By David Rogers. October 31, 2019. BOONE, NC — A cold front blasted into the High Country Thursday night — and it was about more than the weather. Halloween Night at Kidd-Brewer Stadium saw horrors aplenty for AppNation as visiting Georgia Southern cooled off the previously hot-handed Mountaineers, 24-21, in front of 18,796.
COVER IMAGE: By early in the third quarter, AppNation had fallen silent. All photographic images by Brad Batchelor for Blowing Rock News.
With the nationally televised upset (ESPNU), the Eagles all but iced #20-ranked Appalachian State hopes for a New Year’s Six bowl game invitation, presumably the Cotton Bowl on December 28th. Two questions immediately come to mind: (1) How far will the Mountaineers drop in the polls and, more importantly (2) What are the implications for the Sun Belt Conference Championship Game on December 7th?
App State’s defense had few answers for the Eagles’ grinding — and clock-consuming — triple-option rushing attack, at least through the first three quarters.
Call them Appalachian State’s nemesis. Call them the Mountaineers’ archrival. Call them whatever you want, as long as you include calling the Georgia Southern football team “spoilers” — and perhaps deserving of an FBS ranking themselves. If nothing else, defeating the previously unbeaten Appalachian State at The Rock underlines the growing strength of Sun Belt competition vs. the rest of the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) world.
The Eagles jumped ahead 24-7 early in the third quarter, then did just enough to blunt a furious late rally by App State, which recorded 14 unanswered points in the 4th quarter to pull within a field goal of tying the game.
The Mountaineers’ defense had few answers for the Eagles’ grinding — and clock consuming — triple-option rushing attack, at least through the first three quarters. Six Eagle plays were for 16 yards or more, including two scoring runs of 68 and 55 yards on the visitors’ first two possessions of the third quarter. It was typical Georgia Southern football: accumulate yards, two-three-four at a time, then every once in awhile explode for a “chunk” of gridiron real estate that results in a TD or at least sets up a subsequent score.
Eagle junior Wesley Kennedy III rambled for a game-high 142 yards on 13 carries, including for two TDs — one of them a masterful 68 yard dash through traffic on just the fourth play of the second half.
GSU redshirt junior QB Shai Werts added 83 yards rushing, also on 13 carries, and finished the Eagles’ scoring with a 55-yard jaunt through the Mountaineers’ line and secondary on the visitors’ second possession of the second half. In command early, Werts only passed four times, completing just one “chunk play” aerial to lumbering (6-4, 220 lbs.) senior wide receiver Mark Michaud for 16 yards and a key first down.
If it comes down to it, Georgia Southern now owns the tie-breaker in deciding the East Division title.
Dominated by Georgia Southern’s defensive front, App State’s Sun Belt Conference-leading scoring offense virtually disappeared in the first half. The Mountaineers opened the game with five consecutive possessions where they were forced to punt after minimal production. The most yardage gained during that early streak of non-production was a six-play “drive” (on their third possession) that netted them only 19 yards. App State’s featured running back, junior Darrynton Evans, finished the game with only 76 yards on 17 carries. Seven receiving yards gave him just 83 all-purpose yards.
The Georgia Southern defense thwarted every attempt by the Mountaineers to get the ball out of their own half of the field until the last two minutes of the second quarter. That’s when App State looked more like what AppNation has seen from their favorite sons for the previous seven games of the 2019 campaign. Thomas engineered a 10-play, 92 yard drive that culminated with a magical, tippy-toe catch by junior wide receiver Malik Williams has he was falling across the end zone’s right sideline. The TD-scoring catch was reviewed by video replay officials and confirmed. With Chandler Staton’s PAT kick, the Mountaineers were able to take a more manageable, 10-7 deficit into the locker room for intermission.
Whether because of the cold or the wind or the wet conditions, the Mountaineers’ passing attack was foiled by usually dependable receivers’ dropped passes early and errant aerials by junior quarterback Zac Thomas a little later. At least some of Thomas’ miscues, it could be argued, was due to the swirling wind that picked up as the game progressed, even as the temperature dropped precipitously. Most bewildering were the drive-kiling dropped passes in the first and second quarters.
