TROY, Ala. -- On a night when the teams combined for 1,068 yards, it was a handful of game-changing defensive plays that keyed Arkansas State University's 50-43 victory over Troy in both teams' Sun Belt Conference opener.
None were as climactic, or strange, as the Red Wolves' stop on the last play.
Troy running back DK Billingsley was tackled at ASU's 8 after a 13-yard reception with 15 seconds left and no timeouts for the Trojans, but Troy left tackle Austin Stidham remained on the ground injured in the backfield. An injury in the last minute of a half results in a 10-second runoff of the clock.
The officials didn't blow the play dead for the injury until six seconds elapsed. After a replay review confirmed the clock had been stopped with nine seconds remaining, a game-ending 10-second runoff was enforced as Red Wolves players and coaches stormed the field in celebration.
"You're just kind of holding your breath, expecting somebody to make a play," ASU Coach Blake Anderson said. "I don't think anybody expected it to end up like it did with a guy on the ground and the clock to run out, but I'm glad they didn't snap it again.
"I thought for sure there was gonna be one second on the clock and [Troy quarterback Kaleb Barker] was gonna get one more play -- and knowing that dude, he would've found somebody."
The final box score resembled that of a video game. ASU (3-2, 1-0 Sun Belt) put up 558 yards of offense -- including 455 passing -- while Troy (2-2, 0-1 Sun Belt) had 510 yards. The teams also combined for six turnovers, four of them by ASU.
But key defensive plays were sprinkled throughout for the Red Wolves.
Logan Wescott's scoop-and-score fumble return in the first quarter gave ASU a 14-0 lead. In the fourth quarter, Tajhea Chambers' tackle in the end zone for a safety and 47-43 edge was followed by B.J. Edmonds' interception on Troy's next possession with 5:12 remaining in the game.
ASU also sprinkled in a few big stops in the red zone, forcing Troy to kick field goals from 20, 22 and 22 yards.
"I don't really care about the yardage between the 20s. I'd love to get a short field and that'd be great, but if we make people kick, I feel like we can match, serve and score," Anderson said. "I told the guys, 'Don't get down if they move the ball ... just expect we'll make a play,' and that's really what we did.
"It was enough. It wasn't beautiful, but it was enough."
The tone for a seesaw affair was set in the opening minutes.
On the Red Wolves' first offensive play, redshirt freshman quarterback Layne Hatcher -- who was making his first career start -- threw one up for Omar Bayless down the sideline before the senior wide receiver made a juggling catch over Troy cornerback O'shai Fletcher and took off for the house. Bayless finished with 10 catches for 213 yards.
Moments later on Troy's drive, Barker had the ball slip out of his hand while trying to make pass, and Wescott, a senior nickel back, scooped it up and returned it for a 40-yard touchdown.
Three minutes and 18 seconds into the game, the Red Wolves were in front 14-0.
"I was kind of nervous coming in," Wescott said. "But that play jump-started me for the rest of the game."
Troy marched down the field on the ensuing possession and kicked a 20-yard field goal to make it 14-3. On the kickoff, ASU junior running back DJ Chatman muffed the ball while attempting a fair catch, and Troy recovered at ASU's 29. Barker hit on a touchdown pass on the next play, and in less than 15 seconds of game action, ASU's 14-0 lead became 14-10 with 8:33 to play in the opening quarter.
The Red Wolves answered on the next drive when Hatcher connected with senior receiver Kirk Merritt for a 14-yard touchdown pass over the middle on a third and 4 to go up 21-10.
Early in the second quarter, a second fumble by Chatman -- this time on a second and 10 at the Trojans' 46 -- led to another Troy touchdown, cutting the ASU lead to 21-17 with 11:40 left before halftime. After that sequence, each team came away with points on its next two possessions, and the game was tied 31-31 at the half.
The Trojans took their first lead on their first drive of the third quarter with a 22-yard field goal. The Red Wolves regained the lead with a 7-yard rushing touchdown by senior running back Jamal Jones, putting ASU up 38-34 with 7:50 on the clock.
That capped a seven-play, 75-yard drive that was kept alive thanks to a fake punt pass call on a fourth and 7 near midfield, which produced a 15-yard completion from senior punter Cody Grace to junior receiver Brandon Bowling.
"We've been practicing it since about Week 7 last year," Anderson said. "It just hasn't been the right time to call it. It needed to be the right circumstance, the right time, and I felt like tonight was."
One of the biggest swings came late in the third quarter with ASU holding a 38-37 lead. After a three and out by the Trojans, Bayless broke free and blocked a punt, allowing ASU to set up shop deep in Troy territory. On the next play, Hatcher connected with junior receiver Jonathan Adams for a 32-yard touchdown pass, and the Red Wolves took a 45-37 lead with 1:52 to play in the quarter.
Anderson said Bayless isn't normally in on punt block plays like that.
"He was in there for exactly what he did," Anderson said, "because I knew when he got free, he'd make the play."
More big swings for the Red Wolves came in the fourth quarter, despite two interceptions by Hatcher.
After Hatcher short-armed a deep pass toward the end zone for Bayless that was picked off at the Red Wolves' 1, Chambers, a junior linebacker, broke into the Trojans' backfield and stuffed Billingsley for a safety, putting ASU up 47-43 with 8:41 to play.
"My first intention was I was going downhill no matter what," Chambers said. "The A-gap just opened up, and I just hit it. It's just instincts right there."
Hatcher finished 25-of-35 passing for 440 yards.
"Definitely some ups and some downs," Hatcher said of his first start. "Started hot, went on a good little roll to start, but can't put my team in those situations [in the fourth quarter]. I got to be better, and I owe those guys more than what I gave them with those interceptions."
Sports on 09/29/2019
Print Headline: Time disappears in ASU's victory