BOONE, N.C. — The answer for some Appalachian State football friends was blowing in the wind as the Mountaineers treated a homecoming crowd of 26,931 to a 37-19 victory over Idaho Saturday afternoon at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
Struggling to finish drives in a contest peppered with exchanged field goals, a wind-blown pass from Idaho quarterback Matt Linehan sailed into the hands of ASU cornerback Clifton Duck, who intercepted the ball and scampered 44 yards for the game-breaking touchdown as the Mountaineers (5-2 overall, 3-0 in Sun Belt Conference play) turned their tight, 13-6 advantage into a 20-6 lead with 10 minutes left in the third quarter. It was one of two interceptions for the sparkling freshman defender and the first of three App State forced off the strong-armed Linehan (26-of-41 for 294 yards passing).
With the App State defense playing lights out for the third straight league game, a two-touchdown deficit was more than the Vandals (4-4, 2-2) could overcome on the cool, blustery day. It wasn’t until the final play from scrimmage that Idaho became the first league opponent to score a TD against the Mountaineers in three efforts.
“In three conference games, we’ve given up one touchdown and that was in the last four seconds of the game,” ASU coach Scott Satterfield said. “I’m really proud of the way our defense played.”
On offense, the Mountaineers weren’t bothered as much by the 20-plus-mile-per-hour wind as the Vandals with Taylor Lamb’s precision-based passing. Lamb completed 18-of-23 passes for 220 yards and no interceptions, spreading things around to seven different receivers, including a career-high seven strikes to the resurgent Shaedon Meadors (106 yards)., who has 13 receptions in two games.
With Idaho’s vastly-improved defense emphasizing run stoppage for most of the contest, ASU sophomore tailback Jalin Moore was limited to 114 yards on 23 carries, but Moore’s five-yard TD burst with a little more than 11 minutes remaining made it a 30-9 to further complicate the Vandals’ plight. Moore had ripped Idaho for 244 yards on 27 attempts in last year’s 47-20 victory on the road.
Senior tailback Marcus Cox, meanwhile, sat out nursing a nearly-healed left quad pull for the fourth straight game, though he was able to play.
“The receivers probably had their best game of the year,” Satterfield said. “We’ve got to be able to do that (throw the ball effectively). Everybody is trying to load up the box to stop the run.”
Appalachian jumped to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, with freshman Michael Rubino converting the first of three field goals from 28 yards and Lamb capping a 10-play, 80-yard drive with his brilliant, read-option fake for a two-yard touchdown dash.
Idaho answered with two Austin Rehkow field goals from 32 and 46 yards out to cut the Mountaineer edge to 10-6 at the half. Rehkow, one of the nation’s best college kickers, added a 23-yarder in the third quarter.
But ASU dominated most of the third period to put this game out of reach.
Meadors had three key catches for 15, 21 and 23 yards as Appalachian took the second-half kickoff and quickly moved into scoring range, but the drive stalled and Rubino was called on from 24 yards to give the Mountaineers a seven-point lead with four minutes gone in the third stanza. Just 58 seconds later, linebacker Devan Stringer landed a vicious lick on Linehan’s intended receiver as the pass soared past and found it’s way into Duck’s hands, with a clear sideline in front of him.
“I actually saw the route combination coming,” said Duck. Strong safety A.J. Howard “saw it too and made a great check (to audible to a different coverage). Devin hit the receiver and that was all she wrote.”
Duck said he has thrived on the fact that teams have challenged him all season as the youngest member of the Mountaineer secondary.
“People want to come at me, because I’m a (true) freshman,” Duck explained. “I take that seriously. You don’t get that many opportunities. When you see the opportunity, you focus on catching the ball.”
With three of five conference games in their back pockets, the Mountaineers now turn their collective attention to Thursday night’s 7:30 p.m. battle at arch-rival Georgia Southern on ESPN2. It will mark the third consecutive year that this rivalry — which got its modern start in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs in 1987 and matured during the two teams’ Southern Conference days — will be played on national television on a Thursday.
“You’re just used to it, playing Georgia Southern on a short week,” said Lamb.
A win would go a long way to allowing App State to reach its goal of a first Sun Belt title.
“We want to get hot,” Lamb said. “We’ve been hot the last two weeks. We’ve got to keep that momentum.”