By Tim Gardner
Appalachian State took care of business Saturday in its first-place showdown at Georgia State. A Sun Belt Conference Championship will be at stake next Saturday.
Capitalizing on big third-quarter plays from captains Jalin Moore and A.J. Howard, Appalachian State claimed a 31-10 road victory against the Panthers at Georgia State Stadium (old Turner Field) in Atlanta.
The Mountaineers and Georgia State were two of four teams that are part of a first-place tie in the Sun Belt. Appalachian State (7-4 over-all, 6-1 conference) can clinch at least a share of a second straight league title by winning its December 2 finale against Louisiana in Boone’s Kidd Brewer Stadium. The kickoff time for that game will be announced soon by the Sun Belt Conference office.
Appalachian State has a 26-5 record in conference play since joining the Sun Belt, including a 26-3 mark since starting 0-2 in 2014 and a 13-2 road record during that same stretch.
Moore, a junior running back, rushed for 239 yards with one touchdown in his return to the starting lineup and senior quarterback Taylor Lamb played a part in three touchdowns to lead the Appalachian State offense.
Moore has four career games with at least 239 rushing yards. He had 244 yards against Idaho in 2015, 257 yards against Akron in 2016 and 241 yards against New Mexico State earlier this season. Entering Saturday’s games, LSU’s Derrius Guice was the only other active Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) back with at least three games of 239 yards.
“Jalin (Moore), what a trooper he is, because he’s been dinged up the whole season,” Appalachian State head coach Scott Satterfield said. “For Jalin to get 32 carries and run the ball like he did against Georgia State was tremendous. I have a lot of respect for him for that.”
Satterfield continued: “I’m really proud of my team. Our players showed a lot of grit and we’re in position to win another conference championship, and we’re excited with the opportunity.”
Appalachian State rushed for 323 yards as a team, topping the previous season high of 238 rushing yards allowed by Georgia State’s defense, which entered Saturday ranked second in the Sun Belt by allowing only 129.9 per game. Tennessee State had that total in the 2017 opener at Georgia State, thanks to Treon Harris’ 91 rushing yards that had served as the individual high against the Panthers’ defense before Moore’s timely performance.
Lamb moved into first place in school history in career pass attempts. He had 23 on Saturday to bring his total to 1,202. Armanti Edwards had 1,180 from 2006-09.
The Mountaineers’ offense finished with 430 yards. Lamb completed 15-of-23 passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns. But he also threw two first-half interceptions, including one on Appalachian State’s first play from scrimmage.
Defensively, the Mountaineers limited Georgia State (6-4 over-all, 5-2 conference) to 292 total yards, and just 91 running the ball.
Leading by three points at halftime, Appalachian State used the big plays from Moore and Howard to set up a pair of Lamb touchdown passes that pushed the Mountaineers ahead 24-7.
On the fourth play of the second half, Moore exploded through a hole on a 58-yard rush to the Georgia State 6. Lamb then threw a touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Collin Reed after the next snap. Redshirt freshman Chandler Staton kicked the extra point for a 17-7 Appalachian State lead at the 12:55 mark of the third period.
Moore’s run was the longest rush of the season for Appalachian State and the third-longest rush of his career. He had a 56-yard touchdown run against New Mexico State earlier this season. His longest career runs were efforts of 63 yards against New Mexico State and 61 yards against Texas State in 2016.
Georgia State advanced to its 45-yard line on the next drive before junior inside linebacker Anthony Flory applied heavy pressure to quarterback Conner Manning, whose deep pass was intercepted by senior safety Howard at the Appalachian State 34. Howard returned the ball 61 yards to the Georgia State 5. Two plays later, Lamb tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Ike Lewis, who finished with five catches for 43 yards. Staton booted the extra point to give the Mountaineers the 24-7 cushion.
Howard’s interception return was Appalachian State’s longest since he scored on a 71-yard return at Troy last season.
And Lewis has caught 32 passes for 491 yards and eight touchdowns over the last six games.
Additionally, playing in his 40th career game, senior wide receiver Dante Jones made his second career start as part of a four-receiver set for the Mountaineers.
Brandon Wright kicked a 50-yard field goal with 4:46 remaining to cut Appalachian State’s lead to 24-10.
But Lamb added an insurance touchdown on a 14-yard run with 25 seconds left. The scoring drive took 10 plays and covered 75 yards. Staton added the conversion kick for the final tally.
Moore made a 3-yard touchdown run with 11:52 left in the first half to cap a 7-play drive that covered 41-yards. Staton kicked the extra point to give the Mountaineers a 7-0 lead.
Manning made a 2-yard touchdown run, followed by Wright’s point-after kick to tie the score at the 6:59 mark of the half.
Staton, who is 6-for-6 kicking field goals this season, then booted a 42-yard field goal with 2:18 left before intermission to put the Mountaineers up 10-7.
Appalachian State had a golden opportunity to score another first-half touchdown. However, four running plays into the interior of the Georgia State defense only yielded a goal-line stand by the Panthers and a first down at their own 1-yard line.
Defensively, the Mountaineers limited Georgia State’s star receiver Penny Hart to five catches for 61 yards with his long reception being 19 yards.
“(Penny) Hart is the best receiver in the league and we did a good job containing him,” Satterfield said. “Really, the only points we gave up, the seven points (a touchdown and conversion kick), were off the turnover.”
Flory, senior inside linebacker Eric Boggs and senior outside linebacker Devan Stringer each had nine tackles to lead Appalachian State’s defense.
After rushing for 23 yards on a successful fake punt in the Mountaineers last game (a 27-6 win over Georgia Southern), senior defensive end Caleb Fuller blocked a first-quarter punt Saturday. The Mountaineers’ last blocked punt came from Tucker Bell against Georgia Southern in 2014.
Additionally, redshirt freshman defensive end Baer Hunter made offensive appearances at tight end and on special teams in the first half.
With the win, Satterfield improved his record to 39-22, putting him in sole possession of fourth place on the career coaching victories list at Appalachian State. Sparky Woods had a 38-19-2 record from 1984-88. The top three are Jerry Moore (215-87 from 1989-2012); E.C. Duggins (57-25-3 from 1947-50 and 1952-55); and Jim Brakefield (47-48-4 from 1971-79).