An emotional year for Arkansas State came to a thrilling end on Saturday night in the Camellia Bowl with a 34-26 win over FIU. Freshman quarterback Layne Hatcher -- a transfer from Alabama -- lit the Panthers up. The Little Rock native went 27-of-51 passing for 393 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. His favorite target, Biletnikoff Award semifinalist Omar Bayless, had nine catches for 180 yards and a score in his final collegiate game.
It had its fair share of drama. The Red Wolves jumped out to a big lead, and then their much-maligned defense stood tall when it mattered most. They held the Panthers to three field goal attempts in the final 16 minutes of the game -- the third of which was a 29-yarder that strong-legged kicker Jose Borregales pushed wide with 5:10 to play that would have given them a two-point lead. The Red Wolves made him pay. Hatcher led them down the field in five plays and capped it off with a 13-yarder to Jonathan Adams Jr.
It was a dramatic end to an 8-5 season that was incredibly difficult for Arkansas State and, specifically, coach Blake Anderson.
The sixth-year coach of the Red Wolves lost his wife, Wendy, to cancer in August after a lengthy battle. Wendy Anderson was diagnosed with triple-negative stage four breast cancer in 2017 and had gone through multiple treatments to address the disease. The family announced in March that the cancer had spread to her liver, lungs and lymph nodes.
"They literally got me through a season," Anderson said of his players on the ESPN broadcast as he held back tears. "Through the toughest part of my life."
All six editions of the Camellia Bowl have been one-score games. This one, though, had special meaning to a man and a program that came together in the midst of heartbreak.