By Tim Gardner
Appalachian State closed the 2020 regular season with a 34-26 victory against long-time rival Georgia Southern Saturday in Sun Belt Conference football action at Paulson Stadium in Statesboro, GA.
The Mountaineers finish the regular season with an 8-3 record. That includes a 6-2 record in conference play, which equates to a final second place standing in the Sun Belt’s East Division.
With the win, the Mountaineers improved their all-time record to 20-15-1 against Georgia Southern, including 4-3 since both programs joined the Sun Belt Conference in 2014.
Appalachian State used two monster fourth quarter plays to take command of the game.
After Alex Raynor nailed a 47-yard field goal to start the fourth quarter (14:51) and put Georgia Southern up 20-17, Jalen Virgil gave the Mountaineers their first lead and one which they would keep when he returned the ensuing kickoff back 100 yards for a touchdown. Chandler Staton added the point-after for a 24-20 advantage.
Appalachian State’s defense then forced a three-and-out, and the Mountaineers built their cushion to 31-20 when freshman running back Nate Noel dashed up the middle for a 70-yard touchdown with 12:51 left, followed by Staton’s conversion kick.
The Eagles (7-5 over-all; 4-4 Sun Belt). got a 78-yard touchdown on a pass from quarterback Miller Mosley to Dexter Carter, Jr. with 5:23 to go. A two-point conversion try failed as Appalachian State still led, 31-26.
Staton then made a 37-yard field goal with 2:44 remaining to provide the final tally.
Appalachian State’s secondary came up with two interceptions in the fourth quarter to help thwart Georgia Southern’s rallying attempt. Kaiden Smith grabbed one and Nick Ross made another with 1:42 remaining to ice the game away.
Smith had a team-high 12 tackles for Appalachian State, and inside linebacker Trey Cobb added 11.
The Mountaineers pulled within 17-14 with 10:44 to go in the third period when quarterback Zac Thomas passed to Thomas Hennigan down the middle for a 9-yard touchdown. Staton made the ensuing extra point.
Appalachian State overcame a turnover — a Malik Williams’ fumble on an attempted fair catch — with a forced fumble by linebacker Nick Hampton and recovery by nose tackle Jordon Earle on the following Georgia Southern series.
Staton then kicked a 33-yard field goal with 4:20 left in the third quarter to tie the score at 17.
Appalachian State stole an early scoring chance for Georgia Southern, but then helped the Eagles score anyway.
Sophomore linebacker Brendan Harrington made his fourth interception of the season, a leaping grab in the middle of the field at the Appalachian State 15-yard line. But two plays later, Eagles cornerback David Spaulding intercepted a Thomas pass and ran it back 28 yards for the game’s first points. Raynor kicked the extra point to put the Eagles up 7-0 with 1:59 remaining in the first period.
They increased their lead to 14-0 with 9:22 left in the second quarter when Justin Tomlin ran up the middle for a 14-yard touchdown, followed by Raynor nailing the point-after.
Appalachian State cut the deficit to 14-7 with 1:55 remaining in the first half. On third down, Thomas passed to Virgil to the right for a 16-yard touchdown. Staton kicked the extra point.
But Georgia Southern answered Appalachian State’s touchdown quickly to push its lead to 17-7 when Raynor kicked a 33-yard field goal as time expired in the half.
The Mountaineers await their bowl game destination. The Sun Belt has five bowl tie-ins. Two of those go to the New Orleans Bowl (Dec. 23) and the LendingTree Bowl (Dec. 26). The other three can wind up playing in any of these seven bowls: Camellia Bowl (Dec. 25); Cure Bowl (Dec. 26); Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (Dec. 22); First Responder Bowl (Dec. 26); Frisco Bowl (Dec. 19); Myrtle Beach Bowl (Dec. 21); and New Mexico Bowl (Dec. 24). Each will be televised by ESPN.
Complete Appalachian State-Georgia Southern game statistics are available at the web site link: HERE