Photos Courtesy: App State Athletics
By Tim Gardner
On September 1, 2007, then Division I-AA Appalachian State shocked the college football world with perhaps its greatest upset in history by beating Division One and Big Ten Conference traditional power Michigan in Ann Arbor.
And on September 1, 2018– the 11-year anniversary of that milestone victory– the Mountaineers nearly recorded their second biggest upset ever, which ironically was against another Big Ten opponent on the road. But tenth-ranked Penn State pulled out a 45-38 overtime win in front of 105,232 fans at Beaver Stadium.
“That (this game) was a resounding yes that we won’t back down, we will keep fighting,” Appalachian State head coach Scott Satterfield said. “That’s the heart of our program for the last 30 years. (At least) since I’ve been here.
“Our players believed. There was not any doubt in our minds that we could come in here and get this win. We played like that. And especially when we got down 14, even with the young football team that we have… that was the one question that I had – would our team fold when adversity hits? I think that question was answered.”
Trailing by 14 points (31-17) with less than eight minutes remaining, Appalachian State rallied, scoring three consecutive touchdowns and conversion kicks by Chandler Staton to take the lead. Running back Jalin Moore scored on a 16-yard touchdown run with 1:47 left and Staton followed with the extra point to put the Mountaineers up 38-31 with less than two minutes to play.
But Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley, the senior Heisman candidate, led the Nittany Lions on a game-tying touchdown drive to force overtime. Under heavy pressure from the Appalachian State defense, McSorley tossed a 15-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman K.J. Hamler and Jake Pinegar added the point-after-kick to tie the game (38-38) with 42 seconds left. Before his scoring reception, Hamler gave Penn State excellent field position with a 52-yard kick return to the Appalachian State 48-yard line.
McSorley completed five passes during the 7-play; 48-yard drive.
Appalachian State still had a chance to win the game in regulation. Staton had enough distance on a 56-yard field goal attempt, but it sailed wide to the right with 15 seconds left.
The Nittany Lions (1-0) scored in overtime on a 4-yard touchdown run by Miles Sanders. And when it was Appalachian State’s turn on offense, the Penn State defense, which had struggled for much of the game, finally stepped up and got a stop.
After Appalachian State running back Darrynton Evans narrowly converted a fourth-and-1 to the 15, quarterback Zac Thomas, who had torched the Nittany Lions secondary the whole game, again looked to the end zone. This time, Penn State cornerback Amani Oruwariye made an acrobatic interception in the end zone to end the game.
“I don’t know what’s in the water in Boone, North Carolina, but it seems like they’ve been doing this for a long time against whoever they play (either winning over heavily favored teams or taking them down to the final play or plays),” Penn State head coach James Franklin said. “I started the game at 46 years old. I ended it at 51.”
Thomas accounted for three fourth-quarter touchdowns before finishing with 270 passing yards in his starting debut.
Moore rushed for 88 yards and hauled in five catches.
McSorley capped a seven-play; 75-yard drive with a 12-yard touchdown run at the 12:02 mark of the first quarter. Pinegar booted the conversion kick as the Nittany Lions led 7-0.
But Evans had a 100-yard touchdown on the ensuing kickoff to provide a classic example of the kind of herculean effort the Mountaineers would consistently make in the game. Staton tacked on the extra point to tie the game at 7.
It marked Evans’ second straight game with a kickoff return for a touchdown — he had a 94-yard return in the 2016 Camellia Bowl before redshirting last season.
Staton nailed a 38-yard field goal with 4:10 remaining in the opening period to give the Mountaineers their first lead at 10-7.
Pinegar then answered the Appalachian State score with a 32-yard field goal of his own with 9:41 to go in the second quarter to tie the score.
Penn State used a pair of third quarter touchdown runs and Pinegar PATs to take a 24-10 lead. McSorley raced 10 yards for a touchdown and Ricky Slade dashed a 27 yards for another at the 9:41 and 2:41 marks, respectively.
Thomas connected with Malik Williams on touchdown passes of 17 and 24 yards before crossing the end zone on a 1-yard quarterback keeper with 6:03 left. That latter drive followed Austin Exford’s recovery of an onside kick and Corey Sutton’s 39-yard reception that moved the ball to the Penn State 1-yard line.
Desmond Franklin’s quarterback hurry forced a three-and-out after the tying score, and Clayton Howell had a punt downed by Tae Hayes at the 4-yard line to set up another three-and-out, this one capped by Josh Thomas’ quarterback hurry.
Thomas Hennigan’s fair catch at the Penn State 42 created a short field for the Mountaineers, and Moore accounted for every yard on the four-play touchdown drive that put Appalachian State on the brink of the upset.
Sanders had scored on a 2-yard touchdown run between Williams’ scoring receptions with Pinegar following with the point-after to give the Nittany Lions their 31-17 cushion with 7:40 to play in regulation.
The fourth quarter was a wild shootout, featuring 42 points, including 28 by the Mountaineers.
Appalachian State finished with 451 total yards, 17 more than the Nittany Lions. Senior linebacker Anthony Flory made a team-high nine tackles to lead the Mountaineers defense. Fellow inside linebacker Jordan Fehr contributed eight tackles in his first start.
Appalachian State returns to action next weekend at Charlotte. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:00 p.m.