JONESBORO — Arkansas State, especially its seniors, avoided an embarrassing home finale. The Red Wolves and those seniors can thank the defense and special teams.

JONESBORO — Arkansas State, especially its seniors, avoided an embarrassing home finale. The Red Wolves and those seniors can thank the defense and special teams.

Arkansas State’s Sterling Young returned a fumble for a touchdown and Brock Barnhill blocked a punt that led to another score and the Red Wolves rallied for a 35-33 victory over winless Georgia State on Senior Day Saturday afternoon at Liberty Bank Stadium.

ASU (7-4 overall, 5-1 Sun Belt Conference) won its fourth straight and assured itself of a winning season for the third consecutive year. The Red Wolves maintained sole possession of second place in the league standings after a lifeless first half that left them trailing 17-7 at halftime.

First-year Arkansas State coach Bryan Harsin said winning is never easy no matter who the opponent is. He was just glad to see his team answer another challenge for the fourth week in a row.

“We were able to fight and grind through it tonight and I was proud of our guys for that,” Harsin said. “The bottom line is, in college football it’s hard to win a game each week. No matter how it is statistically or not, you could come out here and you find a way to win and we did that tonight.”

Trailing 17-7 at halftime, Arkansas State made a couple of game-changing plays right out of the break.

First, as has happened three times in the last four games, Young game up with a huge play to swing momentum in ASU’s favor.

Georgia State receiver Albert Wilson caught a short pass on a crossing route and was hit for a short gain by Arkansas State’s Frankie Jackson. As Wilson fought for extra yardage, ASU’s Chris Stone ripped the ball free from Wilson, Young scooped it up and rambled into the end zone for a 21-yard score.

The touchdown pulled ASU within 17-14 of the Panthers less than a minute into the second half.

Stone said after a horrible first half, the Red Wolves came out ready to turn the tables in the second half.

“I came in and ripped it and it popped out in front of my face,” Stone said. “I fell, somebody pushed me, and I turned around and Sterling was being escorted into the end zone.”

Young, who had key interceptions in wins at Louisiana-Monroe and South Alabama over the last three weeks, said he was at the right place at the right time and the play gave the Red Wolves new life.

“People were swarming to the ball and I happened to be around the ball at the right moment and it popped out,” Young said. “I know me and Stone, one of us wanted to get it bad. I ended up corralling the football and just taking it to the end zone.”

About three minutes later, Barnhill made his biggest contribution of the season to give ASU its first lead of the day.

Facing fourth-and-long, Georgia State decided to punt but Barnhill blew threw his blocker, got to the punter and swatted the football backwards. The ball bounced several times, skipping between players of both teams before ASU’s Raziel Valgis, a sophomore walk-on from Harding, jumped on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown and 21-17 lead.

Barnhill said he’d been close to blocking a punt before, but this time he got his best shot at making a play.

“We actually ran the play a few times earlier, and I got close twice,” Barnhill said. “Basically, I just come in and try to get one hand out and run by the punter so I don’t run into him. I block it a lot during practice and I’ve just been waiting for the opportunity to get to do it in a game.”

Even after watching its first half of football fall apart in matter of four minutes, Georgia State wasn’t about to lay down.

The Panthers answered with a five-play, 75-yard drive to retake the lead and keep Arkansas State on edge. GSU quarterback Ronnie Bell connected with Robert Davis for a 38-yard gain to the ASU 17, and then found Kelton Hill on a 17-yard scoring pass.

Hill made a nice read on the play, coming across the field to make the catch and give Georgia State a 24-21 lead with 9:11 to play in the third quarter.

“The one thing I’ll say is give credit to Georgia State,” Harsin said. “A lot of people see 0-10, but they don’t see every game they watch. They’ve got a good scheme, they know what they’re doing, they’ve been snake bit by a couple of teams they’ve played and tonight they came out and played.”

Just like the start of the second half, ASU’s defense rescued it again.

Georgia State, which lost four fumbles on the day, had the ball at its own 23 with a chance to retake the lead. But GSU running back Jonathan Jean-Bart coughed the football up when Chris Humes delivered a crushing hit and then recovered the fumble.

