Troy State Trojans vs Arkansas State Red Wolves, 12/2/2017, 6:30 pm
Final Score: Troy 32 – Arkansas State 25; Attendance: 27,462
Weather: Clear, 52; Ticket: $9; Parking: $10
Review: “Howling at the moon” by Tree
When I was putting this game on the schedule, I had my doubts that I would actually make the game. By December, I am usually pretty worn out and Arkansas State is generally not considered a premier program. However, as the year progressed, they continued to improve. Since the Sun Belt conference championship didn’t start until 2018, this game was turning out to be the defacto Sun Belt Championship game with Troy and Arkansas atop the conference. Troy had already beat LSU this year in Baton Rogue so I knew they had a good team. I was hoping that the Red Wolves would be able to put up a good fight and was actually looking forward to the game.
We pulled onto the Arkansas State campus with no parking pass. I had done some research and verified that there was both public and pass required tailgate lots. I could not find any parking passes for sale on the internet, which is consistent with most small schools. However, as we pulled into campus, we were directed to an open field directly behind the baseball field. We could see the stadium in the distance and we knew there was probably better tailgating closer to the stadium. However, it was not an option for us. We arrived around 4:15 and were surprised to see the lot mostly empty. There were about four groups tailgating so we had a ton of room to setup. We were able to have a nice tailgate with plenty of room to play corn hole. We fired up the grill and cooked some sausage with peppers and onions. Between the cold beer, the smell of the sausages and Tom Petty (RIP) playing in the background, it was just about perfect. The only improvement would have been to have more folks tailgating around us. The folks next to us were very nice and even offered us two free tickets. Unfortunately, I had already purchased 50 yard line seats for the princely some of $9 each. The tickets offered to us were, coincidentally, in the same section only a few rows behind the tickets we had bought.
The sun set around 5:30, but with the baseball field lights on directly behind us, my son and I just chilled as we watched the fans who parked in the free lots stroll by on their way to Centennial Bank Stadium. We packed up around 6:20 and walked over to the stadium, stopping to visit a very strategically placed set of porta-potties at the end of the lot. On our way, I noticed a number of students riding on bikes from a bike share program. We also saw some of the private lot tailgates and could see the University sponsored Tailgate Town in the distance. We speculated that these were probably a lot busier than the lot we were in. We could be sure that at least one student had a good time, or at least up until when he was arrested for public intoxication. As I saw the police talking to him, I was reminded what the campus police chief at Virginia Tech said at orientation. He told the kids to note that he arrests those that meet both requirements: public and intoxication. The kid we saw clearly cleared both hurdles.
As we walked into the stadium, we immediately saw that it was partially below ground. It was classic design that provided clear sight lines and gave the stadium a bowl feel to it. As I looked up from our very good seats, I noted the stadium was nearly at capacity. It may be why there was construction in the open end zone to add more seats to the stadium. There was a serviceable video board in the other end zone. There was bench seating throughout, but we were fortunate enough to have cushioned seat backs for our seats. The concessions were fairly standard with some local foodstuffs thrown in. The souvenir cup was as a sharp looking one that came in at $5. I don’t believe they were selling beer.
While the fans were loud and in the game, there were not too many discernible traditions. The cross stadium cheer is “Arkansas State” and “Red Wolves.” Like the NC State Wolfpack, they make a little barking wolf with the thumb and middle and fourth fingers. And also just like NC State, they have matching male and female wolves mascots running around. They would play a howling wolf sound effect after big plays. The marching band, the “Sound of the Natural State”, had a vibrant sound. They were seated in the next section over and were particularly adept at filling in the gaps of a televised game. It was refreshing to hear a band rather than pre-recorded sound bites. The student section was on the other side of the band and represented themselves well with a significant number of “bro’s” sporting body paint despite the chilly weather. The only other thing notable about the crowd at large was the amount of camo in the stands. I am pretty sure it was supposed to be a “black-out” but it was camo everywhere.
Arkansas State is located in Jonesboro, Arkansas, which is literally in the middle of nowhere. We drove up from Jackson, Mississippi but the easiest way is to fly in to Memphis. It is a lackluster hour drive from there. So much so that I have it on good authority that the Red Wolves try to bring the recruits in under the cover of darkness so as to not lose them before they even get to campus. Once in town, it would be pretty hard not to miss the campus. Signage was more than adequate.
This battle for the Sun Belt conference title did not disappoint. It was an exciting game all the way through out. While not exactly a shoot out, there was plenty of action. Arkansas State jumped out to a quick three point lead, but Troy immediately answered with 99 yard kickoff return. Arkansas State special teams were not so special and struggled covering kicks the entire game. The Red Wolves offense did not struggle and owned a sizable statistical advantage. They managed to kick a field goal in the 2nd quarter and went into halftime with a 10 -7 lead. The teams traded field goals in the third quarter. Troy finally pulled ahead in the fourth with a big pass play. Arkansas State responded with a drive of their own. They were about to punch it in when disaster struck via a Troy pick six for a hundred yards. The score at that point was Troy 24, Ark. State 13 with only seven minutes to play. The Red Wolves did not give up without a fight. They scored two frantic touchdowns to go ahead by one with only a minute and half left to go. It turned out to be too much time and Troy sealed the win with a fourteen yard touchdown pass with seventeen seconds left in the game. While a great game, the finish for the Arkansas State fans was probably more disappointing than Walmart running out of orange camo on the day before the first day of Buck season.
Arkansas State had a running back, Warren Wand who was 5’5″. Of course, he could fly. It is always bittersweet to see a guy my size playing D1. It’s like when my kid pointed out Danny Woodhead and said “Hey Dad, he’s your size and played D3. How come you didn’t make the pros?”
They didn’t do a lot of bits at Arkansas State but they pulled a nice one for a December game. Santa Claus showed up in the student section and started giving the kids presents. It made me chuckle to see 18 – 22 year olds jumping up and down trying to get Santa’s attention for what was undeniably a gift wrapped Ark State t-shirt or hoodie.
There’s a lot to like about Arkansas State. The program is reasonably strong in the Group of Five. The stadium is well designed and attending a game is certainly an affordable experience. The drawbacks are the location and the location. Did I mention it was in the middle of nowhere? I guess the best time to see Red Wolves is when the program has a good team (like this year), they are playing your team and you have something to do in Memphis that weekend.