By David Rogers. December 23, 2017. MOBILE, AL — Appalachian State may have to change their mascot moniker from Mountaineers to Lumberjacks. With a smothering defense and an opportunistic offense, App State buzz-sawed their way through Toledo on both sides of the ball to defuse the Rockets, 34-0.
COVER IMAGE: Appalachian State players celebrate Dollar General Bowl shutout of Toledo, 34-0. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News.
Ballyhooed as the 8th ranked offensive football team in the nation coming into Saturday evening’s prime time, nationally broadcast Dollar General Bowl, the betting lines favored Toledo by seven points. The Rockets sported a gaudy 11-2 record, averaged 39.2 points per game while holding opponents an average of 25.6, and averaged almost 510 yards of total offense.
On this night, the Rockets were off the mark in a big way. A smothering Mountaineer defense throttled back Toledo, limiting the Logan Woodside-led offense to just 146 total yards (124 passing, 22 rushing). The previous season low for the Rockets was 316 vs Ohio, on November 8th.
Turnovers played a key role in reversing momentum. Appalachian State poached a total of four takeaways, including one fumble recovery and three interceptions by four different athletes. Linebacker Anthony Flory started the INT parade with a little less than six minutes remaining in the first quarter, on Toledo’s second possession. The defensive gem inspired the App State offense to a 5-play, 36 yard drive that took just over a minute to find the end zone when junior running back Jalin Moore leaped and rolled across the goal line with the ball extended over his right shoulder to break the plane.
Moore finished the game with 125 yards rushing on 22 carries and three touchdowns. Even though he sat out a few games and portions of games due to injury, he finished the 2017 season with 1,039 yards rushing. After completing his sophomore season in 2016 with 1,402 yards on the ground, with his 2017 production Moore became just the sixth Appalachian player to rush for more than 1,000 yards in back to back seasons, the others being Marcus Cox, Armanti Edwards, Kevin Richards, John Settle, and Damon Scott. The three rushing touchdowns were a career high for the junior running back.
Senior quarterback Taylor Lamb finished the game 8-of-13 passing for 131 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions, but ran the ball eight times for 45 yards. He was particularly adept at decision making on the option. He finished his App State career with 90 passing touchdowns (App State, Sun Belt records), 9,786 passing yards and 2,008 rushing yards (fourth Sun Belt QB with 2,000 in his career). His career touchdown-to-interception totals of 90/32 included a 27/6 mark as a senior, or a 4.5/1 ratio. The App State single-season record of 5.0/1 belongs to Richie Williams (20 touchdowns, four interceptions in 2005). Williams and Lamb are the only App State starting QBs with a 4/1 ratio over a full season.
Appalachian joins Alabama and Clemson as the only FBS teams to record a shutout in a bowl game since 2010. Alabama did it twice, first by blanking LSU, 21-0 in the 2011 BCS title game, and then shutting out Michigan State, 38-0, in the 2015 Cotton Bowl. Clemson won 31-0 against Ohio State in the 2016 College Football Playoffs semifinal. This was the first time in the 19-year history of the Dollar General Bowl and its predecessors (the GMAC Bowl, the GoDaddy Bowl, the GoDaddy.com Bowl, and the Mobile Alabama Bowl) for any team to register a shutout.
The Mountaineers made the move to the Sun Belt Conference and the Football Bowl Subdivision for the 2014 season. While they finished that maiden season 7-5 and technically bowl-eligible, according to NCAA rules for transition teams Appalachian was not permitted to go to a bowl game. After again becoming bowl-eligible in 2015 (Camellia Bowl, defeating Ohio 31-29), 2016 (Camellia Bowl, beating Toledo 31-28), and this year’s stunner in a rematch with Toledo, 34-0, the Mountaineers become the only school in FBS history to win a bowl game in their first three years of bowl eligibility and completing the transition to FBS.
With App State’s win, the Sun Belt Conference is 3-1 this bowl season. Troy whipped North Texas, 50-30, in the New Orleans Bowl and Georgia State defeated Western Kentucky 27-17 in the Cure Bowl before Arkansas State lost to Middle Tennessee, 35-30, in the Camellia Bowl. North Texas, Western Kentucky, and Middle Tennessee all are members of Conference-USA. The final bowl game in which a Sun Belt team has a role will be the Arizona Bowl on December 29, with the Sun Belt’s New Mexico State taking on Utah State of the Mountain West Conference.