Sept. 10, 2012. Perhaps the most anticipated regular-season matchup in NCAA Division I FCS history certainly lived up to the hype on Saturday night when No. 11/8 Appalachian State University topped No. 12/9 Montana in an epic battle at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
A raucous crowd of 30,856, the third-largest in Kidd Brewer Stadium history, saw the winningest FCS programs of the millennium combine for 900 yards of offense and 19 third- and fourth-down conversions in a contest that, like the two Appalachian State-Montana matchups before it, came down to the wire.
Appalachian (1-1) forced two of Montana’s three turnovers in the first quarter and turned both miscues into touchdowns to jump out to a 21-7 lead after just one period. The Griz roared back with 14 points in the second quarter to send the game to halftime tied at 21-21 and the score remained deadlocked until a heart-stopping fourth quarter.
The Mountaineers regained a 28-21 advantage early in the final period when it marched 67 yards in just 1:44. A 32-yard pass from Jamal Jackson (Atlanta, Ga./North Atlanta) to Sean Price (Reston, Va./South Lakes) on the drive’s first play and a 25-yard touchdown strike from Jackson to Andrew Peacock (Durham, N.C./Northern Durham) accounted for 57 of the 67 yards but the biggest play of the possession when Jackson scrambled for a first down on fourth-and-one to keep the series alive and set up the go-ahead touchdown pass to Peacock.
After the teams traded punts, Montana’s Dan Moore highlighted one of the best performances in recent history by a visiting player at Kidd Brewer Stadium when he caught a short pass from Tyler McKinney, broke several tackles, eluded several more and outran the Mountaineer defense for an 87-yard touchdown the would seemingly knot the score at 28-28. However, Griz kicker Chris Lider missed the extra point wide right and Appalachian maintained a 28-27 lead with 8:54 to go in the game.
On the ensuing possession, Appalachian put together a vintage 11-play, 78-yard touchdown drive and stretched its lead to 35-27 on two-yard touchdown run by Steven Miller (Piscataway, N.J./Piscataway). Facing third-and-16 from the UM 46 midway through the series, Jackson found true freshman Malachi Jones (Roswell, Ga./Central Gwinnett) for a 17-yard first-down pass to keep the drive alive. Miller picked up the final 29 yards from there, capped by his second touchdown of the game with 5:05 to play.
The Mountaineers appeared to put the game away three plays later when Patrick Blalock (Asheville, N.C./A.C. Reynolds) intercepted McKinney to give the Apps the ball back on the Montana 43 with 4:24 to go. However, Blalock’s first-career interception was followed by Appalachian’s only three-and-out in five fourth-quarter possessions and the Griz took back over on their own 11 with 2:53 remaining in the ballgame.
Thanks to a third-down conversion and two fourth-down conversions, Montana (1-1) marched into Appalachian territory on its final possession. With less than 30 seconds left to play, McKinney went for broke, throwing deep down the left sideline but all-American Demetrius McCray (Covington, Ga./Eastside) had perfect coverage on the play and made his second interception of the day on the goal line with 18 seconds remaining. Jackson kneeled on the final play of the day to seal the Apps’ first win in three attempts against its cross-country rival.
Thanks to 238 all-purpose yards from Moore (145 receiving, 93 rushing), Montana outgained Appalachian, 483-417. However, the Mountaineers forced four turnovers while not committing any of their own and ran 82 plays to the Grizzlies’ 74, despite the fact that the Griz held a 41:50-33:10 advantage in time of possession.
Jackson led the Mountaineers with 260 yards and two touchdowns on 24-of-34 passing and 65 yards on 16 rushes while accounting for three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing). Price became the second Appalachian receiver in as many games to hit the 100-yard mark, catching eight balls for 103 yards and a score. Miller ran 27 times for 91 yards and a pair of scores.
Defensively, senior linebackers Jeremy Kimbrough (Decatur, Ga./Cedar Grove) and Brandon Grier (Charlotte, N.C./West Charlotte) led Appalachian with 14 and 13 tackles, respectively. Grier also had a career high two sacks and three of the Mountaineers’ eight tackles for loss.
Montana’s McKinney threw for 307 yards and three touchdowns but was picked off three times in the loss. Safety Matt Hermanson led the Griz with 12 tackles.
Next up for the Mountaineers is their Southern Conference opener versus red-hot The Citadel (2-0, 1-0 SoCon), which knocked off No. 3 Georgia Southern, 23-21, on Saturday. Appalachian hosts the Bulldogs next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
Appalachian State won its 18th-straight regular-season home game … the Mountaineers moved to 61-19-2 all-time, 21-3 under head coach Jerry Moore and 11-1 in its last 12 season openers … Appalachian has opened at home with a nationally ranked opponent eight times in the last 14 seasons and moved to 6-2 in those games … Jackson extended his own school records with his ninth-consecutive 200-yard passing game and ninth-straight performance with at least 250 yards of total offense — all coming in the first nine starts of his career … McCray had the second two-interception day of his career — the first came in last year’s 24-17 win over No. 1 Georgia Southern … Appalachian moved to 22-1 in its last 23 games that immediately followed a same-season loss … since the third week of the 2003 season, the Apps have only lost consecutive games in the same season once (2009 vs. East Carolina and McNeese State) … a week after allowing a kickoff return for a touchdown and a long punt return that set up another score, as well as missing a field goal, Appalachian was nearly flawless on special teams on Saturday … the special-teams highlight came when redshirt freshman Henry Barnes (Newton Grove, N.C./Hobbton) leveled Montana’s Chase Naccarato on a first-quarter kickoff return, causing a fumble that was recovered by Matt Watson (Bailey, N.C./Southern Nash) and set up the Mountaineers’ third first-quarter touchdown.