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Arkansas State, Northern Illinois Will Play in 10th Camellia Bowl

The Arkansas State Red Wolves and Northern Illinois Huskies will meet in the 10th annual Camellia Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 23 at 11 a.m. at Cramton Bowl. The game will be televised on ESPN, and simulcast on ESPN+.

The game traditionally pits teams from the Sun Belt Conference and the Mid-American Conference, although Mid-American teams have been substituted with Conference USA teams on three occasions.

Arkansas State will be making its third trip to the Capital City, playing in the 2017 Camellia Bowl and the 2019 game. Ironically, both of those matchups involved teams from Conference USA, so this will be the Red Wolves’ first game against a Mid-American Conference team. Northern Illinois will be making its first trip to the Camellia Bowl, but played Arkansas State in the 2012 GoDaddy Bowl in Mobile.

In the 2012 game, Northern Illinois erased a 13-0 deficit to defeat Arkansas State 38-20. NIU wide receiver Martel Moore caught eight passes for 224 yards and a touchdown and the Huskies’ victory was capped by a 36-yard interception return for a touchdown by Dechan Durante.

Arkansas State quarterback Ryan Alpin completed 30 of 58 passes for 353 yards and a touchdown. Receiver Taylor Stockemer set a school bowl record with 11 receptions for 185 yards and a touchdown.

This season, Arkansas State (6-6) compiled a 4-4 record in Sun Belt play, including a conference-record 77 points in a win over Texas State on Nov. 18. The 77 points were the third most points scored by an FBS team in 2023. Overall, ASU topped the 30-point mark five times this season.

The Red Wolves’ head coach, Butch Jones, is in his third season at Arkansas State after serving for three years as an offensive analyst for Alabama in 2018-20. He has compiled a 92-70 record in 12 seasons as a head coach at Central Michigan, Cincinnati, Tennessee and Arkansas State.

Northern Illinois (6-6) went 5-3 in the Mid-American Conference with the sixth-ranked passing defense (163.9 yards per game) and the 11th-ranked pass efficiency defense. Northern Illinois grabbed some attention early in the year with its 27-24 overtime win at Boston College.

Head coach Thomas Hammock has compiled a 23-33 record in five seasons at his alma mater, which includes a 9-5 record and berth in the 2021 MAC Championship Game. Hammock played tailback for the Huskies from 1999-2002 and was the running backs coach in 2005-06. He has also been an assistant coach at Minnesota and Wisconsin as well as the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens.

Both teams have ties to the University of Alabama. Arkansas State’s vice chancellor for athletics, Jeff Purinton, worked for 12 years (2007-2018) as the associate athletic director for football as Nick Saban’s spokesperson and for three years (2019-21) as deputy athletic director under Greg Byrne.

Sean Frazier serves as the vice president and athletic director for Northern Illinois but was a walk-on running back and linebacker for the Crimson Tide under Bill Curry (1987-89) and Gene Stallings (1990-91), earning a Southeastern Conference championship ring in 1989 and a degree from the university in public relations.

Arkansas State will be making its 18th bowl appearance, compiling an 8-9 bowl record that began with the 1951 Refrigerator Bowl in Evansville, Ind. The Red Wolves lost their inaugural Camellia Bowl appearance in 2017, falling to Middle Tennessee 35-30, but defeated Florida International 34-26 at Cramton Bowl two years later in their last bowl appearance.

Arkansas State’s three appearances are the most in Camellia Bowl history. Appalachian State (2015, 2016), Georgia Southern (2018, 2022) and Buffalo (2020, 2022) have appeared twice.

Northern Illinois will be making its 15th bowl appearance, compiling a 4-10 record that started with a 20-0 win over Cal State Fullerton in the 1983 California Bowl. Its biggest bowl win was in 2013 after earning a bid to the Orange Bowl based on the BCS rankings. The Huskies lost to Florida State 31-10.

Tickets went on sale on Sunday for the ESPN Zone, a luxury lounge in the Multiplex that includes an outdoor ticket, at $150 and a Field Suite ticket, located in the North end zone, at $100. Tickets can be purchased at www.camelliabowl.com.

The teams will hold a pep rally at Union Station on Friday night (Dec. 22). FanFest opens at 8 a.m. on Saturday and the Cramton Bowl gates open at 9 a.m., two hours before kickoff.

Source: The Montgomery Independent