In the late afternoon on Thursday, High Country temperatures were in the 60s, with heavy rains. By the 8:00 pm kickoff, the pace of rain had fallen, but the temperature at Kidd-Brewer dropped to just over 40 degrees. Before the end, there were snow flurries as the thermometer readings fell to 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ironically, even with the bitter cold temperatures, it was the Mountaineers’ passing attack that nearly saved the day. Wide receiver Corey Sutton caught TD passes with 8:22 and 4:47 remaining in the final stanza to pull App State to within three points, at 24-21.
We’ll move forward.
The Mountaineers had two opportunities in the final two minutes to surge ahead or tie, but were unable to score with those opportunities.
“Credit to Georgia Southern and coach (Chad) Lunsford,” App State head coach Eliah Drinkwitz told reporters afterward in opening his press conference. “They played a good football game. They played a clean football game, (with) few penalties and no turnovers. They converted their long field goal in the first half. We did not convert our field goal in the third quarter, and at the end of the day, that’s going to be the one that we wished we had back.”
Given the setback, App State will now try to regroup and prepare for the next Power 5 opponent, South Carolina, in Columbia.
“No games are easy,” observed Drinkwitz in looking forward to the Mountaineers’ next opponent, South Carolina. “There are no easy games in football. Regardless of who the opponent is, we’ll come back and work on Sunday. We’ll do what we’ve talked about every single week, which is to focus on being 1-0. We’ll put this behind us and keep moving forward. There’s a lot of season left. There are a lot of things still to play for. Obviously, we don’t control our own fate. They (Georgia Southern) have the tiebreaker over us, but there’s a lot of conference games left to be played.
“We’ll move forward,” he added. “It’s all about being 1-0 and all about those things we preach when we win. We have to keep preaching them when things don’t go in our favor, and we have to keep believing in them. That’s what our team will do.”
The loss leaves Appalachian State with a 4-1 conference record, 7-1 overall, and clinging to a tenuous, one-half game lead in the Sun Belt East Division standings over Georgia Southern and Georgia State, both 3-1 in the conference.
Even if the Mountaineers win out for the final conference games of the regular season over Georgia State, Texas State, and Troy, they will need help from one or more of Georgia Southern’s upcoming opponents. If the Eagles also sweep their remaining Sun Belt Conference games — Troy, Louisiana-Monroe, Arkansas State, Georgia State — because of the victory over App State, GSU owns the tiebreaker for the East Division championship. It would give them the opportunity to play in (and potentially host) the Sun Belt Conference Championship on December 7th. Because the Eagles lost to Louisiana, 37-24, in their first Sun Belt Conference game on September 28th, another loss by the Eagles all but dooms their SBC title hopes.
With identical 2-1 conference records, Louisiana and Louisiana-Monroe are currently tied atop the Sun Belt’s West Division. Between the eventual East and West division champions, whichever division-winning team having the best record at the end of the regular season will host the Sun Belt title game.
SELECTED TEAM STATS
- Net Total Yards — GSU 351, APP 423
- Rushng Yards — GSU 335, APP 152
- Rushing TDs — GSU 3, APP 0
- Passing Yards — GSU 16, APP 271
- Passing TDs — GSU 0, APP 3
- Punts-Avg. — GSU 6-38.7, APP 7-33.1
- Inside Opponent’s 20 — GSU 4, APP 1
- Turnovers — GSU 0, APP 0
- Penalties — GSU 2-20, APP 4-43
- Time of Possession — GSU 33:29, APP 26:31
- 3rd Down Conversions — GSU 5/14 (35.7%), APP 6/17 (35.3%)
- Avg. 3rd Down Distance to Go — GSU 4.6, APP 8.0
- Field Goals-Attempts — GSU 1-2, APP 0-1
SELECTED INDIVIDUAL STATS
- APP – Zac Thomas 25-51-271, 3 TDs
- GSU – Shai Werts 1-4-16
- GSU – Wesley Kennedy III: 13 carries, 145 yds., 2 TDs
- GSU – Shai Werts: 13 carries, 83 yards, 1 TD
- APP – Darrynton Evans: 17 carries, 76 yards
- GSU — J D King: 21 carries, 69 yards
- APP — Zac Thomas: 5 carries, 37 yards
- APP — Marcus Williams, Jr.: 5 carries, 30 yards
- APP – Malik Wiliams: 8 catches, 89 yards, 1 TD
- APP – Thomas Hennigan: 6 catches, 78 yards
- APP – Corey Sutton: 6 catches, 67 yards, 2 TDs
- APP – Jalen Virgil: 2 catches, 21 yards
- GSU – Mark Michaud: 1 catch, 16 yads