It was a big, big night.
A festive night.
A near perfect evening.
In front of a national audience on ESPNU and a large excited crowd the Red Wolves showed they are serious about defending their Sun Belt Conference title.
By the time it was over, Arkansas State had a 45-23 victory over the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks.
For ASU the stars were many:
-- Quarterback Ryan Aplin, who was 26 of 34 passing for 334 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 60 more and scored on a 44-yard run.
-- Running back David Oku, who scored three touchdowns and ran for 132 yards on 22 carries.
-- Receiver J.D. McKissic, who caught a career high 12 passes for 102 yard.
-- Receiver Julian Jones, who caught two passes for 81 yards and had a 35-yard scoring pass from Aplin.
-- An offensive line that paved the way for 534 yards offense.
-- Safety Sterling Young, who had 13 tackles.
-- Defensive end Tim Starson, who had eight tackles, including two for losses.
-- Linebacker Nathan Herrold, who had eight tackles, an interception, and a fumble recovery.
-- An A-State defensive unit that held ULM to 76 yard rushing and gave the Warhawks eight negative plays.
"We beat a good football team at home,'' said ASU coach Gus Malzahn. "We've played well on the road the last few weeks. We really haven't put together a real good performance at home, so it feels real good to get that and get a seventh victory."
But perhaps the biggest of a perfect gall night was the Arkansas State program, which put a prime time showing on one of the biggest games in school history.
"We have high goals and high dreams for this program,'' said Malzahn, "and you have opportunities that if you reallly want to raise your level. I feel like our team did that on national TV and that does nothing but help recruiting and the image of your program. I am very proud of our players -- they understood that, they knew it was a big game. We are trying to build this thing and we are trying to do it the right way. We are off to a great start.'
The crowd was big and involved. The stadium was about 80 percent full and the team performed.
And because of that, the Red Wolves have clinched their second-straight winning season (7-3 at the moment) and in position to claim a second-straight Sun Belt Conference title. With a road game at Troy (Nov. 17) and a home game vs. Middle Tennessee (Dec. 1) remaining, A-State can grab the league title with victories in those two games.
Now 5-1 in the league, ASU now leads the pack with Middle Tennessee, which is off until traveling to South Alabama on Nov. 17, a half game back at 4-1.
ULM, once the national media darlings because of its season-opening victory over Arkansas and closes losses to Auburn and Baylor, falls a game back and is tied with Western Kentucky and Louisiana-Lafayette with two league losses.
The engineer behind this one was Aplin, who has emerged as the top offensive player in the conference.
"I think he is starting to feel more comfortable in our offense, and we are starting to get a lot of those young receivers in the right spots for him,'' said Malzahn. "He really spreads the ball around well too. It's one of those things is really starting to click. He is a rhythm guy and he made some great plays . What really stood out to me was that run, he took off and showed great speed.
"He didn't make many mistakes. He made some unbelievable, he made some plays on his own. He is a champ. He is one of the best quarterbacks in the country. He's got a lot of things you can't coach.''
The run Malzahn reference was a 38-yard scoring run that gave the Red Wolves a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter.
The Warhawks took the lead on their first possession, driving 62 yards on eight plays ad Monterrel Washington scoring on a 27-yard pass from Cody Wells.
ASU responded with a 35-yard pass from Aplin to Jones, who has caught 11 passes on the season and scored five touchdowns. Brian Davis' extra point made it 7-7.
Aplin scored 5:20 later to make it 14-7 after the extra point. ULM trimmed the margin to 14-10 and Davis added a 37-yard field goal for a 17-10 ASU advantage with 9:14 left in the half.
It was that way at the half, after Aplin was intercepted inside the 5, a play after a touchdown was wiped out by a penalty, in the closing seconds of the half.
The Warhawks tied it at 17-17 on their first possession of the second half.
Then ASU took over.
Seventeen seconds after the ULM score, Aplin hit Taylor Stockemer on a 70-yard touchdown pass. Davis kicked it 24-17.
Less than 5 minutes later, David Oku scored on a 1-yard run.
Three minutes later Oku scored on a 6-yard run. By the time the Warhawks scored again it was 38-17.
ULM cut it to 38-23 with 5:17 left, but Oku capped the night with a 4-yard run with 2:35 left.
"We couldn't tackle and then we didn't score,'' said ULM coach Todd Berry of the runaway third quarter.
"I want to congratulate coach Malzahn and his football team is outstanding. They outplayed us in every facet of the game."
ASU returns to action in nine days at Troy (4-5, 3-3).