By Tim Gardner
Quarterback Chase Brice passed for two touchdowns, ran for a third and Appalachian State closed out the game with a spectacular 100-yard interception return for a touchdown by Inside Linebacker Trey Cobb to lead the Mountaineers past South Alabama 31-7 on Heroes Day in Boone Saturday. This Sun Belt Conference tilt was played before 29,348 fans at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
Appalachian State (8-2-over-all, 5-1-Sun Belt) entered the game in a first-place tie with Coastal Carolina, which lost the head-to-head matchup in Boone and therefore technically would be considered behind Appalachian State in the league standings. Coastal Carolina suffered a second league loss to Georgia State Saturday. So the Mountaineers are currently the only team in the East Division with only one league loss and are just one victory away from locking up the Sun Belt East Division championship outright.
Appalachian State also is undefeated at home in six games this season. South Alabama falls to 1-4 all-time versus Appalachian State, with four straight losses. Those last three Mountaineer wins have come by a combined score of 113-17, including 52-7 in 2018 and 30-3 in 2019.
Brice opened the scoring with a keeper from the 6-yard line with 2:39 remaining in the first quarter, and then hit wide receiver Corey Sutton with a 17-yard touchdown pass less than a minute later after Cobb’s first pick of the game. Chandler Staton kicked both extra points as the Mountaineers led 14-0.
South Alabama (5-5 over-all; 2-5 Sun Belt) pulled within 14-7 late in the first half on a 27-yard pass from Desmond Trotter to Jacob Hopper. Diego Guajardo kicked the extra point.
But the Mountaineers scored the game’s last 17 points.
With Appalachian State leading 17-7 midway through the last quarter, Brice completed a fourth-down play-action pass to wide receiver Thomas Hennigan for a 14-yard touchdown. Staton made the point-after kick to increase the margin to 24-7.
The touchdown reception was Hennigan’s 20th of his collegiate career.
Driving to second-and-goal at the Appalachian State 9-yard line with less than three minutes remaining in the game, Trotter was hit as he released the ball and Cobb made his second interception standing on the goal line. He rambled up the left sideline and picked up a convoy of black-and-gold-clad teammates for the 100-yard touchdown return with 2:37 left.
Staton made the extra-point kick to conclude the scoring.
Cobb’s interception was Appalachian State’s fourth 100-yard pick-6 and first in thirty-one years (1990). He also set up another Mountaineers touchdown with a deflected pass interception in the first quarter.
The score might have been closer had the Jaguars executed better on fourth down. Six fourth-down plays — three on offense, two on defense and one on special teams — went against them. But the Mountaineers ruthless defense was the primary reason South Alabama could not execute successfully on most of those plays.
On fourth-and-1 from the Appalachian State 14 midway through the first quarter, Terrion Avery and Trotter misconnected on a handoff, resulting in a 1-yard loss and a turnover on downs. The Mountaineers then drove for the game’s first touchdown.
Trailing 14-0, South Alabama drove to the Appalachian State 30 midway through the second period. But Jaguars running back Bryan Hill was stuffed for a two-yard loss on fourth-and-1 by the Mountaineer defense.
After Trotter hit Hopper for the touchdown pass, Darrell Luter cut an Appalachian State drive short with an interception at the South Alabama 16 with only 1:30 remaining in the half. The Jaguars then drove to the Appalachian State 22. But Guajardo missed a 40-yard field goal off the left upright, leaving the score 14-7 game at the half.
In the third quarter, South Alabama drove to the Appalachian State 3. On fourth-and-goal, Trotter completed a short pass to Lincoln Sefcik, but Mountaineers cornerback Steven Jones tackled him for a 1-yard loss.
And with 8:32 left to play, Appalachian State scored another touchdown on fourth down with the Brice to Hennigan pass.
Staton also kicked a 25-yard field goal to provide the 17-7 Appalachian State lead.
Brice completed 14-of-26 passes for 195 yards. Camron Peoples gained 90 yards on 23 carries to lead Appalachian State’s running game.
