By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
STATESBORO, GA. — Appalachian State knew there would be difficulties in making the transition from the Football Championship Subdivision to the Football Bowl Subdivision this season.
But the Mountaineers didn’t expect to have such early-season difficulties against old-time rivals as Georgia Southern like they did in a 34-14 loss Thursday night before a 24,535 crowd at Paulson Stadium — the second largest in school history — and a national television audience on ESPN2.
Georgia Southern quarterback Kevin Ellison rushed 21 times for 151 yards and one touchdown and completed 6-of-10 passes for 73 yards and another score as the Eagles (3-2 overall, 2-0 in the Sun Belt Conference) piled up 408 yards rushing and 496 yards of total offense in handing ASU a defeat in its first-ever Sun Belt game.
App State (1-3, 0-1) was completely dominated for the first quarter and a half of the game, falling behind 17-0 early as Georgia Southern scored 10 points on its first two drives and added another touchdown following a blocked punt.
Matt Brieda (12 carries, 135 yards) rumbled 56 yards on the fifth play from scrimmage for a touchdown to give the Eagles a quick lead and they never looked back.
Hanks contributed a 19-yard field goal and Alfred Ramsby pounded in from the one for another score to give Georgia Southern what proved to be an insurmountable advantage.
ASU failed to even gain a first down on its first three possessions and ended the first period with only 17 offensive yards. The Mountaineers finished the night with just 74 yards rushing.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Lamb (23-of-42 for 256 yards passing), making his second career start, finally got the Mountaineer passing attack rolling in the second period.
After a roughing the passer penalty prevented a fourth straight three-and-out, Lamb took advantage to complete five consecutive passes — sparked by Malachi Jones breaking a tackle and stretching out for 12 yards and a key first down — to finally get on the scoreboard.
With an empty-backfield formation on third and 11, Lamb split the defense on a quarterback draw for 19 yards and a touchdown to make it 17-7 midway through the second quarter.
The Eagles responded with another defensive stop later in the period, however, and turned it into a four-play, 49-yard drive, with Kevin Ellison finding BJ Johnson in the corner of the end zone for a 17-yard scoring strike to increase the lead back to 17 points.
But with less than two minutes left in the half, Lamb shredded the GSU defense for five more completions, including a 27-yard connection to Jones and a 25-yard TD hook-up with Simms McElfresh that cut the advantage to 24-14.
ASU took the second-half kickoff and marched into the red zone again, but Georgia Southern stopped Lamb’s option keeper on fourth and three from the 14 to stymie the Mountaineers.
Tucker Bell made a huge special teams play for App State with an extra-effort, one-handed, blocked punt to give the Mountaineers possession again at the Eagle 30, but a false start penalty cost ASU a touchdown and Lamb was intercepted one the next play at the one.
Georgia Southern made that mistake a costly one with a nine-minute drive that burned off the rest of the third quarter and concluded with a 35-yard field goal by Hanks on the first play of the fourth period to expand the Eagle lead to 27-14.
Ellison then clinched the win with a six-yard option keeper for a score that capped a seven-play, 79-yard drive later in the fourth period to push the Eagles’ edge to 34-14.
App State had one last trip into the red zone midway through the fourth quarter, but Georgia Southern’s defense held on downs to keep the Mountaineers scoreless in the second half.
The Mountaineers will finally get back home for its first Sun Belt game at Kidd Brewer Stadium when it hosts South Alabama on Oct. 4 at 6 p.m.