Louisville had to depend on its third quarterback on the depth chart for a 21-13 win over Arkansas State on Saturday night.
Redshirt freshman Will Stein completed 20 of 39 passes for 232 yards and one interception in his first career start for the Cardinals (3-5). Freshman running back Darius Ashley ran for 77 yards and two touchdowns.
The Cardinals led 21-3 with less than 2 minutes to play in the third quarter but had a hard time putting the Red Wolves (2-5) away for good.
Arkansas State quarterback Corey Leonard found Brandon Thompkins in the end zone in the third quarter. The Red Wolves added a field goal in the fourth to close the lead to eight.
Leonard's last pass flew over the head of receiver Trevor Gillott in the end zone, and Louisville ran the clock out from there. Leonard threw for 303 yards but had two interceptions.
Ashley, also a redshirt freshman, scored Louisville's first touchdown of the game and his first career touchdown on a 26-yard run, with 5:34 to play in the first quarter. The Cardinals never trailed.
Several Cardinals missed the game because of injuries, including previous starting quarterbacks Adam Froman and Justin Burke, and the team's leading rusher Victor Anderson. Bilal Powell rushed for 93 yards.
Louisville linebacker Brandon Heath scored Louisville's second touchdown after he picked off a pass by Corey Leonard and ran it back for 25 yards.
Arkansas' State could only generate a field goal by Josh Arauco after their most promising drive of the first half, 63 yards to Louisville's 7-yard line. Their other four possessions of the half resulted in three punts, Heath's interception, and the half expired on their last as Leonard downed the ball with 2 seconds to play.
The Cardinals went into halftime with a 14-3 lead after driving 88 yards and getting 1st-and-goal at the Red Wolves 2-yard line. Including a spike to stop the clock and a throw-away by Stein out of the end zone, the Cardinals threw incomplete passes on all four downs.
Louisville figured it out on their first possession of the second half, though, after the Red Wolves went three-and-out to start the third quarter. The Cardinals drove 64 yards on 10 plays, including two passes from Stein to Trent Guy for a combined 47 yards. Once the Cardinals got first-and-goal at Arkansas State's 1-yard line, it took Ashley three chances, but he punched it in on third down for his second touchdown of the day to make the score 21-3.
Stein played it safe for much of the game, throwing the ball well out of bounds several times when no receiver was open, but threw an interception with 4:17 to play in the third quarter.
The Red Wolves jumped on the opportunity, driving from midfield to score their first touchdown of the game. A 47-yard pass from Leonard to Don Jones on the first play of the possession took care of most of the distance. A four-yard pass from Leonard to Brandon Thompkins near the sideline in the end zone was called a touchdown after an official review, making the score 21-10 with 1:14 to play in the third quarter. Thompkins had seven catches in the game for 49 yards and Jones had three catches for 78 yards for Arkansas State.
Louisville missed a 36-yard field goal attempt on the following possession, leaving the door open for the Red Wolves in the final quarter. Arkansas State drove 76 yards to the Louisville 4 yard line, but had to settle for a field goal, Arauco's second of the day, making the score 21-13. Arauco set a Sun Belt Conference record for career field goals, with his second, giving him 51.
An interception by cornerback Chaz Thompson in the fourth quarter looked like it might have sealed the win for Louisville but the Cardinals punted after failing to get a first down and the Red Wolves still had a shot but failed to get another score, giving the Cardinals the ball back with 22 seconds to play.