Arkansas State stuns Texas A&M

Posted on Sunday, August 31, 2008

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas — This time, the silence was deafening.

Arkansas State quarterback Corey Leonard shushed the Kyle Field throng with a late touchdown pass and linebacker Ben Owens followed up with a fumble recovery and interception as the Red Wolves upset Texas A&M; 18-14 before 78, 691 on Saturday night.

It was the second-largest season-opening crowd at Kyle Field, known for its yell leaders and orchestrated din, but Leonard’s ’ 15-yard pass to Kevin Jones with 4: 39 left quieted everyone but the handful of Arkansas State fans who made the trip.

“This victory does so much more than just motivate this team,” Leonard said. “It motivates the university and our fan base back in Jonesboro and northeast Arkansas. It’s just huge. I’ve been saying for a couple weeks now that I’ve always felt that this team, since I’ve been here, if the guys had just taken that step and got over that hump. Tonight we played against adversity. We won.” It was the first victory over a BCS school for Arkansas State, which debuted its Red Wolves mascot by notching possibly the biggest victory in program history.

“Obviously this is huge, this is a lot of fun,” Coach Steve Roberts said “As I told our football team, I don’t want them to diminish the way they feel about this at all. But I want them to use it to build off of toward even higher goals and that’s winning the conference championship and representing the Sun Belt in a bowl game.” Leonard’s winning pass hit Jones in the front of the end zone near the right pylon to put Arkansas State ahead 15-14. It was the Red Wolves’ first touchdown of the game and, with a blitzing defensive back in his face, Leonard heard the outcome more than he saw it.

“It was kind of a screen go where we fake the screen with the outside receiver and two inside guys, did a fake block and took off,” Leonard said. “They had a blitzer come free. I let the ball go early and I kind of listened to the crowd. When it got silent. I knew that we had scored. It was nice.” Leonard’s attempt for a twopoint conversion fell incomplete, but it turned out not to matter.

Owens grabbed Mike Goodson’s fumble at the Texas A&M; 47 with 2: 47 left after Khari Mays stripped the ball, and Josh Arauco kicked his third field goal, from 37 yards, with 1: 12 to go.

Owens ended the Aggies ’ last-chance possession with his interception of Stephen McGee’s pass with 7 seconds left, and it was the Red Wolves’ chance to make noise as they celebrated their first season-opening road victory since joining college football’s highest level in 1992.

Arkansas State won its seasonopening home game against Army in 2006.

After a rowdy postgame meeting, players leaned or dashed out of the locker room, cell phones in hand, to report the news to friends and family at home.

“I’m very excited about starting the Red Wolf era with a victory like this tonight,” Roberts said, giving credit to the coaches and the injured players and scout team players who couldn’t make the trip.

It was a rough start for firstyear Texas A&M; Coach Mike Sherman as the Aggies ended a run of victories in 20 consecutive home openers.

“Not what you plan for obviously,” Sherman said. “Didn’t expect to be sitting up here and having lost a football game today. Fully expected to win.... There wasn’t anything that they did we hadn’t prepared for. But they did theirs better than we did ours. So they win the football game.” The go-ahead drive began after the Aggies’ Richie Bean had his second missed field goal with 9: 30 left in the game. The Red Wolves went 80 yards and overcame what could have been a lethal penalty when receiver Jahbari McLennan was called for a clip after a fourth-down conversion sneak by Leonard.

But, on fourth and 14, Leonard completed a 15-yard pass to McLennan to set the Red Wolves up at the 21. One play later Leonard hit Jones for the lead.

“I always wanted to come back and play somewhere in Texas,” said McLennan, a native of Austin, Texas, who transferred from Trinity Valley Junior College. “My goal was [the University of Texas ] but I made it to Texas A&M.; Just to come in here and get my team downfield.... I made that mistake and I had to come back and make up for it.” Leonard completed 18 of 25 passes for 160 yards and 1 touchdown and tailback Reggie Arnold rushed 21 times for 151 yards. Both said last year’s near upset of No. 4 Texas in the opener was inspiration for Saturday’s victory.

“Last year we went down to Texas and played with those guys for four quarters and a play or two may have decided the game,” Arnold said. “And we told ourselves we were coming to Texas this year to win the ballgame. Our coaches told us if we put our minds to it we can do it. They’re not head and shoulders better than us.” Aggies junior tailback Mike Goodson rushed 24 times for 128 yards and 2 touchdowns, but at halftime the Red Wolves began cheating up their defensive backs and a linebacker and held Goodson to 29 second-half yards.

“That was a big key,” Owens said. “He was sweeping. He was taking lead draws to the outside and we just had to do something about that outside support.” The Aggies led 14-3 to start the second half, but thanks to some big defensive plays, the Red Wolves began to close the gap.

Arkansas State’s Bryan Hall and Brian Flagg sacked McGee for a 17-yard loss on Texas A&M;’s opening possession. Safety M. D. Jennings ended the Aggies’ next drive when he intercepted McGee at the Arkansas State 41.

Arauco’s kicked 29-yard field goal with 5: 28 left in the third quarter and Arkansas State got the ball back on Texas A&M;’s next possession when Marcus Brown stripped Howard Morrow after a reception and Jeremy Gibson recovered at the Aggies 37. Leonard had a 32-yard keeper but Arkansas State settled for another Arauco field goal, of 25 yards, to cut it to 14-9 with 14 seconds left in the third quarter.

Both offenses bogged down and traded punts, and the Red Wolves survived an interference penalty by Jennings on Jordan Peterson’s fair catch when Richie Bean missed a 25-yard field goal with 9: 30 left to set up the winning drive.

Arkansas State drove 60 yards on the game opening possession and scored on Arauco’s 37-yard field goal. Texas A&M; responded with a near effortless, 69-yard drive capped by Goodson’s 9-yard cutback run for a touchdown with 6: 20 left.

The Red Wolves’ next drive stalled on a fumble by Leonard on his fourth and 2 keeper as the ball went over on downs. The Aggies drove to the Red Wolves 15, but Bean missed a 32-yard field goal with 13: 10 left in the half to leave it at 7-3.

After an Arkansas State punt, Texas A&M; cranked up its passing game as McGee had completions of 5, 13, 12 and 16 yards. But it was Goodson who scored as he went in on a 7-yard sprint to the right to make it 14-3 with 4: 23 left.

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