By David Coulson
BOONE, N.C. — It was like a blast from the past as Appalachian State opened Sun Belt Conference football play on Saturday afternoon with a 17-3 victory over Georgia State before 24,782 fans at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
The last time that Appalachian State (3-2 overall, 1-0 in league) was embroiled in a scoreless tie at halftime, head coach Scott Satterfield was playing quarterback and co-offensive coordinator Shawn Clark was proving blocking on the offensive line.
The Mountaineers won on that cool, October evening in 1995 at Marshall, 10-3, on a late Satterfield TD-option run and they needed a similar spurt in the second half this time to overcome an uncharacteristic offensive start.
“It reminded me of old school Appalachian football,” said Satterfield, reflecting on the long-ago win over Marshall. “You don’t see many games like that today in modern football.”
Jalin Moore (159 yards rushing on 28 carries), starting in place of senior tailback Marcus Cox who missed his second straight game with a quad injury, provided the initial spark with his weaving, 45-yard, scoring scamper to conclude ASU’s first drive of the third quarter.
J.P. Caruso came off the bench for a temporarily injured Taylor Lamb at quarterback to lead that drive.
“We were really amped,” Moore said of the second-half start. “We knew we had to go out and put points on the board. It wasn’t the game that we expected to play, but we will take it however we get it.”
Freshman kicker Michael Rubino, who had two earlier field goal misses, extended the lead to 10-0 with his successful 42-yard kick on the first play of the fourth period.
“As a field-goal kicker, you have to have a short memory,” said Rubino. “You are only as good as your next kick.”
Wide receiver Shaedon Meadors put the game out of reach with a sharp pattern and end-zone catch for a 12-yard touchdown pass from Lamb (13-of-25, 143 yards passing with one interception) to finish a 14-play, 85-yard drive that consumed near six minutes off the fourth-quarter clock.
“Defensively, I thought we had a great game plan and did a good job,” GSU coach Trent Miles said. “Offensively we just struggled. We were very ineffective throwing the ball down the field and even with the underneath stuff.”
The Panthers (0-4, 0-1) used slanting defensive line play to disrupt ASU’s zone plays in the first half, freeing up linebackers to make tackles. The Mountaineers gained just 22 rushing yards in the first quarter and only 75 by halftime before finishing with 234 on the ground.
“They did some things a little bit differently (on defense) and we really didn’t get adjusted in the first half,” Satterfield explained. “We came out in the third quarter and had a great drive when Jalin had a long touchdown run.”
Appalachian’s normally air-tight defense, which had been stung for 83 points in the past two games against Miami and Akron, responded to limit the Panthers to 241 yards and one 43-yard, Rogier Ten Lohuis field goal in the fourth stanza.
“One of the things that we really hit on, as leaders of the defense, is that we have not played like ourselves,” said ASU inside linebacker John Law, who finished with eight tackles and one pass breakup. “We didn’t say it, we just did it today. If the team we’re playing doesn’t score, they can’t win.”
While that game 21 years ago sparked Appalachian to a Southern Conference title, the Mountaineers hope that this win over a tougher-than-expected Georgia State squad will fuel their goal of a Sun Belt championship.
“We knew we had to turn up the volume,” said inside linebacker Eric Boggs, who led the Mountaineer defense with 10 tackles and one of four interceptions. “We always know we can rely on each other.”
Georgia State, statistically the worst rushing squad in the Football Bowl Subdivision, managed only 88 yards on 25 attempts and junior quarterback Connor Manning was a forgettable 19-of-44 for 153 yards with four interceptions.
Boggs killed one first-period drive when he anticipated a Manning pop pass to the tight end and grabbed an interception, while Alex Gray, Mondo Williams and Brandon Pinckney swiped second-half passes.
A switch to more man-to-man coverage from zone concepts proved to be extremely effective for the Mountaineers in defending the pass.
“I am very proud of the way our defense played,” said Satterfield. “We won the turnover battle. That is something you have to do in a defensive battle.”
One unsung hero for the Mountaineers was specialist Bentlee Critcher, who didn’t have any of his four kickoffs returned and punted six times for a 42.7 average, while placing four of those punts past the 20-yard line, with three landing inside the 10.
One of the biggest negatives, however, was that the Mountaineers picked up nine penalties for 101 yards, with several of those flags helping to stall potential scoring drives.
“We’re where we need to be (by starting off the conference schedule with a win), but we have a lot to work,” Satterfield said.
The Mountaineers will have 11 days to get things squared away before taking on Louisiana-Lafayette on the road for a league game on Oct. 12. The game will be telecast by ESPN2 and will mark the first Wednesday football contest in ASU history.