38 passing for 241 yards, adding 22 on the ground for a USA season-best 263 yards of total offense after closing out the scoring with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Greg Hollinger with 17 seconds to go. It was his third touchdown of the night, tying a school game record last set by C.J. Bennett in an Oct. 30, 2010, victory over Georgia State.
"We didn't win, and that's the number-one goal," he said. "Offensively, we showed a lot of improvement and it's definitely something we can build on moving forward. But you always want to win, and we came up a little short tonight. But we'll watch the film, get better from it and move forward with it."
T.J. Glover led Jaguar receivers with 47 yards on three catches, while both Besteda and Hollinger collected five receptions each — the former had 45 yards, the latter 30. Jones caught three passes for 44 yards, Lavender had three receptions for 31 yards and Timmons supplied three catches for 29 yards as well.
Timmons paced the USA ground attack with 13 carries for 43 yards and Kendall Houston rushed for 36 yards as well, as the Jags recorded season-high figures with 373 total yards and 35 minutes and 39 seconds of possession time.
It was the first time the Jaguars have outgained the opposition since defeating Nicholls State on Sept. 8.
"You can see that this team is growing," said USA head coach Joey Jones. "I saw some great things out there tonight. We're playing the Sun Belt champion from last year; they have a very good football team. We took them down to the wire and got to within six points in the fourth quarter, we were right where we wanted to be.
"I can't tell you how proud I am of these kids. Despite what's going on with a young team, they keep fighting and we're getting better on the field. Offensively, we took care of the football and had 24 first downs — those were big positives. There were a lot of improvements; the kids fought and were having fun. It still hurts, but it was a darn good game."
The Jags took the opening possession and, highlighted by a 39-yard completion from Metheny to Glover on the third play from scrimmage, drove 75 yards in nine plays, taking a 7-0 lead on a four-yard pass from Metheny to Houston with USA facing third-and-goal.
The Jags picked up three first downs on the drive, including on an 11-yard Lavender catch to start the game and a seven-yard Fetner rush from the ASU-12 on third down.
It marked USA's first lead since the Nicholls State game.
And when Jake Johnson recovered a fumble on ASU's first play from scrimmage, the Jags were able to take advantage of this miscue two minutes later when Chapuseaux converted a 26-yard field goal to extend the advantage to 10 points.
The Red Wolves responded with an eight-play, 73-yard march, which Aplin finished with a two-yard run with five-and-a-half minutes remaining in the first quarter. After ASU had picked up a first down, Aplin threw two incompletions on third-and-10 that were nullified by offsides calls on the Jaguars. Instead, after the chains moved on the second infraction, Oku rushed for a gain of 32 yards down the left sideline, with an additional 10 yards tacked on for a facemask call that moved the ball to the USA-11. Aplin reached the end zone three plays later.
ASU forced a three-and-out, with a 19-yard Rocky Hayes punt return giving the Red Wolves the ball at the Jaguar 35-yard line. Oku rushed for an 18-yard gain on the initial play of the drive, and he ended it with a two-yard touchdown with just over a minute left in the opening period to give ASU its first lead.
USA drew within one with the help of another takeaway, as Montavious Williams forced a fumble by Aplin that Clifton Crews recovered at the Red Wolves' 25-yard line; the Jaguar drive began at the 40 after a dead-ball foul. Timmons gained nine yards on third-and-nine, and Metheny followed with an eight-yard pass to Lavender in front of the USA bench that moved the ball to the ASU-22. Chapuseaux connected on a 39-yard field goal with eight-and-a-half minutes left in the first half to make the score 14-13.
That would be the score at the half after both teams came up empty in or near the red zone. The Jaguars had the ball at the ASU-22 with four-and-a-half minutes remaining when Nathan Herrold intercepted a pass and ran it back 38 yards to the USA-43. The Red Wolves would move to the Jag five-yard line in the final minute before intermission, but on second-and-goal from the USA-9 Crews forced a fumble that Terrell Brigham recovered on the five-yard line to end the threat.
Enrique Williams recorded a career-high-tying 12 stops to pace the Jaguars, who held the Red Wolves 155 yards below their season average entering play. Johnson and Darrius Morrow were credited with nine stops each — the former had one for a loss in that total — with Brigham and Tyrell Pearson supplying six tackles each. Two of B.J. Scott's five tackles came behind the line of scrimmage, including one that forced a fumble that Aplin recovered, and Alex Page made five stops as well.
"[Defensive coordinator] Coach [Bill] Clark put together a good game plan this week," explained Crews. "The cornerbacks faced a challenge; they [Arkansas State] had some good receivers. We just gave up a couple of big plays.''
Herrold's 17 tackles led all players, while ASU had a trio of individuals finish with a double-digit total after Ryan Carrethers and Nick Helms contributed 10 apiece. Qushaun Lee was credited with nine stops, and both Don Jones and Cole Lorigan collected eight as well.
The Jaguars will next be in action on Saturday, Oct. 20, when they return to Ladd-Peebles Stadium for the first time in three weeks to face Florida Atlantic on Homecoming weekend.
For more information about South Alabama athletics, check back with www.usajaguars.com . Season tickets for all Jaguar athletic events can be purchased by calling (251) 461-1USA (1872).
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