By Tim Gardner
The anticipated scoring shootout and down-to-the-wire finish between Appalachian State and Toledo in the Dollar General Bowl Saturday night never materialized. Instead, Appalachian State roared to a surprisingly easy 34-0 shutout victory over the Rockets before 28,706 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama and an ESPN national television audience.
The Mountaineers won nine games in 2017 season. It also marked their third consecutive bowl victory —all coming in the State of Alabama. After erasing a 24-7 deficit, Appalachian State won 31-29 against Ohio on a last-second field goal in the 2015 Camellia Bowl, and then used a tiebreaking field goal to claim a 31-28 victory against Toledo last year at the same bowl and site in Montgomery, AL.
Appalachian State set history in this 2017 game, becoming the only school to win a bowl game in each of its first three years after the completion transition to the Major College Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level.
Toledo finished the 2017 season with an 11-3 record. The Rockets were Mid-American Conference Champions.
Sun Belt Conference co-champion Appalachian State (9-4) used a powerful running game that pounded out 327 yards and a dominating defense that held Toledo’s prolific offense far below its season averages in passing and rushing. The Rockets finished with a measly 22 rushing yards for the game—almost 200 (218) below their season average. And they had just 146 offensive yards— a whopping 364 below their season average of 510 per game.
The Mountaineers entered the game with a balanced offense that averaged 222.3 passing yards and 215 rushing yards per game (437 combined) which like Toledo’s, is highly-potent, creating the forecast for much scoring by both teams and the winner prevailing late in the game.
But Toledo, which also was averaging 39.2 points per game, was held scoreless for the first time since 2009, while Appalachian State posted the first shutout in the 19-year history of the Dollar General Bowl.
Appalachian State’s defense also forced four Toledo turnovers and recorded sacks by senior lineman Caleb Fuller (1.5), senior outside linebacker Devan Stringer (1.0), junior lineman Okon Godwin (1.0) and senior inside linebacker Eric Boggs (0.5).
Additionally, the Appalachian State defense also forced six three-and-outs, including four in the second half.
Junior Jalin Moore led the Mountaineers running attack with 125 yards and a career-high three rushing touchdowns as he earned the Bowl’s Most Valuable Player honor.
The Mountaineers averaged 6.2 yards rushing per carry. True freshman Daetrich Harrington chipped in with 72 yards and redshirt freshman Marcus Williams, Jr. had 68 yards.
Moore scored on a 7-yard touchdown run with 4:06 remaining in the opening period and Chandler Staton kicked the extra point for a 7-0 lead.
The touchdown drive covered 36 yards and took five plays.
Junior inside linebacker and Defensive Most Valuable Player Anthony Flory’s 19-yard interception return set up the touchdown.
Moore then capped an 8-play; 64-yards drive with another 7-yard touchdown run at the 13:51mark of the second quarter. Staton booted the PAT for a 14-0 margin.
Staton kicked a 29-yard field goal with 8:09 remaining in the half to push the Mountaineers lead to 17-0. He then added a 23-yard field goal just two minutes and seventeen seconds later (5:52) to provide a 20-0 halftime margin.
The latter field goal was set up when junior defensive back Austin Exford recovered a fumble forced by redshirt freshman defensive back Kaiden Smith on a kickoff return.
Smith was named the game’s Special Teams Most Valuable Player.
The Mountaineers outgained the Rockets 267 to 85 in first-half yardage, which included 206 rushing yards.
Sophomore defensive back Desmond Franklin’s interception of Toledo quarterback Logan Woodside’s pass near the end zone stopped the Rockets initial attempt to rally from the halftime deficit. And it set up Appalachian State’s next touchdown, which came when Moore ripped off a 31-yard touchdown run with 8:14 left in the third quarter to surpass the golden achievement of 1,000 yards rushing for the second straight season.
Staton made the conversion kick to give the Mountaineers a 27-0 lead.
The touchdown drive covered 61 yards and took seven plays.
Moore compiled 1,037 yards rushing and made twelve touchdown runs in 2017.
Freshman Malik Williams scored on a 3-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth period to cap a 55-yards drive that took seven plays. Staton added the conversion kick for the final tally.
Appalachian State sophomore cornerback Clifton Duck recorded his sixth interception of the season several minutes later to stop another Toledo drive.
The highly-heralded Woodside threw for only 124 yards, completing 16-of-29 attempts outside of his three interceptions.
Appalachian State’s record-setting senior quarterback and Offensive Most Valuable Player Taylor Lamb (131 passing yards, 45 rushing yards) returned for one play on the final series before exiting the field to cheers along with senior linemen Beau Nunn and Colby Gossett, who helped the Mountaineers end the season with three straight games of at least 300 rushing yards.
The Mountaineers finished the bowl game with 458 yards.