Cats Drop Season Opener - KFBB.com News, Sports and Weather

Cats Drop Season Opener

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Fredi Knighten did plenty of damage with his arm, and more with his legs. The end result for Arkansas State's junior quarterback was a 37-10 win over Montana State in Jonesboro on Saturday.

Knighten rushed threw for 219 yards, rushed for 104, and caught a key pass for 45 yards to lead the Red Wolves to a final margin that only expanded in the game's final 20 minutes. Knighten was the driving force of the offensive explosion that resulted in three touchdowns in the eight minutes from the last 90 seconds of the third quarter to the nine-minute mark of the fourth.

“He was every bit as good as we expected,” Bobcat coach Rob Ash said of Knighten, “if not better. He was very athletic, extremely fast, smooth.”

Knighten's play helped his three-time defending Sun Belt Conference (FBS) champion ASU team overcome a determined effort by Montana State. The Bobcats trailed only 16-10 with 5:23 left in the third quarter after a 41-yard Luke Ferguson field goal.

After forcing a Bobcat punt on MSU's next possession, Arkansas State changed the game with a trick play. Facing a 1-10 at its own 31, Knighten lateraled to Tres Houston, who threw it back to Knighten for a 45-yard yard gain. On the next play Knighten Dario Griswold for a touchdown.

“The big play was their razzle-dazzle (pass) back to the quarterback,” Ash said. “That changed the game,” giving the Red Wolves a 23-10 cushion heading into the fourth quarter.

Montana State was not without its outstanding efforts. Sophomore quarterback Dakota Prukop, in his first real action, finished 14-for-26 passing with two interceptions. He also provided a spark in the run game. “I thought Dakota played fine,” Ash said. “I think he completed seven of his first eight passes with a drop. We just couldn't get a run game going to help him out.”

The first half started and ended with Arkansas State scoring drives, and neither took long. The Red Wolves gained 29 yards on their second play from scrimmage, a Fredi Knighten pass to Tres Houston, then Michael Gordon scampered 42 yards for a touchdown.

The Bobcats tied the score a few minutes later, with help from A-State. The Red Wolves defense forced a Bobcat punt midway through the first quarter, but J.D. McKissic fumbled Trevor Bolton's kick and Rhett Young recovered at the ASU seven. On the fourth play, a fourth-and-goal from inside the one, Anthony Knight powered in for the score, and Luke Daly's kick tied the game.

Arkansas State's ensuing drive produced a field goal. The Red Wolves  marched from its own 29 to the Bobcat defense stiffened. Luke Ferguson's 29-yard field goal gave ASU a 10-7 lead. The home team hit a big play – for the second straight season in a Bobcat game against an FBS opponent – right before halftime. Facing a third-and-three near midfield with just over a minute remaining in the second quarter, Knighten found McKissic on a screen, and the elusive ASU receiver dashed to the MSU 11. Ferguson's 23-yard field goal pushed A-State's lead  to 13-7 at halftime.

The statistics told a slightly different story than the scoreboard. Arkansas State out-gained the Cats 302 yards to 104, including 141 on the ground. McKissic's four catches resulted in 83 yards.

Arkansas State piled up 558 total yards and 23 first downs, while MSU gained just 228 yards with 10 first downs. Mitch Griebel caught a career-high six passes to lead the Cats, while Shawn Johnson rushed for 33 yards before leaving the game for precautionary reasons after a big hit that laid him out ended in the defensive player being ejected. Tiai Salanoa also suffered a shoulder injury that ended his night early.

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