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Ball State falls to Arkansas State 23-20
By: Staff  Writer - AP
Published: 1/6/2014  at  1:05:50 AM
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MOBILE, Ala. (AP) - Ball State coach Pete Lembo knew he had just witnessed some great football theater. The only problem, the ending wasn't what the Cardinals had in mind.

Arkansas State scored the winning touchdown on Fredi Knighten's 13-yard pass to Allen Muse with 32 seconds remaining, and the Red Wolves rallied for a 23-20 victory at the GoDaddy Bowl on Sunday night.

The Cardinals had a chance to tie it at the end of regulation, but Scott Secor's 38-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Ryan Carrethers as time expired.

''It was a great game. It really was,'' Lembo said. ''I'm sure the fans got their money's worth out of this one. I'm sure the bowl people are happy about how people were glued to their TVs and stayed in the stands until the very end.

''Obviously for us, we're hurting because we had our chances to win, but we couldn't get it done.''

Arkansas State (8-5) won the GoDaddy Bowl for a second straight season, despite losing starting quarterback Adam Kennedy to a knee injury in the second quarter. It was the Red Wolves' third consecutive trip to Mobile.

Knighten rescued Arkansas State's offense, finishing with 115 yards passing and 97 yards rushing. Muse, who considered quitting football following his father's suicide three years ago, wound up with the biggest catch of the night just five plays after Ball State scored what appeared to be the decisive touchdown.

''I'm extremely blessed,'' Muse said. ''It's really hard to put into words what this means.''

Ball State (10-3) went ahead 20-16 with 1:33 remaining on a 1-yard touchdown run by Jahwan Edwards, but couldn't hold the lead. Edwards finished with a game-high 146 yards rushing, but had to watch as Arkansas State rallied for the win.

''It's not over until the time's over,'' Edwards said. ''It's hard to swallow.''

Keith Wenning capped his Ball State career with 215 yards passing, one touchdown and one interception. He is the first Ball State quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a season.

For a second straight season, Arkansas State shrugged off a coaching change to win the GoDaddy Bowl.

Arkansas State lost coach Bryan Harsin to Boise State in December. He is the latest in a string of three ASU coaches, including Hugh Freeze (Mississippi) and Gus Malzahn (Auburn), who have left the program for a more high-profile job.

John Thompson was the team's interim coach for a second straight season, and the veteran defensive coordinator led a staff that managed to cobble together a workable offense without Kennedy.

But the Red Wolves couldn't turn productive drives into touchdowns, settling for field goals from 18 and 29 yards during the third quarter to push ahead 16-10.

It nearly came back to haunt them. But Knighten's clutch throw to Muse proved to be the difference.

Ball State still had a chance to tie. The Cardinals drove downfield, and with the help of a 15-yard, personal-foul penalty on Arkansas State's Andrew Tryon for a late hit, lined up for the 38-yard field goal with 2 seconds left.

But the ball never got past the line of scrimmage, smacking off Carrethers hands and setting off an Arkansas State celebration that quickly spilled onto the field.

Ball State's usually prolific passing offense struggled early. Wenning missed on four of his first five pass attempts, and took a vicious hit on a sack by Rocky Hayes.

''When we pressured him, our guys brought some steam,'' Thompson said. ''Just hitting him. (Quarterbacks) don't like to get hit.''

Edwards rushed for 92 yards in the first half, including 44 yards on a 14-play drive that ended with Wenning's 9-yard touchdown pass to Willie Snead.

It helped Ball State take a 10-3 lead by late in the second quarter, but Arkansas State responded with a long drive just before halftime. It was capped by Sirgregory Thornton's 1-yard touchdown run that tied it at 10.

Wenning, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior, holds just about every passing record in Ball State history, but struggled in his finale. He completed 23 of 44 passes.

''The seniors and the rest of the team - that's who I'm hurting for right now,'' Wenning said.

Arkansas State has hired former North Carolina offensive coordinator Blake Anderson to be the program's fifth head coach in five seasons. Anderson attended Sunday's game but didn't coach.

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

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