By Tim Gardner
Appalachian State’s Mountaineers were soundly beaten 34-14 by Georgia Southern Thursday night in a pivotal Sun Belt Conference game played before 19,252 fans in Statesboro, Ga. and an ESPNU television audience.
The nationally 25th-ranked Mountaineers, who were playing their first game as a ranked team at the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level, will assuredly fall out of the Associated Press (AP) Top 25 with the loss. They had tied for the highest ranking ever for a Sun Belt team, as Troy’s one-week appearance at No. 25 in the AP Poll during the 2016 season is the only other case of a Sun Belt school being ranked in either poll. With a school-record 78 voting points in last week’s USA Today’s Coaches Poll, the Mountaineers also were only one spot outside its 25th spot, 17 voting points behind Miami.
Appalachian State dropped to 5-2 overall and 3-1 in conference play. The Mountaineers are 30-4 in their last 34 conference games and 14-3 in their last 17 conference road games.
Georgia Southern bettered its record to 7-1 over-all and 4-0 in the Sun Belt. The Eagles may be the most improved team in the FBS from a season ago when they finished 2-10 over-all record and 2-6 in the conference. Their victory over Appalachian State may propel them to a Top 25 national ranking when next week’s Associated Press and USA Today Polls are released.
Georgia Southern finished with 24 points off the five turnovers it forced and pounded the Mountaineers with an option rushing attack that generated 277 yards, only eleven fewer (288) than Appalachian State compiled both passing and rushing.
“You’ve got to be able to handle adversity,” Appalachian State head coach Scott Satterfield said. “We’ve had a lot of good things happen to us this year, but tonight definitely wasn’t one of them. (We made) way too many mistakes.”
The Mountaineers lost starting quarterback Zac Thomas to an injury three plays into the game and second-leading tackler Jordan Fehr to a targeting penalty in the first quarter.
Peyton Derrick and Jacob Huesman took snaps at quarterback the rest of the way after Thomas left the game, and Huesman threw his first collegiate touchdown pass.
Linebacker Anthony Flory had a team-high 10 tackles for Appalachian State.
Demetrius Taylor’s blocked punt and D’Marco Jackson’s 15-yard return to the Georgia Southern 31 created the first scoring opportunity on a rainy night at Paulson Stadium. The Eagles immediately followed a goal line interception and long return to start the second quarter with Shai Werts’ 57-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Darion Anderson at the 14:37 mark. Tyler Bass booted the conversion kick for a 7-0 lead.
Appalachian State answered back quickly (only 2:26 later), using Marcus Williams Jr.’s 23-yard run and backup quarterback Derrick’s 50-yard pass to wide receiver Corey Sutton to set up a 1-yard touchdown run from Williams Jr. with 12:11 left in the quarter. Chandler Staton added the extra point to tie the game at 7.
The drive covered 75 yards and took five plays.
Appalachian State’s defense forced a three-and-out, with MyQuon Stout and Flory converging for the stop on a third-and-3 carry, but the Eagles made a fumble recovery at the Mountaineers’ 10-yard line following a muffed punt in heavy traffic.
Wesley Fields’ touchdown run on the next play put Georgia Southern ahead for good with 9:53 remaining before halftime. Bass tacked on the extra point for a 14-7 lead. Then a three-and-out possession preceded a six-play scoring drive for the Eagles, who took a 17-7 lead on Tyler Bass’ 42-yard field goal with 4:45 left in the half.
After Georgia Southern forced a three-and-out to open the second half, Fields rushed for 32 yards on a third-and-7 conversion and Werts scored on a 47-yard option keeper at the 10:05 mark of the third quarter. Bass added the point-after for a 24-7 cushion.
Werts finished with 129 yards rushing.
The Eagles moved further ahead at 27-7 late in the third quarter (1:34) on a 43-yard field goal from Bass that followed an interception on a tipped pass.
Huesman took over at quarterback for Appalachian State late in the third quarter, and one of the Eagles’ four interceptions set up their next score, which came on an insurance touchdown run of 18 yards by Fields with 3:28 to play. Bass again booted the point-after for a 34-7 lead.
The Mountaineers answered with only ten seconds left when Huesman tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Malik Williams to cap a 13-play; 75-yard drive. Staton added the conversion kick for the final margin.
A week after batting down two passes, Demetrius Taylor recorded the first blocked punt of his career in the game. With Steven Jones blocking two punts against Gardner-Webb and Tae Hayes blocking a field goal against South Alabama, the Mountaineers have four blocked kicks this season, a total that’s tied for third place nationally.
Appalachian State returns to action Nov. 3 at Sun Belt foe Coastal Carolina. Kickoff is set for 5:00 p.m.
For complete Appalachian State-Georgia Southern game statistics, log onto: https://appstatesports.com/documents/2018/10/25//APP07.pdf