App State storms back from 24-7 to win the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl

Chris Warner

Despite getting out to an early 7-0 lead in the first quarter, Appalachian State (11-2, 7-1 Sun Belt) had to claw their way back from 24-7 in the second half to defeat the Ohio Bobcats (8-5, 5-3 MAC) 31-29 on a game winning 23-yard field goal from Zach Matics.

Head coach Scott Satterfield said he knew Matics would convert the field goal if the team was able to get into scoring position after beginning the potential game-winning drive on their own 21-yard line with just under two minutes remaining.

“There’s no question about him,” Satterfield said. “What he went through two years ago and what he did this year, one of the best kickers in the country, there was never a doubt that he would make that field goal. And I think anybody on our sideline would say the same thing.”

The Mountaineers dominated much of the first quarter but finished the first with only a seven point lead, as Matics missed field goals from 39 and 42 yards, both of which hooked right. The two misses were Matics’ first missed kicks from within 50 yards since October of 2014.

“I still can’t tell you what I did wrong on those first two [kicks],” Matics said. “Before I picked my head up, I could’ve sworn they were right down the middle. That last one, I was really focused on keeping my head down a little longer and just drive through it.”

Quarterback Taylor Lamb scored the lone touchdown of the quarter on a 21-yard scamper thanks to shifty feet and a nice block from tight end Levi Duffield. Running back Jalin Moore set the record for the longest run in the short history of the Camellia Bowl with a 55-yard run with roughly five minutes left in the quarter.

Ohio was able to continually find their way into the Mountaineer backfield in the first quarter, amassing five tackles for loss in the quarter, but a stagnant offense, which went three-and-out on their first four drives, kept Ohio from gaining any momentum.

But in eerily reminiscent fashion to App State’s game against Clemson earlier this season, things fell apart for the Mountaineers in the second quarter thanks to untimely penalties and turnovers.

App State failed to convert on fourth down early in the second and the Bobcats came alive. Ohio quarterback JD Sprague converted a third-and-16 in his own territory on the ensuing possession and put his team in position to finally get points on the board. A Josiah Yadzani field goal cut the App State lead to a four-point deficit with 1:31 remaining in the half.

Ohio proceeded to score 14 more points off of two App State turnovers, including a pick-six by linebacker Quentin Poling, taking a 17-7 lead into half time.

“The backdoor play to the tailback, he read my eyes real well and just picked it off,” Lamb said. “I was thinking, not again, second quarter, second quarter. Our defense is playing great and then we go and give them a touchdown.”

In the beginning of the third quarter it seemed like the App State woes would continue, as the team opened with a three-and-out and were forced to punt for only the second time in the game.

The teams would trade punches for a few possessions, with defensive end Ronald Blair forcing and recovering a fumble with roughly five minutes remaining the third quarter. But Ohio linebacker Jovon Johnson dealt a haymaker following the Bobcat turnover, stripping the ball from receiver Ike Lewis and taking it 45 yards to the house, extending the Bobcat lead by 17.

The touchdown, however, would be Ohio’s last of the game, as App State began their comeback and tied or broke multiple App State records in the process.

Lamb helped lead an 11 play, 97-yard drive capped by a 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Barrett Burns. The touchdown was Lamb’s 30th of the season, tying the single-season mark set by App State Hall of Famer Armanti Edwards in 2008.

Cornerback Latrell Gibbs rewarded the offense by providing them with another opportunity to do so, intercepting a pass from Sprague with 13 minutes left in the quarter — Gibbs’ seventh pick of the season.

“We gave them a couple [turnovers] in the second half and they took advantage of those,” Ohio head coach Frank Solich said. “From that the game came down to being a very close ball game. We struggled to stop their explosive play. That is something they have done a great job all year long.”

And struggle they did. Marcus Cox would score a 26-yard touchdown on the next play, putting him over the 100-yard mark for the 22nd time in his career, tying the school record set by John Settle, as well as the 4,000-yard mark for his career. He finished with 162 yards and a touchdown, a performance which landed him the Bart Starr MVP award for the game.

“The feeling is all real. It’s just an honor and a blessing to be able to win this [MVP] trophy, but without my teammates, my offensive line, my coaches, none of this is even possible,” Cox said.

Stout defense forced another interception — this time by cornerback Mondo Williams — and Lamb was able to find Burns once again for an 8-yard touchdown to cap a 47-yard drive that put the Mountaineers up 28-24. The touchdown was Burns’ eighth touchdown grab of the season, tying the single-season record set by Daniel Bettis in 2005.

Ohio didn’t lie down, forcing a safety and then kicking a field goal on their offensive possession following the safety, reclaiming the lead 29-28 with 1:47 remaining.

But Lamb and the Mountaineers wouldn’t be denied, as they marched down 73 yards down the field, all the way to the 6-yard line, to set up the 23-yard game winner for Matics. Taylor Lamb highlighted the drive with a 32-yard carry that moved the Mountaineers across midfield.

With the win, the Mountaineers became the first team in Sun Belt history to achieve 11 wins, while also becoming the first team in NCAA history to win a bowl game in their first season of bowl eligibility.

“People are going to remember us for how we finished the season,” Satterfield said. “We always talk about finishing strong and they’re going to remember us for this bowl victory right here. They’re going to remember the 10 [previous] wins, but they’re really going to remember this bowl victory in the Camellia Bowl.”

Story by: Chris Warner, Sports Editor

Photo by: Chris Deverell, Staff Photographer