The Mountaineers were only 5-for-14 on third-down conversions. But they went 3-for-3 on fourth down conversions, with a pair of touchdowns.
Trotter completed 21-of-38 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions. Jalen Tolbert caught seven passes for 108 yards for the Jaguars. However, they were held to only 58 yards rushing on 33 attempts by Appalachian State’s defense.
Complete game statistics are available by logging on to the following link: https://appstatesports.com/documents/2021/11/13/APP10.PDF
The Mountaineers travel to Troy, Alabama to play another Sun Belt-rival, the Troy Trojans, next Saturday, November 20, beginning at 2:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time). It will be Appalachian’s last regular season road game. The West Division Trojans lost 35-21 to nationally 24th ranked and conference West Division champion Louisiana-Lafayette Saturday and are 5-5 over-all and 3-3 in conference games.
With that victory over Troy, Louisiana-Lafayette will host the 2021 Sun Belt Conference Championship game on Saturday, December 4 at 2:30 p.m., possibly against Appalachian State. The Mountaineers fell to Louisiana-Lafayette 41-13 on the road during the 2021 regular season.
App State Beats Jags, Claims Sole Possession of First in Sun Belt East
By App State Sports
Ferocious defense and fourth-down efficiency carried App State to a Sun Belt victory that gave the Mountaineers sole possession of first place in the East Division.
App State pulled away for a 31-7 win against South Alabama in front of 29,348 fans at Kidd Brewer Stadium and is now the only team on the East side with one league loss. The Mountaineers (8-2, 5-1) entered Saturday in a first-place tie with Coastal Carolina, which lost the head-to-head matchup in Boone and suffered a second league loss Saturday against Georgia State.
Trey Cobb’s second interception of the day, a 100-yard return for a touchdown thanks to pressure from Demetrius Taylor, capped the scoring on a day when South Alabama (5-5, 2-5) was limited to 284 yards of offense.
Taylor and Ronald Clarke contributed sacks as App State accumulated 10 tackles for loss. Offensively, App State went 3-for-3 on fourth-down attempts, including a Chase Brice touchdown run and a fourth-quarter touchdown throw to Thomas Hennigan.
App State scored two touchdowns in a span of 56 seconds late in the first quarter to take a 14-0 lead.
The Mountaineers converted two fourth-down runs on their first scoring drive, with Brice reaching the end zone on a fourth-and-2 keeper from the 6. Two plays into the next series, D’Marco Jackson’s tipped pass set up an interception for Cobb, who returned the ball 10 yards to the South Alabama 21.
App State returned to the end zone two plays later, when Corey Sutton scored his 23rd career touchdown on a 17-yard pass from Brice. Sutton moved into a tie for first place in program history with Rick Beasley with that touchdown.
Taylor’s tackle for a 2-yard loss on a fourth-and-1 run from the App State 30 created a turnover on downs, and South Alabama’s next drive ended with a three-and-out punt, but a fumbled punt was followed immediately by the Jaguars’ only score of the day — Desmond Trotter’s 27-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jacob Hopper.
App State’s third turnover of the half didn’t end up costing the Mountaineers, as a 40-yard field goal late in the half hit the left upright and was no good.
South Alabama had an opportunity to tie the game in the third quarter and passed up a field goal on a fourth-and-goal play from the App State 3, but Nick Hampton’s pressure and Steven Jones Jr.’s tackle on the completed pass toward the left sideline led to a 1-yard loss.
Driving into the wind, App State produced the first south-to-north points all day with a 12-play, 88-yard drive that included a 50-yard completion to Malik Williams and Chandler Staton’s 25-yard field goal with 2:18 left in the third quarter.
The Mountaineers gained key separation with a fourth-quarter touchdown, going for the first down instead of kicking in a fourth-and-3 scenario from the South Alabama 14 midway through the period. Brice faked a handoff and took a hit while delivering the pass to an open Hennigan, who scored the 20th receiving touchdown of his career.
Cobb’s 100-yard interception return — the fourth in school history and first since Rico Mack did it against James Madison in 1990 — put the finishing touches on the home win.