BOCA RATON, Fla. — 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 Spurlin, Kaiden Smith, Baer Hunter, Tommy 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.