By Tim Gardner
Appalachian State’s first Sun Belt Conference game Saturday resembled its nonconference finale from last weekend.
The Mountaineers (3-1 over-all; 1-0 conference) quickly took control with another first-half scoring explosion, at one point ripping off five consecutive touchdowns to claim a commanding lead in a 52-7 rout of South Alabama before 25,862 on Homecoming Day at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
Appalachian State’s offensive, defensive and special teams units excelled again, just like they did while producing a 52-7 halftime lead in a 72-7 home romp over Gardner-Webb.
And three of Appalachian State’s 10 pass completions against South Alabama were for touchdowns.
Also, the Mountaineers’ special teams came up with several big plays Saturday, as defensive back Clifton Duck had a 52-yard punt return to set up a touchdown and Tae Hayes recorded the program’s first blocked field goal since a 2014 game against South Alabama. Defensive back Hayes also made a third-quarter interception as the Appalachian State defense forced six three-and-outs and limited the Jaguars (1-4 over-all, 1-1 conference) to 308 total yards, 209 fewer than Appalachian’s total of 517.
Appalachian State outside linebackers Akeem Davis-Gaither and Noel Cook combined for 15 tackles.
Quarterback Zac Thomas got the scoring underway when he raced 54 yards for a touchdown less than two minutes into the game (13:11). Chandler Staton followed with the conversion kick to put the Mountaineers up 7-0.
Running back Kawaan Baker then scored on a 2-yard touchdown run for South Alabama and Gavin Patterson added the PAT with 6:12 remaining in the first period to make the score 7-7.
For there it was all Mountaineers. And scoring drives lasting 35 and 25 seconds enabled turned the 7-all tie into a 21-7 lead by the end of one quarter.
The Mountaineers scored the first of the five straight touchdowns when running back Jalin Moore romped 7 yards for a touchdown just two plays after the Jaguars had tied the score. Staton’s extra-point kick provided a 14-7 lead.
Ryan Huff recovered an onside kick after South Alabama tied the game, and Thomas’ 31-yard pass completion to wide receiver Thomas Hennigan set up Moore’s touchdown.
Duck followed a defensive three-and-out with his 52-yard punt return to the South Alabama 25 to set up Appalachian State’s next score. Moore also aided the drive with a gain of 11 yards to the Jaguars 14-yard line, which ended with a 7-yard touchdown keeper by Thomas at the 3:10 mark of the quarter. Staton converted the point-after kick for the 21-7 advantage.
Wide receiver Corey Sutton then caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from Thomas with 12:22 left in the second period to cap an 86-yard drive that took six plays. Staton kicked the extra point for a 28-7 lead.
Moore added his second touchdown on a 2-yard run with 4:45 left in the half. Staton then made his fifth PAT for a 35-7 cushion. The touchdown drive covered 69 yards and took twelve plays.
Moore’s scoring efforts were part of a 19-carry, 123-yard performance that moved him into sixth place on Appalachian State’s career rushing list. With his 17th career 100-yard game, Moore increased his total to 3,538 yards and moved past Chip Hooks, who ran for 3,472 yards from 1991-94.
Running back Marcus Williams, Jr. caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from Thomas at the 2:41 mark of the half and Staton followed with the conversion kick to push the Mountaineers to a 42-7 lead at intermission.
Thomas rushed for 77 yards with two touchdowns on just six attempts and threw for 146 yards while finishing with two touchdowns through the aiThe Mountaineers’ scoring blitz was boosted by South Alabama penalties. The Jaguars had seven penalties for 61 yards by halftime. Six of those aided Appalachian State scoring drivesAppalachian State’s second half points came from Staton’s 23-yard field goal with 46 seconds remaining in the third quarter for a 45-7 lead, and then tight end Collin Reed’s 3-yard touchdown on a pass from quarterback Peyton Derrick and Staton’s seventh PAT with 3:04 to play for the final 52-7 margin.
Derrick is10-for-10 passing this season in a reserve role.
Quarterback Evan Orth had 225 yards passing with an interception for South Alabama.
The Mountaineers have next weekend off before returning to action with a Tuesday night game at Sun Belt-rival Arkansas State on October 9. It kicks off at 8:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time) and will be televised by ESPN2.
Sun Belt Conference Standings
After September 29 Games-