BOONE, N.C. — Fifth-year senior Jacob Huesman finished off a fourth-quarter touchdown drive in relief of injured starting quarterback Zac Thomas to give App State its first lead, and the Mountaineers remained unbeaten in Sun Belt Conference play with a 17-13 victory against Georgia State on Saturday.
App State (6-1, 4-0) lost Thomas to an injury when he was hit near the sideline on a quarterback keeper midway through the final quarter. Huesman, Thomas’ classmate and housemate, directed the offense for the final six plays of a march that covered 77 yards on 11 plays and lasted more than four minutes.
He completed a 12-yard pass to Camerun Peoples on his first play and added a 14-yard completion to Thomas Hennigan on a third-and-8 throw to the Georgia State 22. Peoples’ 10-yard touchdown run with 4:55 left, followed by Chandler Staton’s extra point, produced the Mountaineers’ first lead of the game at 17-13.
“At the end of the day, these are the types of things you have to prepare for, whether you’re a freshman or a senior like myself, a fifth-year guy, a backup quarterback,” Huesman said. “You just have to be ready and be ready all the time. When your number is called, it’s time to go. That’s where my head was at — I picked up my helmet, and I told myself it was time to go.”
After Peoples’ touchdown, Nick Hampton and Demetrius Taylor teamed up for a sack that helped produce a punt by Georgia State (3-4, 2-4), and the Mountaineers ran the final 3:32 off the clock in the first game at Kidd Brewer Stadium with fans in the newly opened north end zone facility.
Trey Cobb led App State’s defense with 11 tackles, while D’Marco Jackson had nine stops, one sack, two tackles for loss, two pass breakups and one fumble recovery. Taylor finished with 1.5 sacks among his 3.5 tackles for loss, and Caleb Spurlin forced the fumble on Jackson’s recovery, which set up the Mountaineers’ only first-half points.
Huesman completed three of four passes for 33 yards after taking over for Thomas, who completed 16 of 22 passes for 146 yards with one touchdown. He was wheeled off the field into an ambulance not far from where the Mountaineers scored.
“It was all precautionary and he had feeling in all of his extremities,” App State head coach Shawn Clark said. “Any time your captain and the quarterback of your program gets hit and is laying there, it’s tough. (Trainer) Zach (Parker) was in my ear and the doctors were in my ear the whole time as I was trying to help call the game and listen to (Parker) with what was going on. It’s tough, but it’s what this program is about — a next-man-up mentality. I’m happy for Jacob Huesman.”
The Mountaineers trailed 13-10 when Huesman took over for a second-and-13 play from the App State 49. His completion to Peoples preceded a third-and-1 conversion by the sophomore running back, and Huesman’s 14-yard pass to Hennigan was followed by back-to-back, drive-ending runs of 12 and 10 yards from Peoples.
Georgia State then converted one third down off a short penalty, but the first-down sack from Hampton and Taylor put the Panthers behind the chains. Two straight incompletions led to a punt, and App State didn’t give the ball back.
Peoples had five rushes for 21 yards on the last series, including a third-and-1 conversion near midfield, to finish with a team-high 67 yards on the ground. Tight end Miller Gibbs also stayed in bounds near the sideline after gaining 7 yards on a pass from Huesman immediately after the third-down conversion.
For the game, App State finished with a 310-300 edge in total yards, as league-leading rusher Destin Coates was held to 45 yards on 13 carries. After the Panthers scored a touchdown on the game’s first possession, they managed two short field goals the rest of the way.
“On the defensive side of the ball, we’re going to play our ball,” Jackson said. “We’ve got a standard, and we try to meet it every game. We know what we need to do and practice it all week.”
Georgia State converted four third-down situations and took a 7-0 lead in the opening minutes thanks to Cornelious Brown’s 19-yard touchdown pass to Sam Pinckney.
Later in the first quarter, Spurlin forced a fumble that was secured by Jackson, marking the Mountaineers’ first recovery of the season. They converted three third downs on a 12-play drive that ended with Staton’s 21-yard field goal, and the score remained the same until Georgia State extended its lead to 10-3 on a 23-yard field goal with 11 seconds remaining in the first half.
Malik Williams’ career-long reception of 55 yards set up Thomas’ 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Henry Pearson to help tie the game in the final minute of the third quarter, but Georgia State reclaimed the lead on a 32-yard field goal that followed a third-down pass of 40 yards to open the fourth quarter.
App State had to punt after a three-and-out series, but the defense forced one of its own to enable the Mountaineers to regain possession for the go-ahead touchdown. Thomas opened that drive with a 15-yard keeper, and a 16-yard pass to Gibbs occurred right before Thomas exited the game.
“It’s hard to win in college sports, especially right now with not knowing what is happening day to day,” Clark said. “There’s a lot to learn from in all three phases.”
Next weekend, App State heads to Coastal Carolina (7-0, 5-0) for a nationally televised game at noon in Conway, S.C.