Home team falls short in second half again

The road team has won each year in this series against Arkansas State and Western Kentucky. Despite a good first half, ASU couldn't hold off a Hilltopper second half comeback and loss their first conference game since 2010. Go "Inside" this game story for the latest on your Arkansas State Red Wolves.

It did not seem like much at the time because Arkansas State had this one in hand.

The Red wolves were leading 13-0 in the second half and after stopping Western Kentucky on its first possession, they were driving near midfield.

Then it happened.

On third-and-2 from the ASU 47, Ryan Aplin was sacked for a loss to 9.

On forth-and-11 at the ASU 38. punter Neeley Sullivent sends one off the side of his foot, netting just 14 yards, setting WKU at its 48.

Giving a spark of life, the Hilltoppers (4-1, 1-0) took off and rolled to a 26-13 victory over the Red Wolves in the Sun Belt Conference opener for both teams.

Reserve quarterback James Mauro tossed a pair of second-half touchdown passes and the highly regarded WKU defense shut down ASU in the second half.

ASU finished with 335 yards offense, just 123 in the second half and 48 of that came on the team's final gasp.

"They made some good defensive adjustments, and we didn't adjust well with them,'' said ASU coach Gus Malzahn, "so it was a tough night, especially in the second half."

WKU, which has Kentucky and Southern Miss among its conquests, handed the Red Wolves 13 negative yard plays. Aplin was sacked four times for 32 yards and WKY tackle Quanterus Smith had 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for losses.

"Their defensive line is one of the best in the conference,'' said Malzahn. "We knew that going into the game. We knew we had to run the football to take some pressure off our linemen.''

With a short field WKU scored in eight plays with James Mauro hitting Mitchell Henry with a 1-yard scoring pass.

After an interception, Mauro hit Henry for a 22-yard TD pass and the Red Wolves lead had disappeared in in less than two minutes.

Garrett Schwettman's 22-yard field goal made it 17-13 with 14:10 left. Antonio Andrews added a 2-yard touchdown run with 5:25 left and Schwettman's 27-yard field goal capped the scoring.

The first half was as well as ASU has played against the Hilltoppers in the screwey series where the home team has never won.

The Red Wolves controlled the first half and led 13-0.

Three scoring drives produed points -- 20 and 33-yard field goals by Brian Davis and a 4-yard touchdown pass from Fredi Knighthen to Anthony Kincy with just nine second left in the half.

ASU kept the ball away from WKU's strong running game. The Red Wolves gained 211 yards in the half and held the Toppers to 114, 30 of that coming on the final play of the half.

Time of possession was 18:03 to 11:57 ASU against a team that lived on TOP. No turnovers and just one penalty and a 6 of 11 third-down convesion rate.

"I was ticked that we weren't playing our football, we weren't playnig like WKU plays,'' said Willie Taggert, the Hilltoppers' coach. "We came in and said it wouldn't be easy. I was more upset with the heads bent down. I thought our defense had played well and they only got two field goals and a touchdown ."

"Offensivley we just came out flat ad we needed to get it going. I told them they were the Sun Belt champs for a reason and if you want to be Sun Belt champs you go out and beat them and those guys did it.''

ASU finished with 335 yards offense; WKU 365.

Aplin was 23 of 40 with one interception. David Oku ran 22 times for 79 yards and caught three passes for 27 yards. J.D. McKissic caught 8 passes for 79 yards and Josh Jarboe had five for 42 yards.

Don Jones led the defense with 12 tackles. Nick Nelms, starting for the suspended Q Lee, had nine stops and two for losses. Eddie Porter had seven stops, 1.5 for losses.

The Red Wolves travel to Florida International (1-4, 0-1) on Thursday in a nationally televised game.