La'Damian Webb rushed for 163 yards and a touchdown as South Alabama was able to fend off a late comeback attempt by Arkansas State and hold on for a 21-14 win Saturday night at Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile, Ala.
The Red Wolves had chances to put more points on the board, but three times had to settle for field-goal tries. ASU was dismal offensively on third down as well, converting just 2 of 13 conversion attempts.
"Offensively, we had five drives where we had the ball in their territory and we came away with zero points," ASU Coach Butch Jones said during a postgame radio interview. "We weren't able to execute with that field position."
On its opening offensive drive, Arkansas State got a 36-yard field goal from Dominic Zvada. The lead would not last long as the Jaguars responded with a touchdown less than two minutes later on a 13-yard touchdown run from Webb.
Webb set up the score with a 60-yard run that moved the ball to the Red Wolves' 12. It was his 15th rushing touchdown of the season.
The defensive units for both teams tightened up after the early scores and the punters had a busy remainder of the first half. ASU had an opportunity to cut the lead with 5:51 left in the second quarter, but Zvada pushed a 39-yard field-goal attempt wide.
South Alabama was able to gain the momentum heading into halftime, scoring a touchdown a 20-yard pass from Carter Bradley to Jamaal Pritchett with seven seconds remaining in the first half to put the Jaguars up 14-3. The scoring drive was kept alive by a successful fake punt that moved the ball into Red Wolves territory.
The South Alabama coaching staff was not sure if Bradley would be available for the game after suffering a knee injury two weeks ago against Louisiana-Lafayettea that forced him to miss last week's game at Troy.
Those concerns were put to rest early Saturday as Bradley started and looked sharp. He completed 19 of 25 passes for 145 yards and 2 touchdowns.
ASU received the ball to start the second half and came out throwing. Jaylen Raynor completed a 17-yard pass to Corey Rucker to start the drive, then followed that with a 24-yard completion to Courtney Jackson a play later.
Raynor finished 15 of 28 for 186 yards and a touchdown with one interception. He was also sacked four times as the Jaguars defense pressured the freshman quarterback heavily throughout the game.
The drive eventually stalled out, but Zvada was able to connect on a 44-yard field goal to trim the Jaguars' lead to 14-6 with 12:55 left in the third quarter. The inability to finish drives off in the end zone forced the Red Wolves to play from behind for the majority of the contest.
"When you play as talented a team as South Alabama, everything is magnified," Jones said. "They scored touchdowns, we had to kick field goals. We had very few three-and-outs offensively, we just were not able to capitalize on the field position."
On the first offensive possession of the second half for South Alabama following the field goal from Zvada, the Jaguars responded with an impressive drive that ended with a 24-yard touchdown pass from Bradley to Pritchett with 8:01 remaining in the third.
The drive covered 53 yards on nine plays and took 4:40 off the clock, giving South Alabama a 21-6 advantage. That score would hold until late in the fourth quarter when the Red Wolves were forced to get aggressive while attempting to get back into contention.
Facing fourth and 8 with less than four minutes left in the game, Raynor uncorked a fade pass deep down the left sideline and Jeff ' was able to make a difficult catch for the touchdown. A successful 2-point conversion attempt on a quarterback draw by Raynor cut the Jaguars' lead to 21-14 with 3:39 remaining.
Following the score by Foreman, the Red Wolves defense was able to rise to the occasion and force a three and out. Nate Martey had a tackle for a loss on the possession, one of three TFLs the interior defensive lineman had in the game.
It appeared ASU would regain possession with more than two minutes left on the clock and a chance to tie or win the game. But freshman Reed Linder was called for roughing the punter as he attempted to block the punt. That gave the Jaguars a first down and allowed South Alabama to run out the remainder of the clock and salt away the victory.
"Disappointed in our special teams, particularly are punt return unit," Jones said. "We give up an unnecessary fake punt so we basically give them seven points. They run a double move right before halftime and then we have a roughing the punter at the end of the game, which is [bad] judgment."
With two games left in the regular season, ASU will need to win at least one in order to be bowl-eligible for the first time since 2019. Texas State travels to Jonesboro next Saturday in the home finale for the Red Wolves. They then close the regular season Nov 25 at Marshall.
"A lot of good things to move forward on, but also a lot of learning lessons in terms of why did we come up short and these are the reasons why," Jones said. "We have a prideful group of guys and we'll bounce back."