Appalachian State’s mistakes kept Arkansas State in the game in the first half.
The Red Wolves’ offense did the rest in the second half, chewing through the Mountaineers for a 40-27 victory Thursday night at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
In a battle of the Sun Belt’s two remaining undefeated teams, it’s Arkansas State (6-3, 5-0) now atop the conference standings after snapping Appalachian State’s six-game winning streak.
The Mountaineers (7-2, 4-1) – who had won 10 consecutive conference games, dating back to last season – are now tied for second in the Sun Belt standings with Georgia Southern (6-2, 4-1), with three games remaining.
While the Red Wolves’ offense was held in check in the first half, a pair of Appalachian State fumbles led to a pair of touchdowns, allowing Arkansas State to stay within 21-17 at the half.
The Red Wolves then opened the second half by scoring on their first five possessions – TD runs by Johnston White and Michael Gordon, and field goals of 32, 26 and 23 yards by J.D. Houston – in building a 40-21 lead.
Three who mattered
Taylor Lamb: The Mountaineers’ sophomore quarterback threw for 222 yards and three touchdowns in the first half Thursday as Appalachian State went up 21-17. But he was held to 99 yards and a score in the second half, and finished with 321 yards passing and four TDs.
Michael Gordon: After being shut down in the first half, the Red Wolves’ senior running back finished with 136 yards and a touchdown. Gordon was held to 16 yards on 13 carries over the first two quarters, but had a 73-yard TD run on Arkansas State’s second possession of the third quarter.
Fredi Knighten: Arkansas State’s quarterback threw for 208 yards and one touchdown, and ran for 69 – again, most of that yardage coming in the second half. Knighten had just 55 yards passing (including an 8-yard TD pass to Tres Houston in the first quarter) and two rushing yards in the first half.
▪ Arkansas State’s defense has been a turnover machine this season, and it was no different against the Mountaineers. The Red Wolves forced three turnovers Thursday, converting one directly into a score on Chris Stone’s 19-yard fumble return late in the first quarter. That gives Arkansas State five defensive touchdowns this season, second-best nationally among FBS teams, and their 22 turnovers are tied for the national lead with California and Houston.
▪ If not for those first-half turnovers, Appalachian State would have been in control of the game, and might have had a dominating lead. The Mountaineers had 305 yards total offense over the first two quarters to 125 for the Red Wolves. Most of Arkansas State’s first-half yardage came on its longest drive – 13 plays for 72 yards, which led to a 25-yard Houston field goal
▪ Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield delved into his book of trick plays in the first quarter. Bentlee Critcher hit Malachi Jones on a 36-yard pass on a fake punt, giving the Mountaineers first down at the Red Wolves’ 35. Three plays later, Lamb hit a wide-open Barrett Burns on a 29-yard TD pass.
▪ Maybe Sun Belt officials (and ESPN) should re-think playing conference games on Thursday nights. While the Georgia Southern game – one of the Mountaineers’ biggest rivals from their FCS days – drew an overflow crowd of 24,121 on Oct. 22, the Arkansas State game was considerably less crowded: 18,721. The home-side grandstands were full, but the visitor’s side was less than half full – and most of those fans wore Appalachian State’s gold and black.
▪ Playing conditions at Kidd Brewer Stadium were near-perfect at kickoff Thursday night – 60 degrees, little to no wind, and only a slight chance of rain (20 percent) despite the overcast skies.
▪ If Critcher’s fake-punt pass was the special teams play of the game, Arkansas State punter Luke Ferguson and teammate Chris Murray had No. 1A. Late in the first quarter, Murray came up with Ferguson’s 33-yard punt inside the Mountaineers’ 1-yard-line as he kept the ball from going into the end zone.
▪ Appalachian State running back Marcus Cox, third in the conference in rushing at 115.1 yards per game, was held to 74 yards on 16 carries.
App—M.Jones 12 pass from Lamb (Matics kick), 12:45.
AkSt—T.Houston 8 pass from Knighten (J.Houston kick), 8:33.
App—B.Burns 29 pass from Lamb (Matics kick), 6:04.
AkSt—Stone 19 fumble return (J.Houston kick), 1:30.
App—D.Jones 24 pass from Lamb (Matics kick), 13:44.
AkSt—FG J.Houston 25, 4:50.
AkSt—J.White 26 run (J.Houston kick), 13:25.
AkSt—Gordon 73 run (J.Houston kick), 10:17.
AkSt—FG J.Houston 32, 3:53.
AkSt—FG J.Houston 26, 12:50.
AkSt—FG J.Houston 23, 6:26.
App—McGuire 27 pass from Lamb (pass failed), 3:32.
Time of Possession
RUSHING—Arkansas St., Gordon 17-136, Knighten 14-69, J.White 9-64, Wand 11-42, Team 1-(minus 2). Appalachian St., Cox 16-74, Upshaw 4-29, Lamb 8-7, J.Moore 1-4, Team 1-(minus 6).
PASSING—Arkansas St., Knighten 14-25-0-208. Appalachian St., Lamb 22-35-1-321, Critcher 1-1-0-36.
RECEIVING—Arkansas St., Paschal 4-117, T.Houston 4-33, McKissic 3-27, Griswold 1-15, Gordon 1-9, Leapheart 1-7. Appalachian St., Cox 6-52, M.Jones 4-75, McElfresh 4-47, Meadors 3-78, B.Burns 2-39, Beathard 2-15, McGuire 1-27, D.Jones 1-24.