Arkansas State kept the ball on the ground six straight plays, running Michael Gordon up the middle four times through some big holes. Gordon’s 5-yard TD run put ASU in front 28-24 with 3:39 to play.

The Panthers got it back within 28-27 on Wil Lutz’s 35-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter. But ASU followed with its first lengthy scoring drive since the first quarter.

ASU quarterback Adam Kennedy completed a 31-yard pass to J.D. McKissic over the middle to highlight the drive and cross midfield. After 8-yard runs by Kennedy and Gordon, McKissic went in motion and took a short shovel pass and scored from the 5.

ASU placekicker Brian Davis’ point-after kick gave the Red Wolves a 35-27 lead with 11:01 to play.

After struggling most of the afternoon, Kennedy said the ASU offense took the field determined to make something happen.

“The coaches put it in our head that we need this and we were trying to make things happen,” Kennedy said. “We had our ups and downs all game. … It was kind of a bizarre game but we’ve had that the last couple of weeks.”

Down by 8, Georgia State had one last gasp left in it.

The Panthers held ASU near midfield to force a punt, then took over at their own 23. After a short pass gained 7 yards, Bell, Hill and Wilson connected on a jaw-dropping play that silenced the sparse crowd that remained.

Bell took the snap and pitched ito to Hill in motion to his right. Hill stopped and looked to throw it back to Bell but he was covered so he looked deep down field and threw deep to Wilson, who had slipped behind ASU’s secondary.

Wilson caught the ball, shook off Young in pursuit, and scored on a 70-yard play to make it 35-33 with 2:13 to play.

“It was a busted coverage,” Young said. “Basically, I had to come all the way out of my zone and tried to make a play. It was a good play call at the time. It wasn’t my play to make, but I should have made a better play on the ball.”

The Panthers attempted a two-point conversion to tie it, but Bell was under heavy pressure and threw incomplete when he was forced out of the pocket. “Basically, it was to bring pressure and just man up all across the board,” Young said of defending the conversion. “ … That was a big play in the game. Without that play, we wouldn’t know what the outcome would be.” McKissic recovered the onside kick and the Red Wolves ran out the clock to preserve the win.

Harsin said his team wasn’t flat, but it wasn’t as intense as it should have been even if it was Senior Day.

“We need to come out here with a sense of urgency and we need to do that the entire game,” Harsin said. “We need to get back to that. We’ve done that this year at times and we did that tonight at times, and fortunately we won the game.”

Arkansas State didn’t play its best football but took advantage of four turnovers.

The Red Wolves were held below 300 yards for the first time in a month and finished with 290 in total offense. ASU was just 1-of-12 on third down conversions.

On the other hand, Georgia State didn’t look like a team searching for its first win.

The Panthers rolled up 432 yards offense, including 248 through the air. Wilson accounted for 104 yards rushing and a TD along with 149 receiving and a TD.

ASU started fast, scoring on its first possession.

The Red Wolves needed only three plays to drive 57 yards and take a 7-0 lead. McKissic returned the opening kickoff 43 yards and Kennedy completed a 22-yard pass to Gordon to set up the score.

Kennedy then floated a pass to tight end Darion Griswold who cut around a defender and hurdled over another into the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown play.

But the Red Wolves stalled on their next possession when running back David Oku fumbled and GSU’s Theo Agnew recovered. That seemed to set the tone for the rest of the half as Arkansas State missed two more opportunities to score.

ASU placekicker Brian Davis missed a 44-yard field goal attempt and linebacker Kyle Coleman fumbled the football through the end zone for a touchback after returning a fumble to the goal-line.

“After that first drive everyone was juiced,” Kennedy said. “We felt good and we thought we were going to keep it rolling. We came out on that second one and we fumbled and all the momentum we had leading up into the game, I think it hit us a little harder than it should have. That fumble kind of crushed us.”

Georgia State scored 17 unanswered points to end the half and take a 17-7 lead into the break.

Luzt booted a 40-yard field goal, and Bell’s 4-yard TD run capped a 69-yard drive to give the Panthers a 10-7 lead. Wilson’s 80-yard TD run through a gaping hole on the left side extended GSU’s lead to 10 midway through the second quarter.

Arkansas State wraps up its regular season next Saturday with a trip to Western Kentucky.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do before we play Western Kentucky,” Harsin summarized.