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Red Wolves put end to eight-game losing streak

by Mitchell Gladstone | November 14, 2021 at 3:33 a.m.

MONROE, La. -- Even from the highest point of Malone Stadium, one couldn't miss Samy Johnson. The junior cornerback walked across the field toward Arkansas State's locker room with an effervescent smile, flanked by teammates and coaches all wanting to embrace him.

Thirty-seven days ago, Johnson was in ambulance, bound for Jonesboro's St. Bernard's Hospital.

Saturday night, he and the rest of the Red Wolves were headed back to Jonesboro with a win.

Johnson's interception on a deep pass from Louisiana-Monroe's Rhett Rodriguez with 20 seconds remaining sealed ASU's 27-24 road victory against the Warhawks, the Red Wolves' first win since their Sept. 4 season opener that snapped an eight-game losing streak. Kicker Blake Grupe drilled a 42-yard go-ahead field goal with 1:17 to play as ASU scored 17 of the game's final 20 points and gave Coach Butch Jones his first Sun Belt Conference victory.

"All this season, our team has been about overcoming, trying to rebound from anything that's set us back," Johnson said. "I knew I was going to be back out on the field, trying to get back to my teammates, trying to help us win. ... When I looked back and saw the ball, natural instincts kicked in. There's a point where you've just got to be like, 'Alright, don't let this [long play] happen.' "

The Red Wolves had control for nearly the entire first half despite leaving points on the board as Layne Hatcher tossed a pair of poor interceptions. They led 10-0 and had outgained Louisiana-Monroe 288-48 when the Warhawks fielded a punt at their own 37 with 88 seconds until halftime.

Over the next 6 1/2 minutes, the Warhawks (4-6, 2-5 Sun Belt Conference) ripped off 21 straight points with Malik Jackson breaking off a 75-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage of the second half.

Jackson, who scored the Warhawks' touchdown prior to halftime, tallied 166 yards on 22 carries to account for nearly half of the hosts' offense.

"Football is a game of momentum," Jones said. "They had 372 yards [of total offense] and 128 of them came on two plays. ... We didn't play our best at different points of the game. But we found a way to win a football game."

Hatcher didn't let his early mistakes rattle him. ASU (2-8, 1-5) immediately answered Louisiana-Monroe's third consecutive score with a seven-play series, working a perfect scramble drill with wideout Te'Vailance Hunt for a 22-yard touchdown that brought the Red Wolves within four at 21-17.

Although the Warhawks stretched things back out the next series, knocking home a 32-yard field goal, ASU's defense locked down, giving Hatcher chances to help the Red Wolves win it late.

He hit Hunt for a second touchdown with 7:56 remaining on a 20-yard back-shoulder fade, and when the Red Wolves got the ball at their 20 with just under four minutes left, Hatcher helped them advance it 55 yards -- connecting on three of his 34 completions -- to put ASU at the ULM 25-yard line and set up Grupe for the eventual game-winner.

And with his 59th career make, the senior kicker became the Red Wolves' all-time leader in field goals.

"[That] was really, really awesome for him," Hatcher said of Grupe's history-making kick. "I didn't know until right as it went through, somebody came and told me on the sidelines."

There were pictures on the field post game and plenty of smiles to go around the ASU locker room afterward.

Nine weeks without a win was long enough.

"The more you invest, the harder it is to surrender," Jones said. "Just the look in their faces and the excitement ... to sing the fight song, those are the things that you'll remember."

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