CONWAY, S.C. — Appalachian State made a business trip to the beach and became bowl eligible.
Behind a dominant defensive performance and a strong rushing game that benefited sophomore quarterback Jacob Huesman in his first start, the Mountaineers picked up their sixth win of the season with a 23-7 victory at Coastal Carolina on Saturday night. Bowl eligible for the fourth straight year, App State is the only FBS program with a bowl win in each of its first three seasons after the complete transition.
“If you’ve seen what they’ve been able to do on teams and how they score points, what (the defense) did tonight was phenomenal,” App State head coach Scott Satterfield said. “It may have been one of their better performances all year with the way they played against these guys. I’ve got a lot of respect for that offense, and if there’s ever a night, we needed that tonight.
“We needed to be able to run the football and get them off the field, because they can grind it out. They’re usually on the upside of (possession time), and that’s huge with what happened. To have a young quarterback that’s making his first start, you need those things to happen.”
Darrynton Evans’ 26-yard touchdown run and Huesman’s 33-yard touchdown pass to Corey Sutton gave the Mountaineers (6-2, 4-1 Sun Belt) a 14-7 halftime lead against the Chanticleers (5-4, 2-3). Coastal was still trailing by seven points when it took over at its 1-yard line following a play that was ruled a fourth-and-goal stop rather than a fumble recovery for an offensive touchdown early in the final quarter, but safety Desmond Franklin and inside linebacker Jordan Fehr led the way on a game-changing safety by App State’s defense.
The end-zone tackle by Fehr, Anthony Flory and several other defenders made it a two-possession game, and Appalachian moved ahead 23-7 when Marcus Williams Jr. capped a three-play drive after the free kick with a 4-yard touchdown run.
“We knew we were going to face adversity,” Fehr said. “To have us get pinned back on a call like that, we knew we had to come after them. We knew what they were running when they came out in that formation, We just took our shot, and it ended up being a safety. It was a great momentum change for the game. It was just what we needed.”
Fehr added a career-high three sacks and Josh Thomas intercepted a pass for an App State defense that surrendered zero points and limited Coastal Carolina to 178 total yards, including 72 on the ground, or 179.6 yards below an average that ranked ninth nationally. The Chanticleers’ only points resulted from a 60-yard interception return in which a pass hit off the helmet of the intended receiver who was looking directly into the sun.
Offensively, Evans had 159 rushing yards on 27 carries and Williams Jr. added 103 yards on 19 attempts as the Mountaineers totaled 278 yards on the ground. The work up front and in the backfield provided help for Huesman, who completed 9 of 19 passes for 127 yards while starting in relief of an injured Zac Thomas. Huesman’s perfectly placed deep ball to Sutton put App State ahead for good with 1:40 left in the first half.
“Being the starter, of course that comes with responsibility,” Huesman said. “To go out there and be able to get a win for the team, most importantly, get that sixth win and be able to go bowling, win in the conference, which is huge for us, it’s just a really rewarding feeling.”
Appalachian, which is one game out of first place in the Sun Belt’s East Division, returns to action next weekend at Texas State (3-6, 1-4). Troy leads the division with a 5-0 league record, and Georgia Southern joined the Mountaineers at 4-1 with its loss at ULM.
App State finally took control Saturday on the teal turf of Brooks Stadium with its safety and touchdown in the span of 99 fourth-quarter seconds.
Its defense limited Coastal Carolina to 31 yards on its first 19 offensive plays, as the Mountaineers forced four straight three-and-outs and didn’t allow the Chanticleers to pick up a first down until less than five minutes remained in the opening half. The score was tied at that point because of Derambez Drinkard’s long interception return.
App State’s special teams also played an important role, with Franklin downing one punt apiece from Clayton Howell and Xavier Subotsch at the 1-yard line. The Mountaineers maintained a 14-7 lead when Tae Hayes tipped a 50-yard field goal early in the third quarter, and Thomas Hennigan returned the post-safety free kick 23 yards to the Coastal Carolina 44.
