Let’s start this article on a positive note: the second half of Arkansas State vs. Utah State might have saved the Red Wolves season. The switch from 5-year senior Chad Voytik (2/6, 10 yds, 1 INT) to sophomore Justice Hansen (18/26, 277 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT) provided the spark that the A-State offense desperately needed. Hansen’s ability to throw downfield utilized the offense’s most effective weapons – Blake Mack, Cameron Echols-Luper, Dijon Paschel and Kendall Sanders.
Though Anderson has not named Hansen the starter moving forward, it was clear Friday night in Logan that Hansen has a better rapport with the Red Wolves’ dangerous wide receiving squad than does Voytik, whose end zone INT capped what was shaping to become Arkansas States third consecutive disaster. Hansen led the Red Wolves to 20 (should have been 24) second-half points and put A-State in position to win the game. In the end, the deficit proved too much to overcome, but at least the Red Wolves left Utah with 3 sacks, an interception, and something critical to the success of this season:
A reason to re-believe.
You gotta re-believe because what happened in the second half was something we hadn’t seen all season. Consider the first half of Red Wolves vs. Aggies. It was Toledo and Auburn again. On national television again. In a single half of football, Arkansas State had accrued 12 penalties for 95 yards – 3 yards more than the offense mustered. This was how every Red Wolves possession ended in the first half:
Eight possessions that left fans with no choice but to stare blankly into space. And then something happened. It wasn’t quite magic (though Warren “Magic” Wand played a significant role), but it felt incredible. Hansen found Mack for 18. He connected with Sanders for 27. And less than three minutes into the third quarter, Wand bounced into the endzone for the Red Wolves’ first score of the night. On A-State’s next possession, Hansen would hit Paschal with a 44 yard TD strike that was set up by a 33 yard reception from Echols-Luper.
It was at that moment, at 8:18 of the third quarter of the third game of the season, Red Wolves fans re-believed.
We didn’t win the game. Momentum was lost at the beginning of fourth quarter with a false start on the Aggies’ one yard line. Instead of being down by a field goal, the Red Wolves found themselves down by a TD after the J.D. Houston field goal. Blasie Taylor’s interception on Utah State’s very next possession nearly recaptured the energy, but it wasn’t enough. Final score, A-State 20, Utah State 34.
We need to re-believe, because the team we thought we had before the season started is not the team we have. Not yet. Possibly not ever. Starting with the disheartening defeat at home to Toledo, the Red Wolves played 10 consecutive quarters of non-competitive football. And everybody is accountable: the players, the coaches, and the media (guilty as charged). We’re all accountable. But there was something about that second half against the Aggies.
We suddenly looked like Red Wolves again.