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Western Kentucky Rolls Past Appalachian State, 59-38, in Boca Raton Bowl

Photo By Jonatan Aquallo

By Tim Gardner

Appalachian State lost in the Boca Raton Bowl Saturday against Western Kentucky, 59-38, to end a six-bowl-game winning streak. A crowd of 15,429 attended the game at Florida Atlantic University Stadium, while millions more watched the nationally televised ESPN broadcast.

The Mountaineers could not consistently stop Western Kentucky’s highly-prolific offense and the Hilltoppers gun-slinging and record-setting quarterback Bailey Zappe. The 59 points surrendered is the most Appalachian State has surrendered since 2017 when it lost to Louisiana-Monroe, 52-45. The Hilltoppers scored on nine of their 14 offensive series.

The team combined for 1,246 yards and 51 first downs.  Western Kentucky had 637 yards to 609 for Appalachian State.  The Hilltoppers picked up 27 first downs, while the Mountaineers had 24. The 97 combined points were a record for the Boca Raton Bowl, topping the 82 that Western Kentucky and Memphis combined for in the Hilltoppers’ 51-31 win in 2016.

Zappe torched Appalachian State’s defense, passing for 422 yards and six touchdowns. He completed 24-of-31 passes in the first half for 311 yards and four touchdowns. By halftime, Zappe had already set the new major-level Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) record for passing yards in a season (which was 5,833 passing yards set by former Texas Tech B.J. Symons) and tied the touchdown record (60, with LSU’s Joe Burrows). Zappe later broke Burrows record, too. He finishes with 5,977 yards and 62 touchdowns.

Still, Appalachian State finishes the 2021 season with one of its better records (10-4) in school history. The Mountaineers were Sun Belt Conference East Division champions and were runners-up for the over-all league title. Appalachian State has earned bowl invitations in every season it’s been eligible since the move up to FBS in 2014. The Mountaineers won the Camellia Bowl in 2015 and 2016, the Dollar General Bowl in 2017, the New Orleans Bowl in both 2018 and 2019, and the inaugural Myrtle Beach Bowl in 2020. 

Appalachian State received votes in the most recent Associated Press Top 25 poll, though whatever slim chance the Mountaineers had of making the season-ending poll next month will not happen with the loss to Western Kentucky.

Jerreth Sterns caught 13 passes for 184 yards and three touchdowns for Western Kentucky, finishing his season with 150 catches for 1,902 yards. Mitchell Tinsley had a pair of touchdown catches for the Hilltoppers and Noah Whittington needed only seven carries to rush for 150 yards — 86 of those on a third-quarter scoring run.

Appalachian State’s first possession of the third quarter ended with a replay review, reversing a downed play into a fumble and giving Western Kentucky (9-5) the ball. Appalachian State running back Cam Peoples was hit and as he fell, the ball slipped out of his arm. He pinned the ball between his forearm and hip, but the ball popped out when he hit the ground deep in Western Kentucky territory. 

The Hilltoppers didn’t waste any time turning turnover into a touchdown. The following play, Whittington’s long touchdown run gave them a two-touchdown lead against the Mountaineers, who could never mount a comeback.

Appalachian State held its own early in this offensive shootout. Quarterback Chase Brice shook off a first-possession interception — he was hit as he tried to throw. He connected with three different receivers in three touchdown pass plays. First was a toss across the middle to Malik Williams. Next, Brice then Jalen Virgil for a 60-yard catch-and-run. And then Brice found Dashaun Davis for a reception down the left sideline. Each of those plays either tied the game for the Mountaineers or gave them the lead. 

Brice finished with 317 yards and four touchdown passes before leaving in the fourth quarter with a right leg injury.

With the score tied at 24-24 late in the opening half, it was during that time span that Zappe — who completed 33 of 47 passes — put his name in the record book and put the Hilltoppers ahead to stay.

