A-State rallies to snap losing streak

Arkansas State's Corey Rucker sprints past a Louisiana-Monroe defender after a reception during Saturday's game in Monroe, La. Rucker caught seven passes for 103 yards and also scored a rushing touchdown in ASU's 27-24 victory.

MONROE, La. — Arkansas State's football team hit the road with an eight-game losing streak and came home with a victory.

ASU's Blake Grupe kicked a 42-yard field goal for the lead with 1:17 remaining in Saturday's game and Samy Johnson intercepted a pass in the final minute to seal the Red Wolves' 27-24 victory over Louisiana-Monroe.

The Red Wolves (2-8, 1-5 Sun Belt) scored the final 10 points to win for the first time since their Sept. 4 opener against Central Arkansas, snapping their longest losing streak since 2000. They also extended their winning streak in the series with the Warhawks (4-6, 2-5) to 12 games.

First-year ASU head coach Butch Jones said he was happy for everyone involved with the program.

"I'm happy for the fans tonight, our parents, our players, our coaches, especially our players. They've invested so much, they haven't wavered," Jones said. "To have a good, long bus ride home with the victory, just seeing the look in their faces, that meant more to me than anything. It's never about me, it's about this football program and moving forward."

ASU led 10-0 in the first half, then fell behind 21-10 as ULM scored its first touchdown in the final minute of the second quarter and tacked on two more in the first five minutes of the third.

Layne Hatcher threw two touchdown passes to Te'Vailance Hunt as the Red Wolves rallied to tie the score at 24. Hatcher finished the day 34-of-50 for 444 yards passing, leading ASU to 538 yards of total offense.

ASU's defense also had one of its best days while holding ULM to 372 total yards. The Red Wolves had 14 tackles for loss and six quarterback sacks, their most since a 2019 game against Georgia Southern.

Jones said the Red Wolves created adversity for themselves at times — the offense was 6-of-21 on third and fourth downs combined — but found a way to gut through the game.

"Just really proud of our players," Jones said. "With everything they've been through, we found a way to win the football game and make the critical plays that we needed."

ASU kept ULM off the scoreboard until the final minute of the first half. Malik Jackson broke a 53-yard run to put the Warhawks on the ASU 10 and scored on third and goal from the 3 with 33 seconds remaining.

The Red Wolves' 10-7 halftime lead disappeared on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter. Jackson burst through a hole off tackle and sprinted 75 yards to the end zone to give ULM its first lead, 14-10.

ASU turned the ball over on downs at midfield, the Warhawks stopping Lincoln Pare for no gain on fourth and 1, and ULM capitalized in seven plays. Rhett Rodriguez threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Jevin Frett and the Warhawks led 21-10 with 10:01 left in the third quarter.

"You have to fight through the natural adversities of a game and we believed we were going to win the football game," Jones said.

ASU got back in the game with a seven-play, 76-yard touchdown drive. Hatcher found Johnnie Lang for a 12-yard completion on third-and-2 from the ASU 32, then connected with Adam Jones for 32 yards the ULM 24.

Hatcher eluded the pass rush on third-and-8 from the 22, rolling to his right. He threw across his body to Hunt, who was crossing in the end zone, for a touchdown pass to pull the Red Wolves within 21-17 with 7:26 left in the third quarter.

"It was a broken play and he was coming back across," Hatcher said. "You always have to be careful throwing back across your body, so you want to double check and look back. You don't want to just put it up for grabs easily. I wanted to take my time seeing it before I threw it."

The Warhawks drove to ASU's 15 before settling for Calum Sutherland's 32-yard field goal and a 24-17 lead.

Each team punted twice before the Red Wolves took over at their 23 with 11:46 left in the game. Hatcher got the Red Wolves moving with passes of 22 and 17 yards to Hunt and Corey Rucker, respectively.

Alan Lamar caught a 10-yard pass on fourth-and-2 from the ULM 30. Two plays later, Hunt beat single coverage to catch Hatcher's 20-yard touchdown pass and tie the score at 24 with 7:56 left in the game.

Jones said Lamar wasn't expected to play Saturday.

"Here's an individual who was in the hospital last night, was not supposed to play, has a cyst in his throat, can barely breathe, gets it drained and gets cleared by the doctors," Jones said of Lamar, who broke the Sun Belt single-season record for kickoff return yards Saturday and now has 1,186 this year. "His mother drives five hours to drive him here to play in the game and take the opening kickoff."

After tying the score at 24, the Red Wolves held the Warhawks without a first down on their next drive. ASU punted the ball back, but forced another three-and-out to take over at its 20 with 3:58 left in the game.

A 21-yard completion to Rucker got the Red Wolves moving. On third-and-4 from the ASU 49, Hatcher found Dahu Green over the middle for 19 yards to the ULM 32. Three plays netted seven yards before Grupe came on to kick the 59th field goal of his career, setting an ASU record.

A 21-yard pass put ULM on the ASU 44 in the final minute. Rodriguez threw deep two plays later, only to have Johnson come up with an interception at the Red Wolves' 8-yard line with 20 seconds remaining.

"I was with him the whole play and then when I looked back and saw the ball, I guess just natural instincts kicked in," Johnson said. "There's a point where you just have to be like, all right, don't let this happen, you've got to make a play for us to win."

Johnson was taken from the field in an ambulance Oct. 2 after he was injured in the third quarter against Coastal Carolina. Jones said it was fitting for Johnson to come up with the big play at the end, praising his competitive spirit and attitude.

"All this season, our team has been about overcoming, trying to come back from anything that set us back," Johnson said. "I knew this time around I was going be back out on the field, trying to get back to my teammates, trying to help us win."

Rucker finished with 103 yards receiving on seven catches and also scored on a 9-yard run in the first quarter. Hunt caught eight passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Pare was ASU's leading rusher with 73 yards on 22 carries.

Jackson led ULM with 166 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 22 carries. End Joe Ozougwu led ASU's defense with eight tackles, including 3.5 for loss and a sack, and cornerback Denzel Blackwell had his first career interception.

ASU scored on its second possession, finishing an 80-yard drive as Rucker scored on a 9-yard run with 11:15 left in the first quarter. Grupe's 30-yard field goal in the second quarter gave the Red Wolves a 10-0 lead.

The Red Wolves play their last road game of the season next Saturday at Georgia State, where kickoff is set for 1 p.m. (CST). ASU closes at home Nov. 27 against Texas State.

"We'll enjoy this trip and then we've got to go play one of the best teams in the conference on the road in Atlanta next week," Jones said. "We're going to enjoy it. Again, I'm just proud of the way the players stepped up."