By David Coulson
BOONE, N.C. — There were no sightings of animals traveling in pairs during the persistent rain at Kidd Brewer Stadium on a homecoming Saturday afternoon, but there were enough big plays for Appalachian State to storm past Wyoming, 31-13, for it’s third non-conference football victory of the season.
Spectators among the announced crowd of 19,345 were barely settled into their seats when Mountaineer junior tailback Marcus Cox broke loose for his 59-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage. Cox finished with 15 carries for 178 yards rushing.
“We set the tone early,” said Cox. “There was a cutback lane and they over-ran the play. I told myself, don’t get caught.”
It didn’t take even four minutes for Appalachian (3-1) to score again when sophomore cornerback Latrell Gibbs took advantage of a miscommunication in the Wyoming passing game, intercepting Cameron Coffman’s throw from the ASU 13 and racing 91 yards to make it 14-0.
“I saw the ball, picked it off and took it to the house,” said Gibbs, who has four interceptions this season.
Wyoming shredded the Mountaineer defense 281 yards on the ground and out-gained App State 373-314 in total offense, but the Cowboys (0-5) never pulled closer than seven points the rest of the way. UW was stymied on four of six trips to the red zone on a day where the presence of Hurricane Joaquin off the Atlantic coast helped create torrential rains and thick fog at times.
“You have to grind out wins sometimes,” Appalachian coach Scott Satterfield said. “They are not all going to be 49-0 (like the Mountaineers’ first two wins this year over Howard and Old Dominion). Sometimes, you are going to win ugly.”
Sophomore tailback Brian Hill pierced ASU for 208 yards on 30 carries and a seven-yard touchdown scamper on the first play of the second period to make it 14-7, but the Mountaineers forced three Wyoming turnovers and six fumbles and didn’t allow another score until the final minute of the game.
Hill’s hard-nosed performance was the first time Appalachian had allowed more than 100 yards to a rusher since an overtime loss to Liberty on Oct. 11, 2014 and the only 200-yard performance by an opponent since Eldra Buckley ran for 210 yards on 33 carries during the Mountaineers’ 35-25 win at home against Chattanooga in the midst of the 2005 national championship season.
“I thought the game would be closer,” said Wyoming coach Craig Bohl, who is trying to rebuild the Cowboy program after winning three consecutive Football Championship Subdivision titles from 2011-2013 at North Dakota State, matching Jerry Moore’s record at App State. “There are some guys making mistakes, but they are making progress.”
Wyoming was the first Football Bowl Subdivision team to travel to Kidd Brewer Stadium for a game.
Two more significant plays helped put the contest away at the end of the second quarter and the beginning of the third stanza.
Facing a fourth and five from the Wyoming 24 with 31 seconds left before the intermission, Satterfield sent his field goal unit on the field for a 41-yard try in the 14-7 game. But instead of attempting the kick, the Mountaineers called time out and set up a fake, bringing back memories of a similar, successful situation against Georgia State at home last season.
As kicker Zach Matics lined up for the apparent field-goal attempt, holder Bentley Critcher received the snap, jumped up and ran an option play towards the ASU sideline. He pitched the ball to Matics, who dashed six yards and past the first-down sticks before being forced out of bounds at the Cowboy 18.
On the next play, quarterback Taylor Lamb (3-of-12 passing for 65 yards and one interception) lofted a perfect spiral to Simms McElfresh, whose precise cut on the corner route put him in position for the touchdown, making it 21-7 with just 12 seconds left on the clock.
McElfresh was returning to the lineup for the first time since being injured three weeks ago at Clemson.
“Converting the fake field goal and getting the score on the next play was a big-time momentum (builder),” Satterfield said.
D.J. May’s 49-yard kickoff return for Wyoming to open the second half gave the Cowboys some hope, but it was quickly crushed when the Mountaineer defense forced UW to punt after two quick first downs.
On the third play of the next drive, Cox slashed through the Wyoming defenders on a counter off the jet-sweep fake and rumbled 50 yards to the Cowboy 12.
Lamb kept the ball on the read option after a three-yard rush from Terrence Upshaw and slinked nine yards for the touchdown that broke Wyoming’s back and pushed the Mountaineer advantage to 28-7 midway through the third quarter.
Matics tacked on a career-long 51-yard field goal with just over three minutes to play to push that edge to 31-7.
Wyoming drove 66 yards in six plays to close the ASU lead to 18 points as Coffman drilled Josh Tapscott for an eight-yard scoring strike with 44 seconds remaining. The rain-slicked ball led to a fumbled snap by Wyoming on the extra point attempt.
The Cowboys recovered not one, but two onside kicks in the final moments — the second one coming after Wyoming was called for an offsides penalty. After Coffman rushed for nine yards, Devan Stringer’s sack of the redshirt senior quarterback was the fourth of the game for the Mountaineers and ended the contest.
Inside linebacker John Law paced the Mountaineer defense with 13 tackles, 2.5 tackles for losses of 12 yards, one sack, one pass breakup and one near interception.
Appalachian will open its second season of Sun Belt Conference play next Saturday with its first of two consecutive road trips against Georgia State at 3:30 p.m. in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. The Mountaineers travel to Louisiana-Monroe the following weekend.
App State pummeled struggling Georgia State 44-0 during a Kidd Brewer Stadium snowstorm last year. The Panthers are 1-3 following Saturday’s 41-33 loss to FCS member Liberty.
The Georgia State program, which is led by former ASU athletic director Charlie Cobb, has lost 26 of 28 games overall since joining the Sun Belt in 2013. The Panthers did break a 15-game conference losing streak on Sept. 12 with their 34-32 victory at New Mexico State — GSU’s first-ever win against a Football Bowl Subdivision squad.
But before preparing for the Sun Belt season, Appalachian can bask in its ninth win in 10 games over the past two years.
“We took advantage of some of the opportunities that (the Cowboys) were giving us,” said Satterfield. “We were able to make big plays when we needed to and that was a big key to the game.”