With a 10-win season on the line, Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield put his faith in a redshirt freshman.
Facing fourth-and-2 with less than two minutes left in a tie game, Jalin Moore ran for 4 yards. Then he ran for 24 more. Finally, he ran for 18 yards and the go-ahead touchdown to lift the Mountaineers to a 34-27 victory over South Alabama on Saturday night at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Sun Belt conference football.
Moore, who until three weeks ago was relegated to mop-up duty, carried for 57 yards on the game’s final drive to help the Mountaineers (10-2, 7-1) avoid a stunning upset.
“I’m just glad he’s got that trust in me,” Moore said of Satterfield. “I knew my trust had built from the beginning of the season. … I knew he had trust in me, but this put the icing on the cake, with the game on the line. I’m glad he gave me the opportunity.”
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Appalachian State only had the opportunity to win it after Zach Matics converted a 50-yard field goal – his second of 50 yards or more Saturday – to it at 27-27 with 6:51 left.
The Mountaineers barely got the kick off after coaches mulled over the decision to kick it. Matics said the referee didn’t step out of the way until there were eight seconds on the play clock.
“I was actually more impressed with myself on that one than the first one, because the wind was in my face,” Matics said. “I don’t like to think about the situation or anything. I just like to go up there and hit the same ball, whether it be that one or a 24-yarder.”
South Alabama had taken a 27-24 lead minutes earlier when Aleem Sunanon made a 41-yard field goal to put the Jaguars ahead 27-24 – something unthinkable in the first half as South Alabama gained a combined 65 yards on its final six drives.
South Alabama was a different team in the second half with backup quarterback Dallas Davis, marching 65 yards on its first drive of the third quarter, with Sunanon’s field goal cutting the Appalachian State lead to 24-10.
Momentum turned on the ensuing kickoff when Ricky Fergerson had the ball bounce of his shoulder pad, directly into a crowd of South Alabama defenders.
Five plays later, the Jaguars were back in it for good after Gerald Everett’s 2-yard touchdown run helped cut the Mountaineers’ lead to 24-17. Everett also provided the game-tying touchdown, scoring on a 1-yard run to make it 24-24.
Early on, it appeared the Mountaineers would have little trouble in wrapping up sole possession of second place in the Sun Belt.
On the game’s first play, Marcus Cox broke a 74-yard run, with Moore punching it in for a touchdown on the next play, 39 seconds in.
After South Alabama evened it at 7-7, the Mountaineers needed four plays to score again, finishing off its second drive with a 58-yard touchdown pass from Taylor Lamb to Simms McElfresh.
Leading 21-7 in the second quarter, Appalachian State looked poised to expand its lead as Moore headed for the end zone, but Kalen Jackson of South Alabama popped the ball out of his hand just before he crossed the goal line.
“They were down. It was 24-7, so you’re kind of feeling halfway good about it, but the bubble kind of busted because twice you fumbled on the 1-yard line trying to go in and score,” Satterfield said. “It could have been 38-7, but nevertheless I knew it was going to be a game in the third.”
With the victory, the Mountaineers ended the regular season 10-2 – just the fourth time in the program’s 86-year history the Mountaineers have won 10 or more games in the regular season. They are only the second Sun Belt team to do so.
Satterfield, who played on the 1995 Mountaineers team that went 11-0 in the regular season, said this one means more.
“I think the difference is the second year of transition up to FBS, I think that’s huge to be able to win 10,” Satterfield said. “Other teams have had 85 scholarships for years now and we just got there this year, and for us to be 10-2 speaks volumes for our players, our staff, everybody in our organization.”
Appalachian State will find out its destination for its first bowl game during ESPN’s selection show, which airs at noon.
“That’s super exciting,” linebacker Eric Boggs said. “I think all football players look up to that growing up. I know I always dreamed of playing in a bowl game one day, and now it’s here, time to make the most of it.”
The Winston-Salem Journal is a news partner of the Observer. For more Appalachian State coverage, go to http://www.journalnow.com/sports/asu/