Mobile, AL – Freshman wideout J.D. McKissic hauled in 11 catches for 113 yards and a score on Sunday to help Arkansas State earn a 17-13 victory over No. 25 Kent State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl at Ladd- Peebles Stadium.
McKissic put the finishing touches on a record-breaking freshman campaign, as his 103 catches this season set a new school record.
Ryan Aplin threw the touchdown pass to McKissic and finished 21-of-30 for 213 yards without an interception for the Red Wolves (10-3), who finished the season on an eight-game win streak en route to their first bowl win since joining the FBS in 1992.
Defensive coordinator John Thompson served as ASU's interim coach in the triumph after head coach Gus Malzahn left the school to take over the prestigious Auburn program.
"That was a good one," Thompson said. "Our guys stepped up with a minute to go. We really needed a play, and our guys made one. It wasn't anything except for ballplayers. It wasn't anything special at all. We just made plays."
Kent State had won 10 straight games to close out the regular season, but dropped a 44-37 double overtime decision to Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship game that would have sent the Golden Flashes (11-3) to a BCS bowl.
Spencer Keith completed 17-of-33 passes for 157 yards with an interception, while running back Dri Archer rushed for 77 yards and a score on nine carries, but injured his knee in the second quarter and was unavailable on the team's final drive.
"We would have loved to get this win for our guys in that locker room," said Kent State coach Darrell Hazell, who coached the team for the final time after agreeing to take over the Purdue football program at the end of the year. "I have strong feelings for the guys in that locker room. It's hard."
Kent State took its first touch deep into Arkansas State territory following Julian Durden's 32-yard scamper down to the 1-yard line. The Golden Flashes came away empty however, as Keith's third-down pass bounced off his intended receiver's arm and landed in the hands of Arkansas State linebacker Nathan Herrold.
After an exchange of punts, Kent State started its third touch of the game from their own 34 less than a minute into the second quarter. Archer broke free for 44 yards on the first play from scrimmage before a defensive pass interference call on 3rd-and-19 gave the Golden Flashes a fresh set of downs at the Arkansas State 16.
On the next play, Archer carried the ball 16 yards off the right end for the game's first touchdown to make it 7-0 with 12:10 left in the half.
The teams then exchanged three-and-outs before the Red Wolves used a 9-play, 60-yard march to knot the game. McKissic hauled in three straight passes down to the Kent State 39 before Darion Griswold followed two plays later with a 21-yard grab to move Arkansas State into the red zone.
Facing 3rd-and-1 from the Kent State 10, David Oku broke through the line and into the end zone for a 10-yard score to pull the Red Wolves even with 5:40 left in the first half.
Following another Kent State three-and-out, Arkansas State went 88 yards in nine plays to grab a lead it would not relinquish.
Aplin completed all six passes on the drive, including a 31-yard touchdown to McKissic to make it 14-7. Aplin faked a bubble screen to his left before rolling right and finding McKissic for the score with 1:13 left in the half.
Kent State's offense found its rhythm on the ensuing touch, but the drive stalled late and the Golden Flashes were forced to settle for a 42-yard field goal from Freddy Cortez to trim the deficit to 14-10 heading into the break.
The Golden Flashes failed to carry that momentum into the second half, as they opened the third quarter with a three-and-out.
Arkansas State then went 47 yards in 10 plays, but the drive stalled inside the 10-yard line when Oku was stuffed for a 1-yard loss on 3rd-and-2 to set up Brian Davis' 25-yard field goal, making it 17-10 with 8:35 left in the third.
The Golden Flashes answered with a long 13-play, 50-yard scoring drive, but Keith's pass for Archer fell incomplete on 3rd-and-7 from the Arkansas State 9, resulting in a 26-yard field goal from Cortez to bring Kent State within 17-13 late in the third.
Kent State punted on its next two touches as the offense struggled to find a rhythm, but the Golden Flashes still had one final possession trailing by four with 4:50 remaining in the game.
Keith kept the game alive with a 15-yard pass to Matthew Hurdle on 4th-and-8 down to the Arkansas State 27, but with 1:00 left and facing another 4th- and-8, Keith was flushed out of the pocket before being tripped up shy of the first down marker to turn the ball over on downs.
"It was tough," Archer said of watching the final drive from the sidelines. "I had my head down the majority of the drive. I wanted to be out there with the guys."
The Red Wolves then ran out the remainder of the clock to secure the victory.
Kent State was making its first appearance in a bowl game since 1972 ... Paul Haynes will take over for Hazell as the Golden Flashes' head coach ... McKissic broke Dwayne Frampton's record of 94 catches set last season ... It was the first time these two schools have met ... Arkansas State lost last year's GoDaddy.com Bowl 38-20 to Northern Illinois.