By David Coulson
Oct. 12, 2014. Appalachian State was once again a kick away from victory, or ultimately defeat, Saturday evening in a non-conference game against Liberty before a homecoming crowd of 26,058 at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
This time, it was a missed Mountaineer field goal from 32 yards on the final play of regulation that sent the game to overtime. A nine-yard touchdown pass from Josh Woodrum to Darrin Peterson and an interception by Liberty free safety Jacob Hagen in the end zone completed the Flames’ 55-48 win in the extra period.
It was Liberty’s first win over a Football Bowl Subdivision team since its 2010 win at Ball State and the third-ever FBS victory for the Flames (4-3). Liberty hadn’t beaten Appalachian since a regular-season-ending 25-19 win in 1997 that knocked the Mountaineers out of the playoffs.
Known for their upsets of FBS opponents during its Football Championship Subdivision days, the Mountaineers lost to an FCS opponent for the first time in their initial season as a FBS school.
“Our players continued to play hard,” said Liberty coach Turner Gill. “I was proud of the way they continued to go, no matter what was happening.”
App State (1-5) had struggled all season with its kicking game, losing on Sept. 20 at Southern Mississippi 21-20 when Zach Matics had an extra point blocked with six second left. Matics was 1-of-5 on field goals and had also missed an extra point in five previous games.
That led ASU coach Scott Satterfield to replace Matics with punter Bentlee Critcher for the Liberty game and Critcher came through with field goals of 33 yards to end the first half and 38 yards to give the Mountaineers a 40-34 lead with 4:47 left in the third period.
But Critcher also missed an extra point in regulation, making for a controversial decision when Appalachian ran the clock down in the final minute to set up a final field goal attempt, instead of trying to score a touchdown from the red zone.
A running play by Terrence Upshaw (15 carries, 111 yards rushing), wide to the right side resulted in a one-yard loss on ASU’s final play before the kick and left Critcher with a more difficult attempt from the right hash mark to potentially win the game.
Critcher’s kick sailed narrowly outside of the right upright and a video review of the effort also showed it was wide to send the game into overtime.
“The game came down to turnovers,” said Satterfield. “We had four turnovers, two fumbles and two picks. It’s hard to look at 637 yards of offense and 48 points and know you’re not going to win.”
The Mountaineers won the coin toss and selected to go on defense first in the extra session, but Liberty continued its dominance of the ASU defensive front in the late stages by pounding the ball to the nine before Woodrum (24-of-37 for 356 yards and three TDs passing) hit Peterson on a slant for the go-ahead touchdown.
Needing a touchdown and extra point to force a second overtime period, the Mountaineers struck back with Marcus Cox (17 carries, 111 yards, one TD) racing 16 yards for a first and goal at the Flame nine.
But Lamb (20-of-31 for 397 yards with three TD passes and two interceptions) overthrew a pass to tight end Barrett Burns in the end zone and Hagen came off man-to-man coverage to haul in the interception and end the game.
Hagen had two of the biggest plays of the game, his strip of Cox in the second period forcing a fumble that cornerback Kenny Scott grabbed on a bounce and took 39 yards for a touchdown that tied the game at 21 midway through the quarter.
“In a game like that, where it is going back and forth, you have to stay together as a team, with no arguing going back and forth,” Hagen said. “Play with passion and something good is going to happen when we fly to the ball. Someone is going to make a play.”
Lamb broke Randy Joyce’s 1981 freshman single-game passing record of 334 yards and was closing in on Armanti Edwards’ overall mark of 433 (set against South Carolina State during the first round of the 2008 FCS playoffs) before the contest ended abruptly.
“We played well, except for the turnovers,” said Lamb, a redshirt freshman. “We learned a lot of things tonight and that’s a great thing to take away from the game.”
Like most of the previous nine ASU-Liberty games, this contest — the first between the schools since 2002 — was a wild one from the start.
Liberty tried an onside kick on the opening play, but John Lunsford mishit the ball and Aaron Krah recovered for the Mountaineers at the Liberty 38.
“The onside kick was open,” said Gill. “We just didn’t execute the kick.”
One play later, Cox scampered 38 yards for the first touchdown of the game, giving Appalachian a quick 7-0 lead that Liberty answered just over six minutes later.
The two sides traded points into the rest of the way.
D.J. Abner’s second one-yard TD plunge of the game gave Liberty a 41-40 lead with 29 seconds left in the third period. Abner, who also scored on Liberty’s first drive, finished with a workhorse 29 carries for 129 yards.
But Terrence Upshaw struck back with a 60-yard dash to the end zone and Lamb added a two-point conversion pass to Bobo Beathard to boost ASU to the 48-41 advantage with 12:46 remaining in regulation.
But the Flames methodically marched down the field, milking the clock and converting a fourth and three on Abner’s five-yard burst to the 20.
Facing a third and three at the 13, the junior Woodrum showed his experience as a three-year starter, picking his way through traffic and into the end zone on an option run for the tying score.
With 6:19 remaining, the game was knotted at 48 and Appalachian decided to counter with some power running of its own, and mixing in a trio of pass completions, moving the ball from its own 25 to the Liberty 11 before getting conservative in the final minute.
Appalachian will be on the road next Saturday at Troy for a Sun Belt Conference game at 3 p.m., the Mountaineers’ first trip to this Alabama-based campus since sending the Trojans to the FBS ranks with a 33-30 first-round playoff win in 2000.
Liberty will have a week off before opening Big South Conference action on Oct. 25 by hosting Gardner-Webb.