BOONE – Despite shaky offensive play, the Appalachian State football team defeated Southern Alabama in Boone, 31-7, on the back of big defensive plays.
The Mountaineers forced three turnovers and three punts in Southn Alabama’s first six drives of the game. The offense capitalized on good field position, turning a fourth-down stop and an interception in the first quarter into a quick 14-0 lead.
Offense was hard to come by for the Mountaineers after that, though. The team only put up 330 yards of offense and quarterback Chase Brice threw two interceptions. South Alabama’s defense was stout, and the team’s aggressive play calling kept the Jaguars competitive for much of the game.
Despite being heavy favorites, head coach Shawn Clark wasn’t surprised at Southern Alabama’s quality play.
“I attribute (Appalachian’s offensive struggles) to Southern Alabama,” he said. “They came out and really stacked the box on us and we had to throw the football. And we can make excuses and blame the wind, the weather, this and that, but great teams find a way.”
In moments where it seemed like the Jaguars could truly turn the momentum in its favor, Appalachian State defenders were there with a big play to stuff all hopes of an upset.
“That’s what great teams do,” Clark said. “When one side is not playing well, the other side picks it up.”
With about four minutes left in the second quarter, Appalachian State’s Thomas Hennigan muffed a punt. South Alabama scored a touchdown on the next play, then an interception of a Brice pass gave the ball right back to the Jaguars with 90 seconds remaining before the half.
South Alabama marched down the field to the 16-yard line, but the Mountaineer’s defense made a defensive stand highlighted by a quarterback hurry from linebacker Brendan Harrington and a pass breakup from corner Steven Jones. The Mountaineers escaped the first half still leading by a touchdown after the Jaguars missed a field-goal attempt.
“With precious situations that’s what they do,” Clark said of his defense. “They rise to the occasion and make plays.”
The Jaguars once again had a chance to chip away at the lead with three minutes remaining in the game, as they found themselves on Appalachian State’s 9-yard line, down 24-7. This time it was Trey Cobb who came up big, intercepting the ball in the end zone and taking it 100 yards to the house to put the nail in the coffin.
“Once I caught it, I look up trying to find where to go and I see D’Marco (Jackson) kind of waiting for me to come that way,” Cobb said. “And I just took off to follow him and I see all those yellow jerseys in front of me, and I knew they were going to make a way for me.”
While the defense was enough to power the Mountaineers to their fourth-straight conference victory, they will need to be firing on all cylinders to finish out the season and ensure their ultimate goal of winning the Sun Belt. That means making adjustments on offense.
“I think it’s just taking care of the ball. When we don’t turn the ball over we’re very hard to beat,” Hennigan said. “I think it’s almost good to have an ugly win like that to shake everybody up, and get them ready to go for the next game.”
Luckily for Clark and his squad, Georgia State’s win over Coastal Carolina on Saturday put Appalachian State in sole possession of the top spot in the Sun Belt East. The Mountaineers will face division foe Troy on the road next week at 3:30 p.m.
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