SAN MARCOS, Tx. — Appalachian State delivered a Lone Star stand.
With quarterback and former Calhoun High standout Taylor Lamb igniting a comeback by throwing several third-down completions to true freshman receivers and senior safety A.J. Howard making a tackle at the 1-yard line on the final play, the Mountaineers rallied to claim a 20-13 victory at Texas State in their Sun Belt Conference opener Saturday night.
It was also the program’s first game played in that football-rich state. Even the drama was bigger in Texas.
The Bobcats recovered a fumble at their 1-yard line with 2:26 remaining and converted three third downs before reaching the App State 7 with 10 seconds left. Damian Williams completed an over-the-middle pass to Elijah King, and Howard made the game-saving tackle a few moments before time expired with Texas State rushing to set up another snap. A video review confirmed that no time remained and no touchdown was scored.
“We told them they weren’t going to go 99 yards. They went 98,” App State coach Scott Satterfield said with a relieved chuckle. “It was very, very close, but you have to take these wins any way you can get them.”
App State (2-1, 1-0) trailed 10-0 before newcomer Thomas Hennigan scored his first college touchdown on a third-and-goal pass from Lamb with 29 seconds remaining in the first half. Michael Rubino tied the game on a 27-yard field goal to end the opening series of the second half, and the Mountaineers pulled ahead for good on Terrence Upshaw’s 1-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter.
The teams traded fourth-quarter field goals, with James Sherman making a 38-yard kick before Rubino increased to lead to 20-13 on a 46-yard kick, and Clifton Duck’s 41-yard interception return to the Texas State 14 put the Mountaineers in position to seal the outcome. The goal-line fumble gave the Bobcats another shot, and they put together a 14-play drive that covered almost the entire length of the field before ending abruptly at the edge of the opposite end zone.
Texas State coach Everett Withers, who played defensive back at App State in the 1980s, said he would have called for a two-point conversion and tried for the win had the Bobcats scored.
“We let them go 98 yards, but we didn’t break,” Howard said. “We bent a little bit, but we didn’t break as a defense.”
After failing to convert any of its first five third-down chances, App State was 3-for-3 on its breakthrough touchdown drive and 4-for-5 during its stretch of 17 consecutive points.
Lamb overcame a slow start to complete 17 of his 28 passes for 167 yards, and Upshaw rushed for 60 yards while carrying most of the second-half workload. Hennigan had 57 yards on six catches, including third-down conversions of 11 and 6 yards on App State’s first scoring drive, and true freshman Malik Williams’ 28-yard gain on a third-and-10 pass set up the go-ahead touchdown.
Defensively, App State sacked Texas State quarterback Damian Williams five times, led by two sacks from Anthony Flory and other backfield takedowns from Tee Sims, Tae Hayes, Caleb Fuller and Myquon Stout. The Mountaineers won despite being outgained 385-283 and finishing with seven fewer minutes of possession.
It was App State’s lowest final point total in a road win since the Mountaineers claimed a 13-10 victory at Furman in 2003.
“They matched our intensity tonight, and I thought it was a very physical contest,” Satterfield said. “I told our guys that this is what Sun Belt football is going to be. It’s going to be physical, and you’re going to have to play this way in order to win.”