By Tim Gardner
In an odd game of sorts, Appalachian State surrendered the game’s first 20 points and then scored its next 23 to rally past Idaho 23-20 last Saturday at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho.
The Mountaineers improved to 4-2 over-all and remain unbeaten (3-0) in the Sun Belt Conference, while Idaho fell to 2-4 over-all and 1-3 in the conference with the loss.
The verdict was Appalachian State’s biggest comeback since it erased a 35-14 deficit in the fourth quarter of a 42-41 victory at Chattanooga in the 2010 opener.
The Mountaineers trailed 20-0 early in the third quarter against Idaho before completely taking over the game. They scored touchdowns on their next three possessions, then jumped ahead to stay on Michael Rubino’s 31-yard field goal with 7:24 left to play.
Their rally was propelled by a sack-hungry, turnover-minded defense and three touchdown passes from senior quarterback Taylor Lamb, who tied Armanti Edwards’ school record of 74 career touchdown passes.
Idaho regained possession at its 46-yard line with 2:23 remaining. But lineman Tee Sims had a hand in two sacks leading up to a fourth-and-24 pass that was completed by quarterback Matt Linehan, yet stopped a yard short of a first down. After the Mountaineers fell behind 20-0, their defense allowed only 17 yards on the final 17 plays, including the 23-yard pass on the Vandals’ last offensive snap.
Sims was credited with 2.5 sacks, and senior linebacker Eric Boggs made two fourth-quarter fumble recoveries. Lamb threw for 155 yards, and senior wide receiver Ike Lewis scored twice while catching six passes for 101 yards.
Idaho forced a turnover on the first play of the third quarter, but an Appalachian State defensive stand limited the Vandals to a short field goal that pushed them ahead by 20 points.
The Mountaineers went 3-for-3 on fourth-down conversions in scoring touchdowns on each of their next two drives.
Facing a fourth-and-2 situation from its 44 with nine minutes left in the third quarter, running back Jalin Moore gained 18 yards to set up Lewis’ 38-yard touchdown reception on a pass from Lamb. Rubino tacked on the point-after kick to make the score 20-7.
A kickoff tackle from Zy Letman at the 13, followed by big hits from Boggs and defensive back Tae Hayes, forced a quick Idaho punt. Lamb rushed for 11 yards on a fourth-and-6 keeper from the Idaho 36 to prolong the drive, and Terrence Upshaw gained 3 yards on a fourth-and-1 carry from the 16 before Lamb found tight end Collin Reed for a 6-yard touchdown with 13:23 remaining in the game. Rubino missed the conversion kick.
Reed’s score capped a 14-play; 53-yards drive that took 6:27 off the game clock.
Lineman Chris Willis’ first career sack and two under-pressure incompletions led to another three-and-out series for Idaho’s offense. Lamb tied Edwards’ school record of most touchdown passes thrown with a 45-yard pass to Lewis and Rubino tied the game on his PAT with 10:04 remaining.
The touchdown drive covered 62 yards and 5 plays.
Outside linebacker Rashaad Townes forced a fumble on the next play from scrimmage, and Boggs’ short return to the Idaho 28 set up Rubino’s game winning field goal.
Following a scoreless first period, Cade Coffey kicked a 28-yard field goal with 10:22 left before halftime to put Idaho up 3-0.
The Vandals built their lead to 10-0 with 5:24 remaining in the half when Linehan hit Alfonso Onunwor down the middle for a 20-yard touchdown pass and Coffey followed with the conversion kick.
Idaho increased its cushion to 17-0 when Joseph Wysocki caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Linehan with only nine seconds remaining in the half. Coffey tacked on the point-after for a 17-0 tally.
Coffey then kicked a 23-yard field goal with 12:15 left in the third quarter to push Idaho’s lead to 20-0.
But he missed a 37-yard field goal late in the first quarter that would have possibly meant a tie at the end of regulation and at least one overtime period.
Appalachian State returns home to play Sun Belt foe Coastal Carolina next Saturday, October 21 at 3:30 p.m. in Kidd Brewer Stadium.