By David Coulson
Nov. 15, 2014. JONESBORO, Ark. — An ugly first half, filled with special teams gaffes, and an nearly-as-hideous finish didn’t negate some brilliant play through the rest of the game as Appalachian State won its fourth consecutive Sun Belt Conference game by hanging on for a 37-32 win at Arkansas State.
Marcus Cox overcame some shaky moments in the first half to rush 40 times for 255 yards and a pair of scores, while freshman quarterback Taylor Lamb completed an efficient 14-of-22 passes for 255 yards and two more throwing scores as the Mountaineers (5-5 overall, 4-2 in league) piled up 549 yards of total offense, while limiting Arkansas State (6-4, 4-2) to 314 yards.
It was the first home loss of the season for Arkansas State, which fell into a third-place tie in the Sun Belt with Appalachian, trailing only undefeated Georgia Southern and Louisiana-Lafayette — next week’s App State opponent on the road.
Trailing 20-6 when Cox fumbled through the end zone while attempting to stretch out the ball and score with a minute left in the first half, the Mountaineers were given a lifeline by some poor clock management and an 11-yard punt by the Red Wolves to get the ball back with 36 seconds left.
Taking over at the Arkansas State 37 with 36 seconds remaining, Lamb hit Simms McElfresh for 13 yards and then fired a 24-yard scoring strike to Shaedon Meadors to sent the Mountaineers to the locker room trailing just 20-13.
Appalachian then stormed through the Arkansas State defense in the second half, scoring on four consecutive drives to roll to a 37-20 lead with four minutes to go.
Lamb capped a 11-play, 68-yard drive on the opening possession of the second half with his one-yard scoring plunge to tie the game before Cox rumbled for 14 yards and a touchdown and Montez McGuire hauled in Lamb’s 16-yard td aerial to give the Mountaineers a 34-20 lead with 11:43 left.
Bentlee Critcher’s 24-yard field goal expanded the lead to 17 points with 4:10 remaining.
Two late touchdowns by the Red Wolves, set up by a Terrence Upshaw fumble that Chris Stone recovered at the App 11 and the recovery of an Arkansas State onside kick made the end of the game nerve-racking for the Mountaineers before they closed out the win.
Poor coverage on punt returns nearly ruined Appalachian in the first half. Blaise Taylor followed an opening drive Red Wolves touchdown by Fredi Knighten with a 38-yard punt return TD and then scampered 61 yards with another return to put Arkansas State in scoring position again.
Knighten found Tres Houston for a 12-yard touchdown connection to give Arkansas State a 20-7 lead midway through the second period. Only Cox’s one-yard scoring burst at the beginning of that quarter kept the Mountaineers from being blown out early.
But eventually the high-pressure defense of Appalachian began to slow down the Red Wolves and the offense gradually took control of the game.
Appalachian State is back on the road next Saturday for a 5 p.m. game at Louisiana-Lafayette (6-3, 5-0), which was playing Louisiana-Monroe in a Sun Belt road contest on Saturday night.
The Mountaineers close out their first Football Bowl Subdivision season at home on Nov. 29 against Idaho.