He broke the yardage mark on a 43-yard pass to Sterns — who finished the season with the fifth-most receiving yards in FBS history — late in the half, then tied the touchdown mark on the same drive when he connected again with Sterns for a touchdown–this time from 10 yards. That started what became a 35-7 scoring run by the Hilltoppers to turn the game into a rout.

Zappe threw his record-setting touchdown pass on a 5-yard slant to Tinsley on the Hilltoppers’ second drive of the third quarter, giving Western Kentucky a three-touchdown cushion.

Peoples gained 101 yards on 13 carries.

Brayden Narveson made eight point-after-touchdown kicks for the Hilltoppers, while Chandler Staton kicked five for Appalachian State. Both also made a field goal.

Appalachian State will open its 2022 schedule on September 3 at North Carolina.

WKU Beats App State in Boca Raton Bowl

From App State Sports

App State’s record-breaking streak of bowl victories finally came to an end Saturday, as a high-scoring passing offense led WKU to a 59-38 win in the RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl.
Since making their FBS debut in 2014, the Mountaineers earned a bowl berth in each of their seven postseason-eligible seasons and arrived at FAU Stadium with an FBS-best bowl record of 6-0 — they were the only current FBS program with no losses in more than two appearances.
To close a season that included 10 wins and a Sun Belt East Division title under the direction of head coach Shawn Clark, App State (10-4) was led by Chase Brice’s 317 passing yards with four touchdown throws — to Malik Williams (36 yards), Jalen Virgil (60 yards), Dashaun Davis (33 yards) and Christian Wells (62 yards).
Brice set a school record for single-season passing yards with 3,337, breaking the old record of 3,291 established by Armanti Edwards in 2009, and Chandler Staton converted his 20th field goal to break the school record for single-season makes.
Camerun Peoples rushed for a team-high 101 yards and Anderson Castle added a 9-yard touchdown run in the final two minutes. Defensively, Nick Hampton recorded his 11th sack of the season and Kaiden Smith posted a team-high 10 tackles.
Leading the nation’s top passing attack, Bailey Zappe set FBS records for single-season passing yards and passing touchdowns thanks to a 422-yard, six-TD showing for WKU (9-5).
Trailing 31-24 at halftime but receiving the third-quarter kickoff, App State moved inside the WKU 15 thanks to big gains from Thomas Hennigan and Peoples, but officials overturned the on-field call and ruled a fumble as Peoples was taken down at the 14.
On the next play, WKU running back Noah Whittington sprinted up the middle for an 86-yard touchdown to increase the margin to 14 points. The Hilltoppers forced a three-and-out punt and moved ahead 45-24 with an 11-play, 73-yard touchdown drive.
The Mountaineers responded immediately with Brice’s 62-yard touchdown pass to Wells, a Fort Lauderdale native, but Zappe threw his sixth touchdown pass on the next series and the Hilltoppers maintained control the rest of the way.
The quarterbacks combined for seven first-half touchdown passes, with Zappe posting 311 yards in a four-touchdown half and Brice throwing for 170 yards while hitting Williams, Virgil and Davis, a Deerfield Beach native, for scores. On the ground, Nate Noel and Peoples each had rushes of 45-plus yards in the first half.
The touchdowns by Williams and Virgil accounted for two of three first-half ties. After App State’s defense limited WKU to a field goal early in the second quarter, Davis’ first career touchdown produced the Mountaineers’ first lead of the day.
Staton tied the game at 24-all on a 28-yard field goal with 2:55 remaining in the half, but the Hilltoppers needed just 2:26 to put together an eight-play, 78-yard touchdown drive to enter the break with a lead.
For sixth-year seniors such as Virgil, Staton, Caleb SpurlinKaiden SmithBaer HunterTommy Dawkins Jr. and Jacob Huesman, they concluded careers that included a 62-17 record with a run of four straight Sun Belt titles. Fifth-year super seniors such as Hennigan and Williams were part of a 52-14 run, with Hennigan starting an FBS-record 65 games.