By David Coulson
BOONE, N.C. — Georgia Southern coach Willie Fritz tried to paint Thursday night’s Sun Belt Conference football showdown at Appalachian State as just another game, not as the biggest rivalry the two teams play each season.
It turned out that this contest was pretty routine — for the Mountaineers, who dominated the Eagles 31-13 in a fashion similar to all of their other wins during a stretch where App State has won 12 times in 13 outings over two seasons.
Playing before an ESPNU national-television audience and 24,121 fans packing Kidd Brewer Stadium for the first Thursday night home game in ASU history, the Mountaineers were shredded by GSU on an eight-play, 86-yard opening drive.
But after Eagle quarterback Kevin Ellison scored on his slicing, 12-yard TD scamper, Appalachian regrouped, smothering the Georgia Southern option defensively and coming up with enough strikes on offense to turn the contest into a rout.
“I felt really good after the first series,” said Georgia Southern coach Willie Fritz. “We never stuck to our schedule (on offense). It was a frustrating night.”
The victory moved the Mountaineers (6-1 overall, 3-0 in conference) into a first-place tie with Arkansas State (4-3, 3-0), which beat Louisiana-Lafayette on Tuesday night, 37-27. App State meets Arkansas State in another Thursday-night, national television game on Nov. 5.
The Mountaineers also became bowl eligible for the first time with its sixth win as it won its ninth consecutive Sun Belt game over two years.
“If you had to pick a team to play on a short week, with five days preparation, it probably wouldn’t be Georgia Southern,” App State coach Scott Satterfield said. “We had a great crowd and we really fed off that crowd tonight.”
Appalachian quarterback Taylor Lamb was 14-of-20 for 202 yards and two touchdowns, making few mistakes as the Mountaineers exploited an injury-depleted Eagle pass defense.
Simms McElfresh was Lamb’s primary target with six catches for 66 yards and a nine-yard touchdown reception that vaulted App State to its 17-7 lead with under four minutes remaining in the first half. McElfresh also rushed twice for 22 yards.
He was one of five Mountaineers to combine for 244 yards on the ground — led by 90 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns from Marcus Cox — as Appalachian wore out the Georgia Southern defensive line and consumed 10 minutes more than the Eagles off the clock in the final three quarters.
Defensively, it was also a balanced performance by the Mountaineers, led by defensive linemen Ronald Blair and Osvaldo Sombo with three tackles for loss each (the Mountaineers had 10 tackles for loss altogether). Blair and linebacker Eric Boggs had a team-best eight tackles each, while Alex Gray and Mondo Williams picked off passes.
“You can’t say enough about our defense,” said Satterfield.
Following Ellison’s touchdown, App State responded with a seven-play drive to cut GSU’s lead to 7-3 on the Mountaineers’ first offensive possession.
ASU then responded to good field position after a Georgia Southern punt in the second quarter to take the lead.
Cox capped the five-play, 41-yard drive by splitting the Eagle defense on his 18-yard dash to the end zone, making it 10-7.
Down by 10 points, what chance that GSU had to climb back into the game evaporated in the third quarter when App State took advantage of two momentum changers to score its knockout punch.
The Eagles (5-2, 3-1) missed a chance to cut ASU’s lead to one touchdown when Alex Hanks missed wide left from 35 yards on his field goal attempt.
On its next possession, Georgia Southern committed the first of two second-half turnovers when a receiver tripped and fell and App State’s Williams intercepted an Ellison pass.
Three plays later, another busted coverage left Mountaineer tight end Barrett Burns alone on the home sideline and Lamb drilled him for a 33-yard scoring strike to extend the lead to 24-7 and put the Eagles on life support with just 19 minutes left in the game.
For good measure, Appalachian constructed a seven-play, 65-yard march in the fourth quarter that left no doubt in the outcome. Cox finished things off with his six-yard burst.
The Eagles finally scored again in garbage time when L.A. Ramsby jaunted 19 yards for a TD, but Ellison’s two-point came up short and an onside kick by Montez McGuire allowed ASU to run out the clock.
Appalachian held the top-ranked rushing offense in the Football Bowl Subdivision to 188 yards and to 252 yards of total offense. The Eagles came in averaging 399 rushing yards per game.
It was the fourth victory in five years over Georgia Southern, the sixth time in eight seasons and the ninth win out of the past 13 games in the series, which the Mountaineers now lead 16-13-1 after 30 games.
“To me, we’re right where we want to be in the Sun Belt Conference,” Satterfield said. “This was a nice win, but we have several more to play to get the conference (title).”