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Arkansas State played inspired football

Red Wolves blowout UNLV after surprise reunion with Coach Anderson.

Arkansas State v Georgia Southern Photo by Todd Bennett/Getty Images

Some moments are simply bigger than what happens between the hash marks.

The Red Wolves experienced one of them.

Arkansas State won their first game of the 2019 season with a 43-17 victory over host UNLV. In hindsight, the Rebels were playing from behind before even taking the field.

On a toasty night in Las Vegas, hours before kickoff, the Arkansas State team was in a team meeting when head coach Blake Anderson entered. Anderson had been away from the team after the tragic loss of his wife, Wendy a few weeks ago.

Interim coach David Duggan had stAte ready to roll.

But, this video should tell you all you need to know...

Game over.

After a victory, it’s pretty boilerplate for players to declare that they just wanted the win more.

Plain and simple: Arkansas State just seemed like they were playing for the Andersons. Playing for more up and down the roster.

All-phase win

It didn’t take stAte long to assert themselves.

On the third play from scrimmage, Jeremy Smith intercepted a pinballed Armani Rogers pass and ran 35 yards for a touchdown for a very early 7-0 Arkansas State lead.

The offense expanded the lead by halftime to 23-3 on the strength of a couple strong drives on the ground with running backs Marcel Murray and Ryan Graham leading the way on consecutive touchdown drives.

Graham broke 100 yards rushing on the day to give the Red Wolves one more offensive weapon to count on during the rest of the season.

The defense gave Rogers all he could handle.

Outside of a 16-play, 64-yard field goal drive, UNLV could only 34 yards on 26 plays.

After quarterback Logan Bonner (22-for-37, 284 yards, three total touchdowns) found Kirk Merritt for his first touchdown of the season, the defense then stuffed Rogers on fourth down on UNLV’s first possession of the second half to erase any doubt who was walking out with a win.

Omar Bayless would add a 71-yard touchdown reception to continue to stock his early-season highlight reel. The senior has 16 catches, 281 yards (third in all of FBS) and five touchdowns (tied for first in all of FBS) in just his first two games of the season.

Next up

It is unclear what the week of practice will be like with Blake Anderson back.

Football is an emotional game for many. And with so many players, coaches and staff that seemed to genuinely connect with Wendy, Blake and the rest of the Andersons, Saturday night was a cathartic experience.

Football continues with quite the on-field test. They will be underdogs between the hash marks. Huge underdogs.

The schedule says “Georgia” ahead of them for this Saturday.

No matter what, they have quite the family in Jonesboro behind them...