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A-State feels relief after its 1st victory

by Mike Harley | September 18, 2023 at 2:39 a.m.
Arkansas State quarterback J.T. Shrout (5) hands off the ball to running back Zak Wallace (21) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023, in Norman, Okla. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

JONESBORO -- "Relief" was the word used by Arkansas State running back Ja'Quez Cross following the Red Wolves' 31-7 victory over Stony Brook on Saturday night at Centennial Bank Stadium.

After suffering blowout losses to Oklahoma then Memphis in the first two weeks of the season, Arkansas State took advantage of the opportunity to face an opponent from the FCS.

Cross spearheaded a rushing attack that finished the night with 345 yards, accounting for 167 yards and two touchdowns on his own.

The Red Wolves defense also produced an impressive showing, keeping Stony Brook off the scoreboard until the fourth quarter when the game was already well in-hand.

"It's an amazing feeling. A feeling we've been starving for for quite some time," linebacker Melique Straker said. "[Stony Brook] had a pretty good key on every play whether it was going to be run or pass. We just kind of exploited that and I think that my focus in on that during the game was pretty high."

A critical area where Arkansas State is still searching for answers is the quarterback position, but it may have gotten closer to a solution in true freshman Jaylen Raynor, who impressed in his season debut against the Seawolves.

With J.T. Shrout nursing an injury and Jaxon Dailey struggling to be effective in his first start, Raynor entered the game late in the third quarter and made the most of his opportunity.

"I was kind of waiting for that question," Coach Butch Jones said with a smile when asked if Raynor would be the starter moving forward. "Just like any week, we'll compete. We should have J.T. back from his injury as well. Whatever player has the best week of practice and gives us the best chance to win against Southern Miss, that will be our quarterback."

With newfound optimism alive and well as the Red Wolves go into Sun Belt play, there are still improvements to be made as the team prepares to welcome the Golden Eagles to Jonesboro this Saturday.

"We have to get a lot better in a hurry playing Southern Miss here next Saturday night," Jones said. "We have to reinvent ourselves this week. We understand the quality of opponent that's going to be coming in here. It's going to be a great challenge. But anytime you win, I think it lends credence to what you're doing. Every week is a test and you either pass or you fail. The only way to pass is to win the football game."

Health will be another concern for Arkansas State as it prepares for the Southern Miss, especially along the defensive line.

Ethan Hassler and Terion Sugick were already out with injuries, and starting defensive tackle Tim Hardiman went down against Stony Brook. His status remains uncertain for the Southern Miss game.

"Right now, our defensive line is kind of decimated with injuries," Jones said. "Tim is a tough individual and so I'll know a little bit more where he is at probably midweek."

Despite the setbacks, Arkansas State found some much needed confidence and momentum in its win against Stony Brook.

"We look forward to next week," Straker said. "Just build off of this. Take all the good things that we did, take out some of the negative things that may have occurred during the game. Try to clean those things up and then also advance on the positive things."

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