Despite the Bobcats’ efforts, the Arkansas State strength, speed and depth proved to be more than MSU could handle in their season opener on Aug. 30. The Cats headed down to Jonesboro, Arkansas, to square off with the FBS Arkansas State Red Wolves in the season opener for both squads. It was slated to be a big challenge for the Cats from the get go, seeing as FCS teams like MSU have smaller teams and fewer scholarships to offer than their FBS counterparts.
The Cats looked to be in for a rough evening when the Red Wolves made it down the length of the field in just three plays for 80 yards and a touchdown on the opening drive of the game. The Cats and their newly minted starting quarterback — redshirt freshman Dakota Prukop — were unable to respond immediately, going three and out on the ensuing possession. The Wolves grabbed the punt with great field position and rumbled all the way down to MSU’s three-yard line before an impressive goal line stand netted the Cats their first spark.
Now with a little momentum, the Bobcats recovered a dropped punt at the Arkansas State 7 yard line and pounded the ball into the end zone, with junior transfer running back Anthony Knight scoring the equalizer.
However, a couple of field goals gave the Red Wolves a 13-7 lead heading into halftime. The Cats were able to close the gap to just three points midway through the third quarter, but that was as close to winning as they ever would get. As the third quarter wound down, the Red Wolves’ uptempo offense appeared to wear down the defense and Arkansas State broke the game open.
With only a few seconds gone by in the fourth quarter, Arkansas State had gone up 30-10 and due to a couple of untimely interceptions from Prukop, the Cats were unable to respond. Aside from a few sparks of life, the game got away from MSU, finally falling 37-10.
Arkansas State surpassed the Bobcats in nearly every statistical category, including a meager 2 of 18 conversion rate on third downs. However, the Cats displayed resilience against a formidable Red Wolves team projected to finish second in the Sun Belt Conference. Despite tossing two picks, Prukop remained level-headed in the pocket even when under pressure and showed an adept sense of when to leave the pocket and scramble.
The Red Wolves were led by junior quarterback Fredi Knighten, who threw for 219 yards and rushed for another 93. Senior running back Shawn Johnson led the way for the Bobcats, with 33 rushing yards and 41 return yards before he was removed from the game following a vicious and illegal hit by the Red Wolves during the second half kickoff that led to the ejection of the offending player.
Overall, this was just the first test in a long season for the Cats and they appeared to answer a few questions while responding well to what was an uphill battle from the start. The Bobcats return home and will face Black Hills State in their home opener on Saturday. Kickoff for the annual Gold Rush game will be at 7:05 p.m. under the lights.