By Tim Gardner
Wake Forest’s Scotty Washington blocked Michael Rubino‘s 39-yard field goal attempt with five seconds remaining as the Demon Deacons held off Appalachian State 20-19 Saturday before the largest crowd ever (35,126) to see a game in Kidd Brewer Stadium.
Several costly mistakes hurt the Mountaineers chance at victory in a wild game that featured six lead changes.
Wake Forest remained undefeated (4-0) with the win, while Appalachian State fell to 2-2.
It also pushed the Demon Deacons to a 16-7 lead in the series, which began in 1975. All previous games were played at Wake Forest. Appalachian State is now 0-2 at home against Atlantic Coast Conference schools after this loss and last year’s to Miami (45-10).
But the home attendance topped the mark of 34,658 set for the Miami game. It also was an Appalachian State-Wake Forest attendance record, as the crowd of 33,400 in 1987 in Winston Salem was the largest crowd in the previous meetings.
Trailing 20-19 and faced with a fourth-and-14 at midfield with 2:20 left, Appalachian State head coach Scott Satterfield elected to punt the ball with three timeouts remaining, banking on his defense to stop the Demon Deacons and get the ball back for his offense.
It did, giving star quarterback Taylor Lamb and its offense another chance.
Starting from their own 46, the Mountaineers got a first down on a pass interference penalty on a fourth-and-14 to reach the Wake Forest 27. The Demon Deacons then jumped offsides on the first field goal attempt, moving Appalachian State and Rubino five yards closer to the 22-yard line for his next field goal try. But the 6-foot-5 inches tall Washington, primarily a wide receiver, got a hand on the kicked ball in the middle of the line to preserve the victory.
“It was a low kick and I just jumped as high as I could and got it with my right hand,” Washington said. “It was one of those games you dream of.”
Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson noted: “If that ball is a little higher it’s a totally different celebration (for each team) on the sidelines. Appalachian State probably outplayed us and moved the ball better than us.”
Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford added that he believed his team had lost its chance to escape with a win because of the offsides penalty. But he was mistaken.
“When we jumped offside I got a little negative,” Wolford admitted. “But Scotty (Washington) came up huge. Football is a crazy game. You win games in different ways.”
Appalachian State head coach Scott Satterfield said Rubino probably didn’t kick the ball well as well he wanted on the game-winning try.
“These kickers, it’s hard,” Satterfield declared. “All the spotlight is on them, but it’s not just them. It’s the snap. It’s the hold. There’s so much timing that goes into it, too.”
Wake Forest scored first at the 11:04 mark of the opening quarter on a 27-yard field goal by Mike Weaver for a 3-0 lead after its drive stalled on the Appalachian State 10-yard line.
Appalachian State answered with a 7-play; 49 yards drive, capped by a flea flicker off a reverse to take the lead. Lamb handed the ball to running back Terrence Upshaw, who ran right before flipping the ball backward to wide receiver Malik Williams coming around the end. As Williams ran back to the left, he lateraled the ball back to Lamb, who threw a pass down the right sideline to tight end Levi Duffield for a 20-yard touchdown with 2:49 remaining in the first period. Rubino’s conversion kick failed as it was low and went into the back of one of his teammates, leaving the score 6-3.
Rubino kicked a 38-yard field goal with 1:58 left in the first half to increase the Mountaineers lead to 9-3. But he missed another field goal wide to the left to end the half.
Appalachian State held the Demon Deacons to only 106 yards and forced them into five consecutive three-and-outs during one stretch in the first half.
But behind Wolford, who completed seven of his first 10 passes for 100 yards to start the second half, Wake Forest began playing much better. With 7:52 left in the third quarter, Wolford threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Greg Dortch to complete a nine play drive that covered 97 yards. Weaver kicked the PAT to give the Demon Deacons the lead back at 10-9.
Appalachian State reclaimed the lead only 50 seconds later when Lamb threw a shovel pass to speedy wide receiver T.J. Watkins, who turned the play into an 84 yard touchdown play. Rubino added the conversion kick to put the Mountaineers up 16-10.
Watkins’ touchdown reception was the seventh-longest in school history.
He finished with three catches for 102 yards.
But the Demon Deacons got the lead back when tight end Cam Serigne caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Wolford to cap a 75-yard drive that took ten plays. Weaver made the point-after for a 17-16 tally with 3:24 remaining in the third stanza.
Appalachian State’s defense had forced another three-and-out. And Wake Forest was lined up to punt from its 31, when the Mountaineers were flagged for offsides, giving the Demon Deacons a new set of downs that helped them take the lead.
But Appalachian State surged back ahead at the 10:35 mark of the fourth quarter. After a drive stalled at the Wake Forest 22-yard line, Rubino booted a 39-yard field goal to put the Mountaineers up 19-17.
Then just over three minutes later (7:22), the Demon Deacons reclaimed the lead for good when Weaver kicked a 25-yard field goal for a 20-19 advantage. The score was set up by a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty against Appalachian State
Despite the loss, Appalachian State outgained the Demon Deacons in total yards (494-344). And inside linebacker Eric Boggs‘ 11 tackles and outside linebacker Devan Stringer’s 10 led the Mountaineers defense that held its high-scoring opponent 23.7 points below its season average.
“For us to go toe-to-toe with these guys (Wake Forest), I’m extremely proud of them,” Satterfield noted.
Lamb completed 26 of 50 passes for 372 yards. He moved into second place in school history in yards passing and now stands behind only former NFL third-round draft pick Armanti Edwards. Richie Williams is now third with 7,759 yards, and Lamb increased his career total to 8,043. Edwards passed for 10,392 yards from 2006-09.
Lamb, whose career-long pass before Saturday was a 68-yard touchdown to tight end Collin Reed in the September 9 home opener against Savannah State, posted App State’s first pass of at least 80 yards since Richie Williams connected with Jermane Little for 88 yards against Eastern Kentucky in 2005.
Sophomore safety Desmond Franklin made his second career start for Appalachian State. He also started the 2016 home opener against Old Dominion.
True freshman wide receiver Thomas Hennigan had a 35-yard punt return in the first quarter. It was the Mountaineers’ longest punt return since Jaquil Capel had a 45-yard return in the 2016 season opener at Tennessee. Hennigan also finished with five catches for 74 yards.
In yet another good performance by a Mountaineer, true freshman Xavier Subotsch had punts downed at the Wake Forest 3, 8, 11 and 10-yard lines.
The Mountaineers play again next Saturday (September 30) in their Sun Belt Conference opener and homecoming game against New Mexico State. It starts at 3:30 p.m. in Kidd Brewer Stadium.