Texas State football (2-9 overall, 2-5 Sun Belt) walked away ecstatic following a nail-biter 47-45 win against Arkansas State University Nov. 21 (3-6 overall, 1-5 Sun Belt) led by sophomore quarterback Brady McBride.
With this win, the Bobcats snapped a seven-game losing streak dating back to Sept. 26. The Red Wolves have now lost four games in a row.
Unlike its previous game against the Georgia Southern Eagles, Texas State’s offense came roaring out of the gates as McBride found several gaps in Arkansas State's coverage, eventually capping off the precise six-play drive with a 40-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Javen Banks, putting the Bobcats up 7-0.
Arkansas State's offense showed promise with a few big gains but were unable to get on the scoreboard after its first drive, punting the ball back to the Bobcats.
Texas State did not waste its second opportunity to score, gaining big chunks of yardage but ultimately falling short of a touchdown, settling for three points from a 41-yard field goal from sophomore kicker Seth Keller to increase the lead 10-0.
Arkansas State took its first progressive steps on offense in its second drive, as sophomore quarterback Layne Hatcher’s turn at the helm saw a huge 56-yard completion to sophomore wide receiver Jeff Foreman. The defense would only permit a field goal from junior kicker Blake Grupe to make the game 10-3 in favor of Texas State.
The first quarter ended with a mere two rushing yards for the Bobcats, setting the tone for the rest of the game.
The other half of Arkansas State's quarterback tandem, junior quarterback Logan Bonner, began to pick a part Texas State's secondary in the second quarter. On the Red Wolves' first drive of the second quarter, Bonner quickly found senior wide receiver Jonathan Adams Jr. for a 13-yard touchdown to tie the game 10-10.
Texas State responded almost immediately, as two quick completions for over 10 yards led to a 47-yard touchdown pass from McBride to senior wide receiver Jeremiah Haydel bringing the Bobcats back up 17-10.
The Red Wolves tried to respond; however, the Bobcats forced a fumble after Hatcher was sacked by junior defensive tackle Nico Ezidore. Senior linebacker Markeveon Coleman recovered the fumble for an additional 2 yards at the Arkansas 35-yard line.
Texas State's offense made quick work of the turnover, scoring after a 21-yard completion was followed up by a 14-yard pass from McBride to junior wide receiver Trevis Graham Jr. to double the Bobcat lead at 24-10.
Arkansas State would find a few more large completions before wearing down the Bobcats with its run game. The Red Wolves capped off their drive with a 1-yard touchdown run from junior running back Marcel Murray to close the gap and make it 24-17.
After a three-and-out from the Bobcats, Arkansas State broke down Texas State's defense with large play and a much more cohesive run game. Adams Jr. ripped a Hatcher pass out of the air and away from Texas State's defensive back for a 30-yard touchdown pass, tying the game 24-24.
With just 16 seconds left on the clock, the Bobcats marched the ball up the field and within field goal range with only one second to spare. Keller nailed the 48-yard field goal attempt to end the back-and-forth half at 27-24.
The second half would see just as much high-flying offense and just as little defense. Both teams’ offenses seemed marred by off-rhythm passing or a stifled run game, with the highlight of the third quarter for Texas State being a 59-yard punt from sophomore punter Seamus O’Kelly.
Head Coach Jake Spavital says he knew the game would take offensive resilience and focus down to the last play of the game.
“There is no safe lead with that team,” Spavital said. “There's a reason why they've been conference champions five out of the last nine years...It's gonna go all the way down to the last possession.”
The only score of the third quarter was the biggest in terms of yardage; a deep ball to Foreman turned into a touchdown after the defensive back covering Foreman slipped as he began to trail him downfield. With nothing but green grass ahead of him, Foreman finished off the play with an 84-yard touchdown, bringing the Red Wolves into the lead for the first time 31-27.
Defensive mistakes were prevalent on both sides but were particularly a thorn in the side of Texas State, which often gave up significant yards-after-catch and missed key tackles in run defense.
“We did have a lot of mistakes,” Spavital said. “I know the defense isn’t in a good spot, but they’re happy we won this game. We still got a lot of work, it’s a completely different defense than what started the first game of the season.”
Texas State’s response to the defensive slip-up was a methodical drive all the way up to the Arkansas 4-yard line. Instead of going for a field goal on fourth down, the Bobcats went for it, but McBride threw an incomplete pass to junior wide receiver Marcell Barbee and turned the ball over on downs.
Arkansas State's next drive saw it march up the field all the way from its own 4-yard line. Carrying the drive into the fourth quarter was another touchdown pass from Bonner, this time to senior tight end Giles Amos, leaving the Bobcats down 38-27.
For a moment, it looked like Texas State would lose another game in which it led early, but unlike several games this season, the Bobcats had a strong fourth-quarter comeback.
The game was now in the hands of McBride, who played a clean and precise game up to this point. McBride withstood and thrived under the pressure in the last quarter, starting the comeback with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Barbee to make it 38-34 in favor of Arkansas.
The defense held up and gave McBride another chance to continue the comeback with about 10 minutes left in the game. McBride held up his end of the bargain with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Graham Jr., his second receiving touchdown of the game, giving the Bobcats the lead 41-38.
Arkansas roared back off several runs by senior running back Jamal Jones, including a 19-yard move where he evaded and spun around several Texas State defenders and a 1-yard touchdown run to flip the lead to 45-41 with 1:43 left on the clock.
McBride grew into his role during the final drive, completing five passes in a row to get the ball to the 6-yard line. Freshman running back Calvin Hill then scored the winning touchdown with only 34 seconds left on the clock as he crossed the plane to bring Texas State up 47-45.
Due to a missed extra point by Keller, the Red Wolves had a chance to win the game with a field goal instead of tying it. Luckily for Texas State, Arkansas State only gained 2 yards in four plays and turned the ball over on downs, allowing the Bobcats to kneel out the game.
McBride passed for 32-45 for 443 yards and five touchdowns, tying the school record for touchdowns in a game and coming second in total yardage for a game, only behind Tyler Jones’ 475 yards and five touchdowns against the University of the Incarnate Word in 2016.
When asked about McBride’s success, Spavital emphasized the calm leadership the quarterback showed in his passing and game management.
“I was really pleased with Brady McBride,” Spavital said. “You see how he managed the game. He had to throw around a lot, based on how it was turning into a shootout. He wasn’t careless with the ball, he was being very smart with his check downs and not forcing anything. He let the game come to him.”
Arkansas State's two quarterbacks totaled 462 passing yards, with Bonner and Hatcher going 17-26 for 208 yards and 10-22 for 254 yards, respectively.
Texas State only totaled 62 yards on the ground, 49 of them and the lone rushing touchdown by Hill.
Haydel led the way in receiving yards with 94 but once again stood out for his kick returns, totaling 78 yards in returns, most of which came from a 41-yard kickoff return which set up the winning drive.
Haydel expresses relief at the prospect of winning a close game, a luxury the team could not enjoy in many games this season.
“It feels great,” Haydel said. “It kinda felt like [the UTSA game] there for a moment. Your heartbeat is pumping and racing. You don’t know what’s gonna happen. You just have to focus on your job and get the job done.”
Spavital credited the team’s resiliency for the late-season win during a disappointing campaign.
“When your back’s against the wall and everybody's against you, you just keep showing up and you keep fighting because that's the only thing you can do,” Spavital said. “And they do, they come to work. We've had great practice. [A] lot of 1-9 teams fold. This team doesn't.”
Next up, Texas State will face Coastal Carolina University in its last game of the season at 2 p.m. on Nov. 28 at home.