JONESBORO — Bryce Giddens lost a couple hours of sleep over one play Saturday night.
A day later, he still wasn’t at peace even though he was sure he was right. Giddens is just thankful he has a quick-thinking quarterback who was determined to get the football.
“That’s by far one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen,” Giddens said later.
Leading 41-34 with under a minute to play at Troy on Saturday, Arkansas State lined up in its Victory Formation, ready to run out the clock. All the Red Wolves needed was to snap the football and take a knee.
But when Giddens got in position to hike the ball, everything went haywire. The ball squirted up in the air, bounced off a player or two and rolled a long the turf seemingly forever.
Chaos ensued. Players from both Troy and Arkansas State piled on top of one another — all fighting for the football.
“I looked over and you could see the big pile forming, everybody starting to pile up,” ASU right guard Cliff Mitchell said. “So I dove in there, and I’m trying and trying (to get the football).”
According to Giddens, ASU’s freshman center, the play should have been blown dead immediately.
Giddens said he never snapped the football. Instead, a Troy defender swiped it between his legs while the officials’ views were blocked.
Video replay the team watched Sunday confirmed his side of the story.
“I’ve never seen anybody try to do that before,” Giddens said. “They obviously practiced it or something.”
Giddens immediately sought out an official while the play was going on to plead his case. But the referee didn’t see it the same way.
“They had it timed up pretty good and he swatted it right before I snapped it,” Giddens added. “It didn’t get called. The refs thought I had snapped it and I wasn’t even touching the ball.”
ASU coach Gus Malzahn backed up Giddens following the game Saturday night.
“I thought they swiped they ball,” Malzahn said. “I haven’t watched it on film, but the center came back and said they swiped the football. But, hey, it is what it is.”
After watching replays on Sunday, Giddens felt better about what happened.
“We watched it on film pretty good because I lost a couple of hours of sleep last night thinking about that,” Giddens said. “I mean, he hits it and it goes over towards the tight end. He just slapped it. I’ve never seen it before, never seen anybody even try to do it before. It was pretty sneaky, now. They timed it up pretty good.”
Three Troy defenders were all within an arm’s length of the football as it laid on the turf. ASU quarterback Ryan Aplin was standing a couple of feet behind the center and turned to his side when the ball popped loose.
Realizing what was happening, Aplin dove in and gain possession even though Troy defensive end Kyle Lucas came out of the pile with the ball in his hand.
Aplin thought he might have fumbled the snap at first.
“I was waiting to feel for the ball and when I didn’t feel it, I thought I dropped it,” Aplin said. “I didn’t know what was going on, so I looked to my right and I looked to my left, and I was really confused. I looked down and I saw it and I just dove in there and tried to do what I could do.”
Listed at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, Aplin was one of the smaller players on the field. But he somehow managed to gain possession amidst all the chaos.
After a lengthy battle, the officials awarded ASU the football.
“I dove in and I was just trying to fight for it,” Aplin explained. “I had a hand on it. It was on my leg. We just battled. That was probably the longest pile I’ve ever been under.”
Aplin’s quick thinking allowed Arkansas State to preserve its sixth straight win and first-place hold in the Sun Belt Conference race. ASU took a shotgun snap on the next play to run out the clock for its eighth win of the season.
The wild finish, and the beating Aplin took under the pile, kept Giddens up late that night.
“I’d never seen anyone attempt to do this, let alone get away with it, and that’s what really kept me up,” Giddens said. “Having Aplin down and coming out with a bloody mouth, that will make you feel bad.”
Troy coach Larry Blakeney thought his team secured possession, not Aplin.
Blakeney pointed to video replays and also that Lucas had the ball after players were separated from the pile.
“We came out with it and the TV people upstairs that we talked to later had shots of it,” Blakeney said. “Our (number) 93 (Lucas) came out of the pile with the ball. I tell you, it was one of those things when you’re a gun team, and you get up under center to kill the clock and the snap goes crazy. I never saw where the ball was and I don’t have any idea, I just know that there was a huge scrum and we heard some of the TV guys say that we had it.”
Asked if he knew anything about a Troy defender swiping at the ball, Blakeney said it was the first he’d heard of the accusation.
“Surely an official would have been alert enough to have seen that, if that had happened,” Blakeney said. “I didn’t see it, so I can’t comment on it.”
Giddens, a stocky 6-foot and 265 pounds, has a newfound respect for his senior quarterback. He’ll be able to sleep a little better now.
“I knew he was tough, but I didn’t know he was the tough,” Giddens said. “He went in there and fought for that ball. And even though it never should have happened, the ref should have called it, he came out of the pile with the ball and I give him a lot of credit for that.”