With the exception of the final score, an A-State football player being taken off the field in an ambulance and a sparse crowd, the Red Wolves game against Coastal Carolina on Thursday night at Centennial Bank Stadium was delightful.

You couldn’t have asked for better weather at a more beautiful venue on a perfect October evening.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t been to a Red Wolves football game since many of the enhancements have been made to the stadium. The additions, including two cascading water features, have dramatically improved the ambiance of the venue – outdoors where football should be played, not in a dome.

If you saw me at the game, you wouldn’t have thought I’d be rooting for the Red Wolves. (Justice of the Peace Josh Longmire, our neighbor, sure gave me the stink eye.) That’s because my future stepson-in-law is a 2013 graduate of Coastal Carolina, which is in Conway, S.C., a mere 10 minutes from the beach and surrounded by more than 90 of the finest golf courses in the country there and in nearby Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Greg had purchased front-row seats on the Coastal Carolina side and bought me a bright teal T-shirt to wear to the game. It had Coastal Carolina in bold white letters and an angry bird on the front. The team’s mascot is a rooster called a Chanticleer. It’s a strange name and difficult for most people to pronounce – at least for me anyway.

What’s easy for the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers is football. They are a fine-oiled machine when it comes to marching down the football field the past two seasons. That’s why they are ranked No. 15 in the nation, and may move up after Thursday’s night drubbing of Arkansas State – 52-20.

I was somewhat shocked at the number of Red Wolf season-ticket holders who failed to show up for Thursday night’s game. Yeah, I know. Thursday nights are tough for a lot of working folks to attend a 4-hour football game. The seats on the Red Wolves side looked mostly empty, including those in the skyboxes. The student side, where the visiting team and the Red Wolves Band is staged, seemed to have more fans in attendance.

What I was most proud of, however, is that the Red Wolves never gave up, despite trailing 31-0 in the third quarter. It looked like it was going to be a shutout until ASU cornerback Samy Johnson was injured on a play. It took nearly 20 minutes for him to be carted off the field on a stretcher to an awaiting ambulance. Fortunately, all his tests had come back normal Thursday night.

But his injury may have been what sparked the Red Wolves – that and quarterback Layne Hatcher, who came into the game for injured starting quarterback James Blackman. With Hatcher behind center, the Red Wolves scored three touchdowns, making the game more interesting and waking up the Chanticleers like a sleeping giant. (I’m still scratching my head about the Red Wolves’ failed 2-point conversion try. The math didn’t add up.)

Suffice it to say, Coastal Carolina went on to score three more touchdowns in the rout.

Despite the loss, I was proud of the Red Wolves. They didn’t lie down in the face of the ever-increasing odds against them. It should also be noted that a nationally ranked No. 15 team was the highest the Red Wolves had ever faced in Jonesboro.

What I also appreciated about Centennial Bank Stadium was the family atmosphere. There were cordoned-off areas when fans could imbibe, but most of the stadium was alcohol-free. I saw lots of families who took their children to the game. I’m sure the $5 entry fee had something to do with that, but it was refreshing to see so many youngsters having such a good time despite their team’s undoing. I suspect they will be Red Wolves fans for the rest of their lives.

I know I will be.

Being an alum of the University of Kansas, I know well the slings and arrows suffered by fans during football season. The years of winning seasons are few and far between for Jayhawk football fans, but, like Centennial Bank Stadium, there’s nothing that beats a beautiful fall day at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, even though I have no idea who David Booth is. It was always just Kansas Memorial Stadium when I was a college student there. Big money contributors change the names of sports venues these days.

I also know what it’s like to have my team trounced by the Chanticleers. On Sept. 10, the Jayhawks traveled to Conway, S.C., to take on Coastal Carolina. Understand that the Jayhawks are a Big 12 team and the Chanticleers are in the Sun Belt Conference. The Chanticleers destroyed the Jayhawks 49-22. In other words, their rooster stomped our mythical bird. Ouch.

I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that the Red Wolves are going to gel soon and make a run during the rest of the season, possibly even making it to a bowl game. I can’t say that about the Jayhawks.

The good news is that basketball season is just around the corner, and that’s a good time to be a Jayhawk fan. I’m confident we’ll see improvement in the Red Wolves men’s basketball program this season as well.

Either way, once a fan, always a fan. It gets in your blood despite the wins or the losses.

Wolves up!

Chris Wessel, editor of The Sun, can be reached at 935-5525, Ext. 250, or cwessel@jonesborosun.com.

Chris Wessel, editor of The Sun, can be reached at 935-5525, Ext. 250, or cwessel@jonesborosun.com.