By David Coulson
Nov. 8, 2014. Appalachian State finally found a way to get its kicks Saturday for a 31-29 Sun Belt Conference victory over Louisiana-Monroe before 20,497 fans at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
Bentlee Critcher knuckled through a 39-yard field goal from the left hash with 29 seconds left to lift the Mountaineers (4-5 overall, 3-2 in conference) to a confidence-boosting win — its biggest thus far in the first year of Football Bowl Subdivision play.
“We needed to win a game like that,” said App State coach Scott Satterfield. “It was an emotional roller coaster. You’re winning and then you’re losing and then you’re winning again.”
Having already lost two games this season as the result of missed kicks in the final seconds, Appalachian rallied in the final 1:42 of the game after a three-yard, fourth-down pass from Pete Thomas to Ajelen Holley in the back of the end zone had lifted the Warhawks to the 29-28 lead.
But the Mountaineers responded with a seven-play, 53-yard drive and was aided by two pass interference penalties to move into position for Critcher’s game-winning kick.
Zach Matics’ blocked extra point had finished off ASU’s 21-20 loss with six seconds left at Southern Mississippi and Critcher had failed to convert a 32-yard field goal on the final play of regulation in the 55-48 overtime loss at home to Football Championship Subdivision rival Liberty.
“I tried not to think about that,” Critcher said of the Liberty loss. “I kind of thought I was going to get another shot.”
After ULM (3-6, 2-3) iced Critcher with a time out, he confidently nailed his first game winner, bending it inside of the left upright.
“I thought they would try to ice me with another time out, but they didn’t and all of a sudden, I had to do my job,” Critcher said. “I tried to stay strong-minded.”
Appalachian showed some growth and resiliency by rallying from deficits four times to finally win.
“We felt like no matter what they did, we were going to get the ‘W’,” said ASU linebacker Deuce Robinson, who led a fierce Mountaineer pass rush with one and a half sacks and two quarterback hurries. “It showed at the end of the night, with what we were able to do.”
The Mountaineers trailed 20-7 midway the second quarter after Thomas followed a 12-yard touchdown pass with a one-yard scoring plunge.
But Appalachian roared back for a 12-play, 75-yard drive capped by Taylor Lamb’s eight-yard scoring slant to Tacoi Sumler and tight end Barrett Burns’ one-yard TD grab from Lamb with six seconds left in the half to give the Mountaineers a stunning 21-20 lead at the break.
Louisiana-Monroe regained the lead at 23-21 on Justin Manton’s second field goal of the game with 8:44 left in the third period as the Mountaineer defense again frustrated the Warhawks in the red zone.
ULM would remain in front until App State responded with a 12-play, 89-yard drive in the fourth quarter. Marcus Cox (21 carries, 94 yards, five receptions, 56 yards) ended that surge with a seven-yard scoring jaunt to vault the Mountaineers in front 28-23, but that lead evaporated when Thomas and company converted several clutch plays to eventually score.
But the lead didn’t last for long as numerous heroes helped Appalachian come from behind for its third straight win.
Freshman quarterback Taylor Lamb hit 25-of-35 passes for 276 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception, while Malachi Jones hauled in seven of those aerials for 82 yards.
“Their receivers came up big, their quarterback came up big and I think their offensive line came up big,” ULM coach Todd Berry said. “We never broke their protection.”
Eric Boggs led the defense with 11 tackles, a half a sack and one quarterback hurry as the Mountaineers combined for a season-high six sacks, seven tackles for loss, six pass breakups and seven quarterback hurries.
“We beat a good football team,” said Satterfield. “We had been here before with Liberty and Southern Miss and we couldn’t finish those games. There are several building blocks to a team and that is one of them, the ability to fight back into a game.”