Evans had appeared to recover a Huesman fumble in the end zone for a touchdown on a fourth-and-goal run from the 2 early in the fourth quarter, but the ruling of a defensive stop stood after a video review. Franklin burst into the backfield to make the first contact against running back CJ Marable, who was then wrapped up by Fehr.
App State recorded its first safety since Fehr was responsible for one against Savannah State last season, and Hennigan’s return gave the Mountaineers good field position with a 16-7 lead. Evans’ 39-yard run on first down preceded a pair of goal-line carries from Williams Jr., who scored from the 1 with 9:54 remaining.
“Beginning of the game,” Evans said, “we both told each other, ‘Let’s try to both get 100 (yards) this game. We both got 100.”
It was the second time App State accomplished that this season, as Jalin Moore and D’Andre Hicks both surpassed 100 rushing yards against Gardner-Webb. Huesman also had some key gains on keepers, and the success of the running game as a whole, coupled with more stingy defense, helped produce a critical road victory.
“We have a lot of running backs that have a lot of experience, like me and Darrynton,” said Williams Jr., who is part of a group coached by Stu Holt. “What you can do to help the quarterbacks who haven’t had a lot of experience in the game, you can help them with protections or certain plays. (Holt) helped talk to us about letting the quarterback know you have their back and to be on top of things.”
Appalachian State held Coastal Carolina to 72 rushing yards on 26 attempts. The previous season low for the Chanticleers, who ranked ninth nationally at 251.6 rushing yards per game, was 126 in an opening-week loss at South Carolina. Coastal had rushed for at least 251 yards in each of its last three games.
The Mountaineers allowed single-digit points for the fifth time this season and didn’t give up an offensive touchdown for the second time in three Sun Belt road games. Arkansas State kicked three field goals in a 35-9 loss to App State.
App State, which entered Saturday ranking fourth nationally with an average of 5.86 defensive three-and-outs per game, had six in 12 possessions at Coastal. That included four straight to begin the game, as the Chanticleers picked up their initial first down with less than five minutes remaining in the second quarter.
Appalachian State finished with 34:56 in possession compared to 25:04 for Coastal, which entered the game ranking fourth nationally with an average possession time of nearly 35 minutes a game. In their last seven games, the Chanticleers had enjoyed time of possession advantages of 11:48, 11:56, 10:27, 20:18, 17:42, 4:06 and 2:10.
Inside linebacker Jordan Fehr had a career-high 3.0 sacks, and he just missed a fourth with a quarterback hurry on the play right after his third sack. The last App State player with three sacks in a game was Eric Boggs, who accomplished the feat against Louisiana late in the 2015 season.
With Fehr as the leading tackler on the play, App State recorded its first safety since Fehr had an end-zone takedown against Savannah State last season.
Sophomore defensive end Chris Willis made his first career start, had a tackle for a 7-yard loss and also forced a fumble.
Junior safety Josh Thomas posted his second interception in the last four conference games. He also had a pick at Arkansas State.
Coastal Carolina began one drive at its 2-yard line and three more drives at its 1-yard line. One punt apiece from Clayton Howell and Xavier Subotsch was downed at the 1 by Desmond Franklin, and Subotsch also had a punt fair caught at the 9. Howell had a 49-yard punt downed at the 1, and he averaged 47.3 yards on his three kicks.
Jacob Huesman became the first App State quarterback to lead the Mountaineers to a win in his first career start since Jamal Jackson completed his first 15 passes in a 49-42 victory at The Citadel in 2011. After that, three straight quarterbacks made their first starts in App State losses.
App State had a pair of 100-yard rushers for the second time this season, as Darrynton Evans rushed for 159 yards and Marcus Williams Jr. had 103. Against Gardner-Webb, D’Andre Hicks rushed for 150 yards and Jalin Moore had 109.