It’s easy to forget in the flood of delight in Utah after BYU won the D1-A championship, that Arkansas State almost won it.
Behind a superb performance by Zac Mizell, and a no-quit attitude, Arkansas State capped off their astounding road trip (win at Army, win at St. Mary’s) with a stirring 49-42 loss where they scored the last try, and made the Cougars feel very, very nervous.
Seemingly out of it, the Red Wolves came back repeatedly, and earned plenty of respect in the process.
“I am incredibly proud to coach this team,” said Arkansas State Head Coach matt Huckaby, who should probably be proud of what he did to get them ready, too. “I can’t describe it. This is the proudest and best I’ve felt after any loss. I tell ya, I’d take these guys and play them against anybody. Their performance and their heart … they showed a lot to come back the way they did and to keep scoring and attacking.”
Playing BYU in Rio Tinto wasn’t easy. The 8,000-plus crowd was overwhelmingly for the Cougars, but Huckaby wasn’t concerned.
“They are the type of team you want to play in the final … and beat, mind you,” he said.
“I give all credit to BYU, they had a great season,” added flanker Sean Paterson, whose big play was a try-saving tackle down the wing. “That was a great final, you couldn’t ask for any more Ryan had a great game from the back of the scrum.”
“They are big, physical, fast guys, and if you don’t control possession they are going to take it from you,” added center Zac Mizell. And any mistake you make, they’re going to house it. When they make a break, it’s like trying to follow a stampede.”
Following that stampede kept ASU in the game. Paterson, especially, chased down one fast break – an impressive run for the flanker.
“Coach was telling us as soon as they make a break, cover back as fast as you can,” said Paterson. “We had good coverage inside so I just went outside and was able to make a tackle.”
And don’t forget, ASU was able to do a few things, too. Mizell, who scored stretching over the line in the first half, and then juggling the ball while he spun out of a tackle in the second half, was difficult for the Cougars all evening.
“They were playing a big slide defense, so as long as you square up you can break their line,” he said. “But they make create cover tackles, too.”
Indeed they do. Worthy champions are BYU, but remember Arkansas State. They were not really given a chance, and took the chance anyway. Matt Huckaby is proud? He should be.