By Tim Gardner
Appalachian State fell from the ranks of the unbeaten on a frigid Thursday night at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone and may drop out of the college football’s Top 25 after suffering a 24-21 Sun Belt Conference loss to long-time rival Georgia Southern.
The game was played before an announced crowd of 18,796 and a ESPNU national television audience.
The run-heavy Eagles rolled up 335 rushing yards to key their upset victory over the No. 20 Mountaineers (7-1 over-all; 4-1 conference) during a game complete with a mix of rain, snow and high winds. Georgia Southern only attempted four passes the whole game, completing one for 16 yards.
Running back Wesley Kennedy III led the way for the Eagles, rushing for 145 yards and scoring two touchdowns.
Appalachian State mounted a furious rally, scoring two fourth quarter touchdowns to pull within three points. But the Eagles were able to hold off the Mountaineers in the end to improve their record to 5-3 over-all and 3-1 in league play.
In 2018, Appalachian State lost 34-14 at Georgia Southern, in its first game as a nationally ranked program — the Mountaineers were No. 25 in the Associated Press (AP) Poll. The Mountaineers had won 13-consecutive games since then.
Not only did the Eagles add a blemish to the Mountaineers’ perfect record, but ended a the potential path to a New Year’s Day Bowl as the nation’s top Group-of-Five champion.
Kennedy III made a 2-yard touchdown run with 4:03 remaining in the first quarter and Tyler Bass kicked the extra point to put the Eagles ahead 7-0.
The scoring drive covered 50 yards and took seven plays.
Georgia Southern stretched its lead to 10-0 at the 11:45 mark of the second period when Bass kicked a 49-yard field goal.
The Mountaineers finally scored with only six seconds left in the first half, capping a 92-yard; 10-play drive that took just 1:36. Malik Williams caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Zac Thomas and Chandler Staton tacked on the extra point to cut Georgia Southern’s lead to 10-7 at intermission.
Appalachian State got consecutive first downs — a 16-yard run from Darrynton Evans and an 11-yard catch from Corey Sutton — and nearly got a third when Collin Reed made a nine-yard catch during that drive.
But the Eagles scored again just three plays into the second half to push their lead back to ten points. On a third-and-3 from his own 32-yard line, Kennedy III raced 68 yards for a touchdown. Bass made the PAT for a 17-7 advantage.
Then only two plays after forcing a punt by Appalachian State’s Xavier Subotsch, the Eagles took a 24-7 cushion. Quarterback Shai Werts dashed 55 yards for a touchdown with 10:35 to go in the third quarter and Bass kicked the extra point.
The Mountaineers had a chance to slice into Georgia Southern’s lead on their next possession, but Staton missed a 29-yard field goal.
Bass missed a 41-yard field goal with 14:16 left to keep the Eagles from, perhaps, putting the game away then.
Thomas passed to Sutton down the middle for a 10-yard touchdown and Staton nailed the extra point to pull the Mountaineers within 24-14 with 8:22 remaining.
Appalachian State again cut Georgia Southern’s lead to just three points at 24-21 with 4:47 to play when Sutton hauled in another touchdown pass from Thomas—this one from nine yards– and Staton followed with the PAT.
Sutton had six receptions for 67 yards.
Georgia Southern’s defense made six tackles for losses and eight pass breakups while holding the Mountaineers to only 6-of-17 on third down conversions.