By Tim Gardner
Appalachian State had to have an offensive rally and a last-second defensive stand to survive in their Sun Belt Conference opener at Texas State last Saturday night. The Mountaineers got both.
With quarterback Taylor Lamb igniting a comeback by throwing several third-down completions to true freshman receivers and senior safety A.J. Howard making a tackle at the 1-yard line on the final play, Appalachian State claimed what aptly could be described as a magical 20-13 victory.
Texas State recovered a fumble at its 1-yard line with 2:26 remaining and converted three third downs before reaching the App State 7 with 10 seconds left. Bobcats quarterback Damian Williams completed an over-the-middle pass to Elijah King, and Howard made the game-saving tackle a few moments before time expired with Texas State rushing to set up another snap. The officials ruling that no time remained was confirmed by a video review.
“We let them go 98 yards, but we didn’t break,” Howard said. “We bent a little bit, but we didn’t break as a defense.”
App State (2-1, 1-0) trailed 10-0 before newcomer Thomas Hennigan scored his first college touchdown on a third-and-goal pass from Lamb with 29 seconds remaining in the first half. Michael Rubino tied the game on a 27-yard field goal to end the opening series of the second half, and the Mountaineers pulled ahead for good on Terrence Upshaw’s 1-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter.
The teams traded fourth-quarter field goals, with James Sherman making a 38-yard kick, before Rubino increased App State’s lead to 20-13. Then, Clifton Duck’s 41-yard interception return to the Texas State 14 put the Mountaineers in position to seal the outcome. But the goal-line fumble gave the Bobcats another shot to win.
“They (Bobcats) matched our intensity tonight, and I thought it was a very physical contest,” App State coach Scott Satterfield said. “I told our guys that this is what Sun Belt football is going to be. It’s going to be physical, and you’re going to have to play this way in order to win.
“For us on the 1-yard line, we fumbled it and gave it to them. We told them they weren’t going to go 99 yards. They went 98. It was very, very close, but you have to take these wins any way you can get them.”
After failing to convert any of its first five third-down chances, App State was 3-for-3 on its breakthrough touchdown drive and 4-for-5 during its stretch of 17 consecutive points.
Lamb overcame a slow start to complete 17 of 28 passes for 167 yards, and Upshaw rushed for 60 yards while carrying most of the second-half workload. Hennigan had 57 yards on six catches, including third-down conversions of 11 and 6 yards on App State’s first scoring drive. True freshman Malik Williams’ 28-yard gain on a third-and-10 pass set up the go-ahead touchdown.
Defensively, App State sacked Texas State quarterback Damian Williams four times.
The Mountaineers won despite being outgained in total yardage, 385-283.