Mountaineer comeback falls short in 28-21 defeat to Thundering Herd

Junior+linebacker+Jourdan+Heilig+wraps+up+the+Marshall+ball+carrier+in+App+States+28-21+loss+to+Marshall+Nov.+12%2C+2022.+

Courtesy of Jonathan Aguallo, App State Athletics

Junior linebacker Jourdan Heilig wraps up the Marshall ball carrier in App State’s 28-21 loss to Marshall Nov. 12, 2022.

Chance Chamberlain

App State suffered a second consecutive regular season loss for the first time since 2017 against Marshall in Huntington, West Virginia Saturday evening, 28-21. 

The Mountaineers drop to 5-5 overall and 2-4 in the Sun Belt after trailing the entire game.

“Gut-wrenching loss,” said head coach Shawn Clark. “We have to come back and find a way to win that football game.”

To begin the game, Marshall drove down the field with an eight-minute drive and scored a goal line touchdown. However, the Mountaineers’ first drive stalled out after crossing mid-field and they were forced to punt. 

The defense stepped up after allowing the opening drive touchdown to hold the Thundering Herd’s offense to a three-and-out. 

“After the first drive, our defense settled in and gave us a chance to win the football game,” Clark said.

Again, the App State offense stalled after crossing the 50-yard line and punted the ball away. However, redshirt sophomore defensive back Milan Tucker’s diving play on a punt to down the ball at the 3-yard line near the end of the first quarter pinned the Marshall offense deep. 

The Mountaineers continued to play the field position game throughout the first half as the offense struggled to convert on third down, and the defense excelled at holding Marshall to multiple three-and-outs. 

“We tried to stay off third and long as long as we could, but we weren’t able to do that,” Clark said.

The first takeaway of the first half came at the 10:54 mark in the second quarter with a pass tipped by sophomore outside linebacker Jalen McLeod and intercepted by senior inside linebacker Logan Doublin. 

After the Mountaineer takeaway, the offense was given excellent field position at the Marshall 28-yard line. The next play was an interception thrown by redshirt senior quarterback Chase Brice in the endzone intended for redshirt freshman wide receiver Dalton Stroman. Marshall’s offense immediately took advantage of the Mountaineer turnover and extended its lead to 14 on a goal line touchdown pass set up off a 71-yard catch and run. 

Redshirt senior running back Daetrich Harrington sprints down the sideline against Marshall Nov. 12, 2022. (Courtesy of Andy McLean, App State Athletics)

App State’s offense again couldn’t move the ball and was forced to punt on a three-and-out. However, the bouncing punt couldn’t be controlled by the Marshall punt returner and recovered by senior inside linebacker Tyler Bird inside Marshall’s territory. With excellent starting field position, the Mountaineers scored their first touchdown on redshirt senior running back Daetrich Harrington’s one-yard run at the goal line to end the first half. 

“It felt amazing,” Harrington said. “We needed a touchdown to score there, and I’m happy we got it in there.”

The second half theme was special teams, with both teams making pivotal plays as momentum swung back and forth. 

The Thundering Herd recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff by the Mountaineers. After the turnover, App State’s defense stepped up and forced Marshall to punt after a three-and-out. The Mountaineer’s offense couldn’t capitalize and was forced to punt on fourth down. With redshirt senior punter Clayton Howell in his own endzone, the Thunder Herd blocked his punt and recovered in the endzone for a touchdown to extend their lead to 21-7. 

Marshall then kicked off to Tucker, who returned the ball 96 yards for an App State touchdown in response to the blocked punt. 

Like the game’s first drive, Marshall moved the ball down the field to score another touchdown. 

After drives resulting in punts from both teams, Brice led the Mountaineers down the field and capped off the drive with a 14-yard touchdown caught by senior tight end Henry Pearson to make the score 28-21 in the fourth quarter. 

Marshall was stopped on fourth down by McLeod and sophomore defensive lineman Deshawn McKnight at the line of scrimmage, leaving App State with a chance to tie the game. With crucial runs made by sophomore running back Nate Noel and timely throws by Brice, the Mountaineers had the ball in the red zone with less than six minutes to play. On a pivotal 4th-and-1, Brice was tackled for a loss, and Marshall took over possession in hopes of running out the clock. 

In keeping the ball in the hands of their running backs, Marshall wasted time before McLeod had a key tackle to stop the drive and force a punt. 

With only 2:47 left on the clock, Brice needed to lead the Mountaineers to the endzone. Receptions by Stroman and sophomore wide receiver Christan Horn allowed App State to get into a possible game-tying touchdown range. A critical sack on first down and a false start on second in Marshall territory halted the drive. A scramble and heave by Brice on fourth down intended for redshirt sophomore wide receiver Kaedin Robinson fell incomplete, and Marshall kneeled to end the game 28-21.

Along with the loss, the game proved costly for the Mountaineers, with apparent injuries to redshirt junior linebacker Nick Hampton and redshirt junior running back Cam Peoples.

Noel stepped up in Peoples’ absence, rushing for 74 yards on 18 attempts. In comparison, Doublin paired his interception with a team-high 13 tackles during Hampton’s time off the field.

In suffering back-to-back losses, the Mountaineers hope to get back on track by returning to Kidd Brewer Stadium Nov. 19 for Senior Day and the final home game of the season against 3-7 Old Dominion.

With two regular season games remaining and five losses on the season, the most since App State joined the FBS in 2015, the possibility of finishing last in the Sun Belt East Division looms as Old Dominion and Georgia Southern can overtake App State with wins. Since joining the Sun Belt in 2014, App State has yet to finish below third place. 

Bowl eligibility also remains a question, as the Mountaineers need to win at least six games. App State has been bowl eligible every year since 2015.   

“We gotta finish hard,” Harrington said. “We’re going to come out tomorrow, and hopefully, I’ll motivate everyone out there to have a hard practice.”