It was redemption and realization for Appalachian State as the Mountaineers and their kicker made up for first-half offensive woes. And in the meantime, perhaps the rest of the country started to realize that the Mountaineers are becoming one of the elite Group of Five teams.
Appalachian State added to its rich football history by winning its first-ever bowl game in dramatic fashion. Zach Matics hit a 23-yard field goal on the last play of the game to pull the Mountaineers to a 31-29 win over Ohio in the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala.
Matics missed two field goals in the first quarter as the Mountaineers took a 7-0 lead. But a pick-six and a fumbled snap that turned into an Ohio touchdown run put App State down 17-7 at the half. The lead grew to 24-7 as Ohio linebacker Jovon Johnson stripped the ball from App State receiver Ike Lewis and took it back 45 yards for the score, putting the Bobcats up 24-7 midway through the third quarter.
Down 17 and with its offense stuck in neutral, it looked like there was nothing left in the tank for App State, but running back Marcus Cox had something left to keep the Mountaineers in the game.
After the strip-and-score, Cox ran the ball six times for 57 yards on the ensuing drive. A targeting penalty also helped to set up a 17-yard screen pass from quarterback Taylor Lamb to tight end Barrett Burns to cut the Ohio lead to 24-14.
After an interception by linebacker Ronald Blair – the Sun Belt Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year – Cox ran for a 26-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 24-21 early in the fourth quarter. Cox ended up with 162 yards on 26 carries and was named the most valuable player of the game.
After another touchdown pass from Lamb to Burns gave App State the lead, Ohio got a safety and a field goal to take a 29-28 lead with 1:47 left.
In the end, a 32-yard scamper by Lamb helped set up Matics’ game-winning kick.
— Raycom Camellia Bowl (@CamelliaBowl) December 20, 2015
Ever since moving up to the FBS in 2014, the Mountaineers have won 19 games in two years, and this year’s 11 wins is the most ever by a Sun Belt Conference team. And keep in mind, the only losses for App State in 2015 came against SBC champion Arkansas State and Clemson – the No. 1 team in the country for most of the season.
Without a doubt, this a program that belongs.
If you want to take a quick look at 2016, the Mountaineers will lose Blair, Matics and most of its offensive line, but Lamb and Cox will return along with two key defensive players in junior linebacker John Law and sophomore defensive back Latrell Gibbs. Both Law and Gibbs were first-team all-conference selections.
And Wwile everyone remembers App State for its shocking win at Michigan in 2007, there could be a few more Power Five teams in line to fall to the Mountaineers in the near future.
App State opens the 2016 season at Tennessee and has Miami at home in Boone.
It’s too early to put Appalachian State among the G5 giant killers like Boise State and BYU, but the Mountaineers are on the right track to be placed in that category.