By Tim Gardner
Appalachian State suffered its second straight loss and its first in Sun Belt Conference action this season, falling 52-45 to the University of Louisiana-Monroe (UL-M) in a wild finish at Malone Stadium in Monroe, LA last Saturday.
It marked the first time the Mountaineers have lost to Louisiana-Monroe since joining the Sun Belt in 2014. They also were upset in double-overtime at UMass (30-27) last week.
Appalachian State senior quarterback Taylor Lamb threw his third touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Ike Lewis, a 20-yard connection with 53 seconds left in regulation, followed by kicker Chandler Staton’s extra point to tie the game at 45. But the Warhawks answered by scoring the winning touchdown with 23 seconds left on quarterback Caleb Evans’ 50-yard touchdown pass to R.J. Turner. Craig Ford added the conversion kick for the final tally.
A penalty flag was thrown against Louisiana-Monroe because Turner went out of bounds before coming back in and catching the ball. However, game officials waved off the penalty after ruling that Turner was forced out of bounds. The Mountaineers (5-4 over-all; 4-1 Sun Belt) reached the Warhawks 39-yard line in the closing seconds, but Lamb’s desperation pass to the end zone fell incomplete as time expired.
Evans had a sensational performance. He completed 24 of 32 passes for 356 yards and three touchdowns. He threw one interception. Evans also ran the ball nine times for 47 yards and two touchdowns.
Appalachian State head coach Scott Satterfield credited Evans, who was able to elude the Mountaineers’ rush to throw the touchdown to Turner, who caught six passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns.
“He’s an outstanding player,” Satterfield said of Evans. “It seemed we’d have him in the backfield and he would make unbelievable throws and their receivers made great plays. I think it was probably more them (winning the game) than us (losing it).”
Satterfield added that Evans was able to consistently avoid Appalachian State’s pass rush, which allowed him to extend plays.
“We’ve been getting to quarterbacks this season, but we really didn’t get to him much,” Satterfield noted. “They(Louisiana-Monroe) had a lot of big plays in the passing game, as well as in the running game in the first half. They just had our number today. That’s the bottom line.”
After missing last weekend’s game with an injury, Appalachian State junior running back Jalin Moore rushed for 114 yards on 21 carries with two touchdowns and scored his first career receiving touchdown on a 75-yard catch.
“We didn’t play Moore much in the first quarter and then he brought a spark whenever he came into the game,” Satterfield said. “Jalin has been sick all week and it was an incredible job by our trainers to get him healed up and ready to go. He didn’t practice all week, and for a guy who didn’t practice, he played outstanding.”
Lamb also had a sterling performance, completing 20 of 29 passes for 339 yards and four touchdowns.
When Lamb threw his 82nd career touchdown pass in the game, it broke the previous Sun Belt record of 81 held by Louisiana-Monroe’s Kolton Browning (2010-13) and Troy’s Corey Robinson (2010-13). Adding in his 21 career rushing touchdowns, Lamb joined Armanti Edwards as the only Appalachian State players with a part in at least 100 career touchdowns.
With his touchdown passes and run, Lamb has been responsible for 103 career touchdowns. Edwards accounted for 139 touchdowns (74 passing, 65 rushing) from 2006-09.
Lamb has had at least 327passing yards in four games this season. He had three 300-yard passing games in his first three seasons as Appalachian State’s starter and has passed for more than 2,000 yards in each of his four seasons.
With seven catches for 87 yards and three touchdowns, Lewis has caught 24 passes for 381 yards and six touchdowns in the last four games. Appalachian State had previously not had a player catch three touchdown passes in one game since Brian Quick had three against Jacksonville in 2010.
Evans tossed a 21-yard touchdown pass to Turner and then a 39-yard touchdown to Marcus Green exactly one minute apart (6:59 and 5:59), with Ford kicking extra points after each to give the Warhawks a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
After Appalachian State got a 35-yard field goal by Staton to pull to within 14-3, Louisiana-Monroe’s Marcus Green electrified the crowd with a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff. Ford tacked on the extra point to push the Warhawks to a 21-3 cushion with 14:39 remaining in the second quarter.
But the Mountaineers struck back. Lamb threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Lewis with 10:22 left in the second quarter. Another Lamb-to-Lewis touchdown pass, this one covering 31 yards, cut into Louisiana-Monroe’s lead. Staton made both point-after kicks and Appalachian State trailed only 21-17 with 4:57 remaining in the second period.
Then the Warhawks surged ahead 28-17 on Evans’ 7-yard touchdown run and Ford’s conversion kick with 1:29 left in the half. But Moore caught a swing pass from Lamb to the right and sprinted free to the end zone for a 75-yard touchdown pass play only thirteen seconds later thanks to downfield blocks from freshman wide receiver Thomas Hennigan and senior right tackle Beau Nunn. Staton nailed the point-after kick to pull the Mountaineers within 28-24.
Sophomore safety Desmond Franklin’s goal-line interception, which followed a quarterback hurry from junior inside linebacker Anthony Flory, prevented the Warhawks from adding to their halftime lead.
Franklin had a career-high nine tackles in the game.
The Mountaineers rallied to take two second half leads, but failed to hold them.
Appalachian State took a 31-28 advantage on its first drive of the second half (11:31 mark) on a 2-yard touchdown run by Moore and Staton’s extra point.
Evans then made a 2-yard touchdown run and Ford followed with the point-after with 2:41 left in the third quarter to give the Warhawks the lead back (35-31).
Moore’s second touchdown run, this one from five yards, and Staton’s extra point gave the Mountaineers a 38-35 lead with 39 seconds left in the third period.
A 44-yard field goal from Ford tied the score at 38 with11:49 left.
But the Warhawks (4-6 over-all; 4-3 Sun Belt) broke the tie on Derrick Gore’s 1-yard touchdown run and Ford’s conversion kick with 3:17 remaining. Then a 49-yard kick return by Lewis and a fourth-down conversion run of 2 yards by Moore on a fourth-and-one at the Louisiana-Monroe 34 helped set up Appalachian State’s tying points.
Moore finished the game with two catches for 84 yards.
Louisiana-Monroe outgained Appalachian State 569-508 in total yards.
Appalachian State senior defensive end Tee Sims recorded a sack, increasing his season total to 8.5 and his two-year total to 15.5 sacks through 21 games.
Starting again for injured senior outside linebacker Devan Stringer, sophomore linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither led the Mountaineers with a career-high 10 tackles. He had set his previous high of three tackles the previous weekend at UMass.
With one pass breakup, junior cornerback Tae Hayes remained among the national leaders with 14 passes defended (four interceptions, 10 Passes Broken Up-PBUs) this season.
Redshirt freshman Ryan Neuzil (left guard) and senior T.J. Watkins (wide receiver) made their first career starts for the Mountaineers. With a 60-yard reception in the third quarter, Watkins has accounted for two of Appalachian State’s five longest plays from scrimmage this season. He ranks first with an 84-yard touchdown reception against Wake Forest.
Freshman punter Xavier Subotsch averaged a career-best 56 yards on two attempts for the Mountaineers. He had punts of 57 and 55 yards.
Appalachian State returns to action this Thursday night (November 9) with a 7:30 p.m. home game against long-time rival and Sun Belt opponent Georgia Southern.