MOBILE, Ala. — Arkansas State was down a starting quarterback, and looked to be finished with less than two minutes remaining late Sunday night.
Neither mattered in the Red Wolves' wild third trip to southern Alabama in 12 months.
Fredi Knighten relieved Adam Kennedy and made up for what appeared to be a back-breaking interception when he fired a 13-yard touchdown pass to Allen Muse with 32 seconds left, then Scott Secor's 38-yard field goal was blocked as time expired to finally end a wild 23-20 victory over Ball State in Sunday's GoDaddy Bowl.
It was the Red Wolves' second consecutive victory in the game, and their third trip in as many seasons. And this one looked to be lost when Jahwan Edwards barrelled in from a yard out to give Ball State a 20-16 lead with 1:32 left in the game.
That score was set up by Knighten's worst pass of the night, an interception by Eric Patterson in the end zone while Knighten was rolling to the right sideline.
"Just didn't put enough on it," Knighten said.
But Knighten fired a 26-yard bullett over the middle to J.D. McKissic, then two plays later, lofted a floater to Muse who was wide open in a corner of the end zone.
"When we realized we were down, we had to make a play," Knighten said. "There
was no other choice."
Andrew Tryon gave Ball State one last chance when he hit Willie Snead out of bounds late to set up Secor's 38-yard attempt. But defensive tackle Ryan Carrethers blocked Ball State's game-tying attempt to give ASU a second consecutive bowl victory and send interim coach John Thompson out victorious in his final game at ASU.
As soon as the blocked kick fell to the ground, ASU's sideline spilled onto the field to celebrate a victory in a bowl game in which they were playing for the third consecutive year under an interim coach.
"They are some special, special young men to do what they've done," interim Coach John Thompson said. "They're fighters. They're over-comers, they're wonderful, wonderful young men."
Knighten completed 15-of-20 passes for 115 yards and 1 touchdown and rushed for 97 yards more, while Sirgregory Thornton rushed forASU's only other touchdown.
Knighten relieving Kennedy was a move ASU had been poised ot make all month after Kennedy dislocated his left kneecap in a Nov. 30 loss at Western Kentucky. Kennedy practiced all week, but stressed he never felt comfortable. On Sunday, he started, ran two series that ended with punts before giving way to the sophomore from Little Rock.
"Adam Kennedy got us here," Thompson said. "My heart goes out to him, that he was not out there on the field when it ended."
ASU (8-5) held Ball State's Spread offense that averaged 40.1 points per game this season mostly in check other than an 80-yard drive that led to the final score. Thompson's plan was simple: Get to Wenning, the school's all-time leading passer.
Rocky Hayes and Kyle Coleman each sacked Wenning in the first half, five passes were broken up and Qushaun Lee intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter.
Wenning finished 23-of-44 passing for a season-low 215 yards.
"Once we got to the quarterback and gave him a couple of hits, it threw his game off," linebacker Qushaun Lee said. "We got the pressure up front, then he was scrambling for his life back there."