MOBILE, Ala. – Ryan Aplin threw for 213 yards and a touchdown, J.D. McKissic caught 11 passes for 113 yards and Arkansas State edged No. 25 Kent State 17-13 to win the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Sunday night.
Arkansas State’s usually prolific offense struggled against Kent State, but the Aplin-to-McKissic connection and a stingy defense was enough to help the Red Wolves to their first bowl win since joining the Football Bowl Subdivision in 1992.
Kent State was driving late in the game when quarterback Spencer Keith tried to scramble on fourth down and was stopped a few yards short of the marker with 52 seconds left.
Darrell Hazell roamed the Kent State sideline one more time in the Golden Flashes’ first bowl game since 1972. He is leaving the program to take over at Purdue.
Veteran defensive coordinator John Thompson coached the Red Wolves after Gus Malzahn left to take the Auburn job last month. It was the second straight season Arkansas State had to play its bowl game without the coach that led them to a Sun Belt championship – Hugh Freeze left for Mississippi in 2011 before last year’s GoDaddy.com Bowl, which the Red Wolves lost 38-20 to Northern Illinois.
Arkansas State’s offense was dominant during the last half of the regular season, averaging more than 41 points during a seven-game winning streak.
But the Red Wolves had to rely on their defense in this one while the offense slowly warmed up. Kent State took a 7-0 lead on Dri Archer’s 16-yard touchdown run.
David Oku rushed for a tying 10-yard touchdown with 5:40 remaining in the second quarter, and then Aplin hit McKissic for a 31-yard touchdown minutes later to push the Red Wolves ahead 14-7.
Kent State responded with a 42-yard field goal by Freddy Cortez just before halftime. The teams traded field goals in the third quarter, but neither team could score in the fourth.
It was a disappointing end to an otherwise breakthrough season for Kent State. The Golden Flashes set a school record with 11 victories, but they dropped their last two games.