Head coaches across college football make it a refrain to treat every game the same. No highs, no lows, just one constant stretch of focus and preparation from the moment one game ends to the kickoff of the next.
Blake Anderson probably preached that bit all the time this season at Arkansas State but 2019 has been anything but standard for the Red Wolves after their head coach’s wife, Wendy, passed away earlier this year. While the team has been playing in her honor just about every game, their final time on the field together probably felt a little more emotional than the others as ASU closed out the year on a high note by beating Florida International 34-26 in a thrilling Camellia Bowl..
Layne Hatcher led the way most of the night for the Red Wolves in one of the best performances of the young bowl season. The freshman quarterback threw for 393 yards and four touchdowns (one INT) while leading the team in rushing at halftime and eventually winding up with 37 on the ground. Top target Omar Bayless was on the other end of most of those passes, winding up with 180 yards and one of those scores — numbers that could have been even better had he not had a few drops on a rainy night in Montgomery.
That combo helped Arkansas State lead the game throughout but FIU did make things interesting down the stretch in the second half. QB James Morgan threw for 312 yards and a touchdown but also tossed a pair of killer interceptions in the fourth quarter to hamper his own efforts. Napoleon Maxwell chipped in with 66 yards and a touchdown on the ground but it wasn’t enough as scoring drives stalled out in the red zone and Jose Borregales was called on to knock in four field goals. The, uh, confident kicker missed a 29 yard chip shot with five minutes to go however, which felt like it was a complete momentum killer for the Panthers after clawing back to make things close late.
Still, it just wasn’t going to be their night either way. Arkansas State was playing for a bit more than just a Camellia Bowl trophy and they got it on Saturday night as one win looked and felt like it meant a lot more to those on the Red Wolves sidelines than any other.