With two seconds remaining on the clock in the 2015 Raycom Media Camellia Bowl and the score 29-28 in Ohio’s favor, senior Mountaineers kicker Zach Matics set up to kick what would soon be his final field goal in the black and gold.
From 23-yards out while time expired, Matics nailed the kick capping a 17-point, fourth-quarter comeback and gave App their first FBS Bowl Game win in school history.
“I’ve been a part of football for a long, long time,” head coach Scott Satterfield said after the game. “I’ve never been a part of a game like this.”
Fast-forward nearly eight and a half months later and the Mountaineers are preparing for one of their biggest opponents since Michigan in 2007 and Clemson last season. On Sept. 1, the Black and Gold will travel to Knoxville to take on the No. 9 ranked Tennessee Volunteers for their first game of the season. However, the man who helped kick App into FBS history will not be tagging along for the ride.
Matics has graduated and the job of place kicker has been reassigned. Michael Rubino, a redshirt freshman out of Apex, North Carolina, has taken over the role and has no easy task trying to fill the cleats of his predecessor.
“I like the pressure and I welcome that pressure,” Rubino said on his new role. “I haven’t truly been uncomfortable yet in a game so I’m just looking for new challenges to welcome and take advantage of them.”
Being uncomfortable was something Matics hadn’t experienced much either. Throughout last season, he was perfect for PAT’s at 61-61 and only missed three field goals all season long finishing 14-17. He also managed to nail two season long 51 yarders and rack up 103 total points.
Despite the high expectations, Rubino believes he’s ready for it to be his time.
“I’ve been doing great through last spring and this camp and I’m just real excited to show what I can do,” Rubino said.
Running-backs and special teams coach Stu Holt is in his second year at App State and his impact on the program has been recognized with special teams proving beneficial throughout last season.
Holt can only see things getting better as the season progresses. Changes last year and players adapting to those changes help smooth the transition this summer.
“This year we’ve been able to progress a little bit quicker in our practice habits and our schemes and techniques, but I feel good about where we are,” Holt said. He went on to say that big changes weren’t really a part of his plan looking forward.
“We just want to play solid. We want to be a solid portion of the game where we can be counted on to do our part,” Holt said. The standards that Holt holds his men to are simple: “You just always want to be better than you were the previous time you did it.”
Holt also mentioned senior punter Bentlee Critcher. Critcher, like Rubino, is no stranger to high expectations, except in his case, the man who set the bar for him last year was himself. Last season, Critcher managed to punt 51 times for a total of 2,212 yards and a 43.4-yard punt average. That average landed him in fourth in the conference and 37th in the nation, including a season long 60-yard punt against Georgia Southern.
“There’s a sign in our locker room that says ‘it’s not about being the best in the nation, it’s about being the best on that given day,” Critcher said. “The ultimate goal is to be the best at game time. Being the best in the nation can come later.”
Being best in the nation is not that far away as the Mountaineers managed to squeeze their way into the FBS’s top 25 in special teams at the end of last season.
The key is always being “better than you were the previous time you did it. That’s within each rep, within each game and within each season,” Holt said.
Within this season lies ahead two major challenges for the Black and Gold, facing two power five teams. One of which kicks the season off against Tennessee while the other takes place at The Rock against visiting University of Miami on Sept. 17. Holt acknowledged the challenges ahead for them but reassured that the special teams will be ready to meet those challenges.
Story by: Noah Gerringer, Sports Reporter