Late mistakes cost App State football, Mountaineers fall at Coastal Carolina 34-23

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Courtesy App State Athletics

App State senior safety Kaiden Smith stretches out for a tackle against Coastal Carolina. The Mountaineers fell to the No. 15 Chanticleers 34-23 in Conway, SC Saturday.

Cameron Burnett, Reporter

The Mountaineers were up 23-21 with 6:59 left in the fourth quarter when Coastal Carolina intercepted a deep throw from senior quarterback Zac Thomas. The Chanticleers went on to score a touchdown on the ensuing drive to take the lead for good.

“When you play a top team like (Coastal), you can’t turn the ball over and have penalties,” App State head coach Shawn Clark said. “I thought all three phases made mistakes today.”

App State’s mistakes proved to be too large, as the Chanticleers outscored the Mountaineers 25-6 in the second half for a 34-23 loss in Conway on Saturday.

In the first half, the Mountaineers’ rushing attack had control, led by sophomore running back Camerun Peoples and the veteran offensive line. Peoples had 171 rushing yards in the first half, adding a touchdown on the first drive of the game. On the play before the touchdown, Peoples reached out for the endzone and lost the football, but was ruled down before the fumble.

Sophomore running back Camerun Peoples tries to break through several Coastal Carolina defenders. (Courtesy App State Athletics)

Coastal Carolina scored a touchdown on their first play from scrimmage on a 75-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Grayson McCall to tight end Isaiah Likely. The Chanticleers’ only other score of the half came on a 51-yard field goal after the explosive start.

The Mountaineers’ defense stepped up in the first half after the first drive for the Chanticleers, led by senior defensive end Demetrius Taylor, who had 1.5 sacks, three tackles for loss and a forced fumble.

After a stop by the defense late in the second quarter, Thomas led a drive with one minute left for 84 yards, finishing with a 25-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Christian Wells, taking a 17-9 lead before half.

Coastal Carolina started the second half with two short gains, leading to a third and seven. McCall escaped the pocket and ran for a 65-yard touchdown, cutting the lead to 17-15 after failing the two-point conversion to tie.

App State’s offense only scored six points in the second half, totaling only 32 rushing yards after the break.

“We just got to play better for all four (quarters),” senior offensive lineman Noah Hannon said. “We can’t come out here and continually put together one- and two-quarter performances.”

After having two touchdowns in the first half, the Mountaineers had two drives stopped short in Coastal Carolina territory and the two field goals weren’t enough to hold off the Chanticleers’ offense.

After a field goal by senior kicker Chandler Staton early in the fourth quarter that took a 23-21 lead, Coastal marched down the field but a forced fumble at the goal line by senior defensive back Kaiden Smith that gave the Mountaineers the ball with 8:57 left in the game.

“I take full responsibility for that long run and (Coastal Carolina) getting down there in the first place so I was a little motivated to get the ball back to the offense,” Smith said. “We’ve played with our backs to the goal line plenty of times this year, so it’s nothing new for us.”

App State’s defense allowed the Chanticleers to convert on 7 of 12 third down attempts, including an 11-yard run for running back Reese White in the fourth quarter, leading to the go-ahead touchdown.

Thomas had three interceptions in the second half, two of them creating touchdowns for Coastal Carolina, putting the game out of reach for the Mountaineers in the fourth quarter.

After the Chanticleers took a 27-23 lead late in the fourth quarter, the Mountaineers failed to gain a first down and an interception from Thomas was returned for a touchdown, sealing the game.

Following the loss, Coastal Carolina controls their own destiny in the Sun Belt East division and has to lose twice for the Mountaineers to retake a spot in the conference championship.

“We definitely don’t like being in the position where we can’t control our destiny,” Smith said. “Having to rely on other teams to beat other teams obviously isn’t ideal, it’s not what we came here to do, but win or loss, we are definitely going to move on to Troy.”

The Mountaineers move on to play Troy Nov. 28 while Coastal Carolina will play on the road against Texas State with a chance to win the Sun Belt-East.

App State defensive back Kaiden Smith is a senior reporter for The Appalachian sports desk.