By David Rogers. October 21, 2017. BLOWING ROCK, NC — Lest they give Appalachian State head coach — and every other High Country fan — a heart attack, the Mountaineers need to find a way to play four full quarters of football.
COVER IMAGE: Ike Lewis (2) leaps high for catch. Photographic image by Brad Batchelor for Blowing Rock News
In defeating Sun Belt Conference rival Coastal Carolina 37-29 on Saturday in front of 30,179 at Kidd-Brewer Stadium, App State started fast and finished strong, but those bookend performances hardly explain what happened in between. The Chanticleers rallied from an early 14-0 deficit to take a 19-17 lead into intermission after Evan Rabon slotted a 49-yard field goal with 29 seconds left in the first half. A little more than three minutes into the third quarter, Rabon chipped in a 24-yard field goal to expand the Coastal lead to 22-17.
But Appalachian was far from intimidated by the Chanticleer rally. Midway through the third frame, Mountaineer quarterback Taylor Lamb found redshirt freshman wide receiver Jalen Virgil along the left sideline. After sidestepping a would-be tackler, the speedster from Lawrenceville, GA spotted a lane on the far side of the field with blockers aplenty, bobbing and weaving his way to open space before sprinting for the end zone to give the Mountaineers a tenuous, 23-22 lead. A trick play aimed at extending the lead to three points with a two-point conversion failed when Watauga High School alum Rylee Critcher was stopped short of the goal line.
Keys To The Game
- Record-breaking passing performance by Mountaineer QB Taylor Lamb, with 427 yards and two TDs through the air (adding 25 yards rushing)
- A breakout performance by redshirt freshman WR Jalen Virgil, with 5 catches for 186 yards and 2 TDs
- Impressive receiving performances by senior WR Ike Lewis (6 catches, 106 yards) and true freshman Thomas Hennigan (4 catches, 61 yards)
- A “next guy up” rushing performance by true freshman running back Marcus Williams, Jr., who carried the ball 15 times for 72 yards and recorded 2 TDs. Williams and another true freshman RB, Daetrich Harrington, were called into service after injuries to senior RB Terrence Upshaw and junior RB Jalin Moore
- Two fumble recoveries by App State’s defense
- No turnovers by Appalachian
- 7-of-13 in third down conversions
With the jam-packed, “Family Weekend” stadium rocking like it did in those FCS-level national championship years, the reinvigorated Mountaineers fashioned an early 4th quarter TD after an impressive, 11-play, 74-yard drive that kept CCU’s potent offense off the field for 5:34. The drive was highlighted by true freshman running back Marcus Williams, Jr. punching across the goal line from one-yard out for his first career touchdown and, with sophomore PK Michael Rubino’s successful PAT kick, App State was looking at a 30-22 advantage.
Although the Mountaineer defense gave up 434 yards of total offense from Coastal, they seemed to pull things together when it mattered, holding Coastal to a four-and-out on their next possession, even after Chanticleer wide receiver and return specialist Malcolm Williams gave the visitors good field position with a 37-yard return from his own 1-yard line. He slipped through, past and bounced off of no less than five tackles en route to the Coastal 38-yard line where Williams was finally pushed out of bounds.
Down by eight points with only about 12 and a half minutes remaining, Coastal’s 4th-and-1 pass from senior QB Tyler Keane to junior wide receiver Omar Black sailed incomplete and the Mountaineers took over on downs at the CCU 47-yard line.
The Lamb-led offensive drive stalled amid off-setting penalties for unsportmanlike conduct, and Rubino’s 41-yard field goal attempt at the 8:43 marke was wide left, setting off a chorus of boos from the Mountaineer faithful. It was his third miss of the day after he missed from 30- and 38-yards in the second quarter.
Any uneasiness among the home crowd was quickly erased as Coastal’s Williams took a handoff from Keane on a jet sweep around the left side, but uncharacteristically fumbled five yards behind the line of scrimmage. It was recovered by Appalachian junior defensive end Okon Godwin, giving Lamb & Co. a short field to paydirt from the Chanticleer 19-yard line.
An apparent TD pass, run and stretch from Lamb to tight end Collin Reed across the right side pylon was disallowed, the official claiming Reed had stepped out of bounds at the 3-yard line before reaching inside the pylon. It didn’t matter, though, because two plays later freshman RB Williams drove through a horde of defenders and into the end zone for his second career TD. Redshirt freshman placekicker Chandler Staton poked the ball through the uprights for the PAT, and Appalachian suddenly had a 15-point lead, 37-22, with just over six minutes remaining.
Keane connected with his WR named “Williams” at the 2:34 mark to finish the evening’s scoring after the Rabon PAT tightened the Mountaineer lead to 37-29, but the Chanticleer’s on-side kick was deftly fielded by the Mountaineers’ Clifton Duck. App State fans got one more thrill when App State’s “Williams” darted through a gap along the right side, rushing for 34 yards and a first down at the CCU25, but at that point Lamb and the Mountaineers went into victory formation and simply ran out the clock.
Saturday’s performance as a team lifted the Mountaineers to a commanding 4-0 record in Sun Belt play, but also had historic implications, individually, for senior QB Lamb. His two TD passes on the night gives him 76 career touchdown passes (and counting), making him Appalachian’s all-time leader, ahead of former star Armanti Edwards, who had 74 from 2006-2009.
In addition, Lamb’s 427 passing yards rank second in school history, just six yards shy of Edwards’ 433 recorded against South Carolina State in 2008. It was the eighth 400-yard passing game in App State history. Lamb’s previous high was 397 yards against Liberty as a redshirt freshman in 2014. Lamb’s 76 TD passes is now tied for third place in Sun Belt Conference history (with Florida Atlantic’s Rusty Smith from 2005-09), just five behind a first place tie at 81 between Troy’s Corey Robinson (2010-13) and Louisiana-Monroe’s Kolton Browning (2010-13).
Although freshman WR Jalen Virgil had an electrifying 56-yard TD catch and run against FCS-level Savannah State early in the season for his first career TD, Saturday’s performance against Coastal Carolina was a coming out party of sorts for the 6-2, 211-lb. redshirt freshman wide receiver as he caught five passes for 186 yards and two TDs. His scoring reception in the first quarter covered 83 yards after Lamb found him in the open along the right sideline. His sprint to the end zone put the Mountaineers on top, 14-0, just five minutes into the game.
Now 5-2 overall and 4-0 in the Sun Belt, the Mountaineers’ next opponent is UMass (University of Massachusetts), an FBS-level independent (no league affiliation for football). The Minutemen thrashed Sun Belt rival Georgia Southern on Saturday, 55-20, their first win of the 2017 season against six losses to the likes of Hawaii (35-38), Coastal Carolina (28-38), Old Dominion (7-17), Temple (21-29), Tennessee (13-17), and Ohio (50-58).
Against winless Georgia Southern, UMass rolled up 670 yards of total offense, 320 rushing and 350 passing.
SLIDESHOW By Brad Batchelor for Blowing Rock News