Trailing by three with 38 seconds remaining in Manhattan, KS, Arkansas State quarterback Layne Hatcher knew exactly where to look to complete the upset. Without much room to meander around the pocket, Hatcher fired in the direction of the star of the afternoon, Jonathan Adams Jr. The reliable wide receiver corralled the contested catch in the middle of the end zone and secured his third touchdown grab of the day — and the most important of his career. Thirty-eight ticks of the clock passed and Adams became the hero of one of the best finishes in Arkansas State history.
Arkansas State stormed into the Little Apple and pulled off a massive 35-31 upset over Kansas State. The Red Wolves erased a 21-7 deficit and scored four of the final five touchdowns of the afternoon, becoming the second Sun Belt team to defeat a Big 12 opponent on the second college football Saturday of 2020.
Everything started and finished with Jonathan Adams, who is making an early impression as a Biletnikoff Award candidate. With last week’s leading receiver Dahu Green sidelined for the game, Adams was tasked with stepping up his production for the Arkansas State offense. Three of his eight catches resulted in touchdowns, and he repeatedly out-muscled Wildcat defenders on his receptions in a 98-yard performance. Adams also hauled in one of the most athletic catches we’ll see all season, and though it was out of bounds and didn’t count, it shows a glimpse of the senior’s potential.
Disaster struck early in many areas, but Arkansas State was able to withstand many miscues. On the team’s opening drive, a missed assignment on the punting unit led to a blocked punt — which was immediately followed up with Kansas State’s first touchdown of the game. Bonner then threw an interception at midfield in the second quarter and the Wildcats cashed in for seven more points. Head coach Blake Anderson even opted to risk his second onside kick attempt in two weeks, and provided Kansas State a short field on a second quarter possession. But the Red Wolves’ defense kept the Wildcats from total control.
Trailing 21-14, Arkansas State missed out on two valuable chances to tie the game or slice the deficit. In two-consecutive drives, the Red Wolves landed within the Kansas State 10-yard line and came up empty-handed. On the 9-yard line, Bonner fumbled shortly after the snap minutes before halftime. On the opening drive of the third quarter, Blake Grupe missed a 38-yard field goal. But at this point, one thing was clear — Arkansas State was outplaying Kansas State, and cutting mistakes could result in a Red Wolves win.
One defensive stop and a 58-yard run by running back Lincoln Pare later, Arkansas State was back in a similar position inside the Kansas State red zone. With Hatcher in on this particular possession, the sophomore quarterback fired an 8-yard strike to Giles Amos to lock the score at 21-21.
Already using a 2-quarterback system and calling a surprise onside kick, Anderson continued to play a bold brand of football as underdogs in Big 12 country. He called a fake punt in Kansas State territory on 4th and 5, and thanks to a pass interference call on the Wildcat defender, it worked. The following play, he ran an end around to wide receiver Roshauud Paul, and Paul turned into a passer. His target was none other than his quarterback, and Bonner made a leaping grab in traffic for a 17-yard gain. Two plays later, a connection from Bonner to Adams gave the Red Wolves their first lead of the game with 12 minutes to go.
Kansas State allowed 21 unanswered, but Chris Klieman’s team still had a response awaiting. Going for a 4th and 2 in their own territory was a risky move by the Wildcats, but it paid off. After gaining momentum from the conversion, Kansas State handed the Red Wolves defense a heavy dose of running backs, and Harry Trotter and Deuce Vaughn captained the Wildcats on a game-tying possession. Kansas State appeared destined to take the game back and after a stop and field goal, the Wildcats led 31-28 heading into Arkansas State’s final stand.
While Adams was excelling as Arkansas State’s top receiving threat, the Red Wolves earned a strong boost from the running game on its last possession. On three attempts, running back Jamal Jones racked up 32 yards to place the Red Wolves within field goal range. A heartbreaking injury to Kansas State strong safety Wayne Jones delayed the possession substantially, as the injury cart made an entrance to remove Jones from the field. Two plays after action resumed, Hatcher delivered the game-winner to Adams in the end zone.
Hatcher only dropped back for eight passes on Saturday, but six of those were completions and two of those completions ended up as touchdowns. Bonner received the majority of passing reps, finishing 17/28 for 204 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Red Wolves not only held the advantage in the passing game, 330-283, but they out-gained Kansas State 159-91. While mistakes doomed Arkansas State from leading at halftime, the team played disciplined football and committed zero penalties through the opening three quarters — offsetting the fact that the Red Wolves did not record a single takeaway and lost the turnover battle 2-0.
The win in Manhattan is Arkansas State’s first Big 12 victory since it defeated Texas A&M in its 2008 opener. The Red Wolves, in pursuit of their 10th consecutive winning season, improve to 1-1 after a difficult opening schedule featuring Memphis and Kansas State. With momentum on its side from this memorable showing, Arkansas State will look to re-enter the win column next Saturday in its first home game of the season in a matchup with Central Arkansas of the FCS.