— #FunBelt (@SunBelt) October 9, 2017
By Tim Gardner
In a wild shootout, in which the teams combined for nearly 1,000 offensive yards, Appalachian State survived New Mexico State for a 45-31 Sun Belt Conference win in its homecoming game Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone.
New Mexico State rolled up 532 yards of offense, while the Mountaineers had 425 (957 total for the teams). But Appalachian State’s defense rose to the occasion when it needed to most and set a school record by picking off six passes to key the win. They included a record-tying three apiece from its two starting cornerbacks, Tae Hayes and Clifton Duck.
The Mountaineers’ previous record for interceptions in a game was five, set against Elon in 1968 and Mississippi College in 1991. Hayes and Duck tied Mark LeGree (2008 against Wofford) and Larry McKenzie (1973 against Davidson) for the most single-game picks in school history.
Hayes, a junior, now has four career interceptions. Duck, a sophomore, increased his career total to nine.
Duck also recorded his first career sack on an 11-yard loss that forced New Mexico State to punt in the second quarter.
The Mountaineers (3-2 over-all; 2-0 conference) also got a timely passing game contribution from an unlikely source to aid in the victory. Wide receiver Malik Williams threw the tiebreaking touchdown on a trick play with 5:45 remaining to give Appalachian State the lead for good.
Williams, a high school quarterback, connected with Thomas Hennigan on a 27-yard score, followed by Michael Rubino’s conversion kick to make the score 38-31.
A fourth-down stop by linebacker Eric Boggs preceded a 56-yard touchdown run from Jalin Moore, who finished with 241 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries, and Duck’s final interception with 1:16 left sealed the outcome.
Moore is currently the only active Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) running back with three games of at least 240 rushing yards. He gained 244 at Idaho in 2015 and a career-high 257 at Akron last season.
Terrence Upshaw added two touchdown runs as the Mountaineers scored 31 points off the first five turnovers by New Mexico State (2-4, 0-2).
Seventy-three seconds after the Mountaineers tied the game at 24 on quarterback Taylor Lamb’s 38-yard touchdown run and Rubino’s PAT with 10:31 remaining in the game, New Mexico State quarterback Tyler Rogers threw a 61-yard touchdown pass to Jason Huntley. Dylan Brown tacked on the conversion kick for a 31-24 Aggies lead.
Appalachian State answered on its next possession with a 10-yard touchdown run by Upshaw and Rubino’s point-after-kick with 7:13 remaining for a 31-31 tie.
The touchdown was aided by Moore’s 41-yard carry to start the drive, and Duck’s 39-yard interception return to the Aggies’ 29 set up the go-ahead score.
Lamb looked right and fired a behind-the-line lateral to Williams, who played three years of quarterback at Chester, SC High School. Williams hit Hennigan in stride in the end zone, on the connection between two true freshmen.
The Aggies moved downfield before facing fourth-and-6 at the Appalachian State 26, and Boggs tripped up Huntley as he sprinted toward the first-down marker following a short pass. An official review overturned the on-field call of a first down and ruled Huntley short of the marker.
Moore then dashed for the 56-yard touchdown with 2:12 left. Rubino added the extra point for the final score.
The Aggies opened the scoring when Rogers threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Bryce Roberts with 9:40 left in the first quarter. Brown tacked on the extra point for a 7-0 lead.
Rubino kicked a 26-yard field goal for Appalachian State at the 1:59 mark of the opening period to cut the score to 7-3. Hayes’ 52-yard return set up the points.
Duck intercepted a Rogers pass at the New Mexico State 40-yard line and returned it 15 yards to the Aggies’ 25 to key Appalachian State’s next score. Moore went straight up the middle for a 3-yard touchdown run with 12:15 remaining in the first half and Rubino added the conversion kick to give the Mountaineers a 10-7 lead.
Roger threw all six of the Aggies interceptions.
Appalachian State padded its cushion to 17-7 after Hayes’ 6-yard interception return set up a touchdown. Upshaw scored on a 13-yard run with 11:06 left in the first half and Rubino added the extra point.
New Mexico State then drove 76 yards to trim Appalachian State’s lead to 17-14 with 1:42 remaining in the half when Rogers scored on a 2-yard touchdown run and Brown made the conversion kick.
The Aggies tied the score at 17 with 8:17 remaining in the third period when Brown kicked a 31-yard field goal to cap a drive that covered 66 yards in 10 plays.
Larry Rose III scored on a 1-yard touchdown run and Brown made the point-after to put New Mexico State up 24-17 with 13:44 left.
Appalachian State next travels across the nation to Moscow, Idaho to play the Idaho Vandals in another Sun Belt Conference tilt. The game will begin at 5:00 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN3.