Editor’s note: David Coulson is bringing fans an insider’s look on Appalachian State’s first bowl-game experience. This is the last of five chapters on the experience.
BOONE, N.C. — Sleep, precious sleep. After a jam-packed three days of activities at the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl, the one thing I craved more than any other was some horizontal meditation.
When the Camellia Bowl ended with Appalachian State’s dramatic 31-29 victory, the party was just beginning on Saturday night. Fans of the Mountaineers were ready to paint Montgomery black and gold and the celebration went far into Sunday morning before the tuckered-out supporters turned in for a little sleep before heading home.
I spent much of the evening just hanging out with friends at the Appalachian team hotel, the Renaissance, occasionally wondering around the area to get a feel for this victory party.
There was plenty of time for the fans to dissect the wild game we had just witnessed and lots of talk about where the Mountaineers go from here. But mostly, this ASU throng basked in the fact that their favorite team had just become the first school ever to win a bowl game and the first to be victorious in a bowl in its first season of eligibility.
The Mountaineers also became the only Sun Belt Conference squad to ever pile up 11 W’s in one season.
Lofty reasons to celebrate, indeed.
While many of the players, coaches and support staff were on their way to the Montgomery airport for an hour-long flight to Hickory, N.C. and then a quick bus trip back to Boone, some stayed on with their families in the Renaissance.
My friends and I spent some quality time with the Lamb family, which glowed in the aftermath of the fine sophomore season turned in by App State quarterback Taylor Lamb.
If a picture could paint a thousand words, the selfie moment at the Renaissance was the sight of Taylor’s father, Bobby, proudly wearing an Appalachian State baseball hat.
One longtime Mountaineer booster and alumnus, Doug Glenn, told Bobby Lamb “I don’t think there were very many of us who would have ever expected to see that.”
For most of his exceptional college football career as a star quarterback, an assistant coach and finally as a head coach, Bobby Lamb had been an ASU antagonist as he spent 29 years at one of Appalachian’s fiercest rivals, Furman.
This proud father, now the coach of Mercer University, where he has built a program from scratch, told us the story of how his son Taylor was also set to sign a letter of intent to play for future App State rival South Alabama, before having second thoughts.
“Dad, I’m not sure I can go through with that,” Taylor said on the drive back to Calhoun, Georgia after his official campus visit.
Stuck in the back of Taylor’s mind was those weekends as a kid, watching the enthusiasm of games between Furman and Appalachian State at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
Bobby Lamb excitedly broke down the key play of the Mountaineers’ final drive, which led to Zach Matics’ game-winning, 23-yard field goal on the last play of the game.
“They were in zero coverage (meaning the secondary was lined up in man-to-man coverage on the outside, with just a free safety deep),” the coach explained. “When a quarterback sees that, he knows there is going to be a lot of grass in front of him.”
Taylor Lamb had described in the post-game press conference how he had quickly made the reads of his potential pass receivers with the idea that he was probably going to pull down the ball and run.
His determined scramble up the middle of the field and then cutting along the Ohio University sideline earned him 32 yards and the young quarterback made sure he milked every last yard out of the scamper before he was knocked out of bounds.
From there, it was only a matter of when Matics would come on for the deciding kick and how many yards the Mountaineers could add on to make Matics’ job easier.
While the celebration lingered in the Renaissance Hotel, another spectacle was grabbing the Mountaineer fans’ attention.
The hotel was also hosting another blockbuster event that night, the steeped-in-tradition, Blue and Gray debutante ball.
Everywhere you turned, there were young ladies in luscious gowns.
The older fans in our midst tried humorously to explain to the younger ones what a debutante ball was.
Several of these teens sauntered past wearing full-length animal coats.
“I wonder how many animals it took to make those?” one App State supporter asked.
It isn’t like you witness debutantes every day, carefully parading themselves in elegant style down the streets of Boone.
Later on, some of these young women’s escorts got into some serious trash talking with Appalachian players.
What followed was a line that couldn’t have been made up, here deep in the heart of Alabama Crimson Tide country.
“Who do those players think they are?” asked one escort. “Derrick Henry?”
Of course, he was referring to the Alabama star running back, who just one week earlier had been selected as the Heisman Trophy winner for 2015.
There might not have been any Heisman hopefuls on the Appalachian sideline on Saturday night, but but when you saw the size of these young Alabama men, you couldn’t help but snicker about that exchange.
If they hadn’t been tied up with their social responsibilities, perhaps these kids could have seen that the Mountaineers do know something about playing football.
In fact, the Crimson Tide might have to get past a team that the Mountaineers played earlier this season, Clemson, if they are to reach their goal of a national championship.
As my gathering began to call it a night, I journeyed up the street to find that the App State students that had made the trip were still in high spirits as the restaurants and bars in the downtown area.
They were loud and boisterous, but not too boisterous.
Throughout the weekend, Appalachian supporters received high marks from the locals who were serving them.
You can only bet that those in Montgomery wouldn’t been displeased to see Appalachian make a return trip to the Camellia Bowl in 2016.
Also on the streets were the Debs, shivering on a cold evening in their skimpy gowns. But most of the ASU students chose to ignore this social oddity.
I retired back to the hotel to catch up on some writing and before I knew it, App State fans were filtering out of the hotel and beginning to start the trip back home.
I had an appointment with AAA to get my battery jump-started and to get back on the road myself.
The only sleep I managed on this morning was a brief nap while I waited for an hour for my road service. The young man sent to help me came not in the usual tow truck, but in a pedestrian vehicle.
But he carried with him a high-powered battery that quickly started my dead Toyota Prius.
It was now time to start heading back to Boone.
All along the trip, there was a steady caravan of Appalachian fans, driving along Interstate 85, with their car flags waving. They were proud to be showing off their colors.
I took a leisurely trip back, stopping a couple of times at outlet shopping malls along the way to take some brief breaks from driving.
Even when I stopped for gas and a Subway Italian sub in Gaffney, S.C., I was still encountering Appalachian fans.
I held the door open for one Mountaineer fan after refueling my gas tank.
“I always hold doors open for Mountaineer fans,” I said.
The remark brought a deep chuckle from his chest and a large, resulting smile to his face.
A couple of uneventful hours later, I was pulling back into my driveway. A glance at the clock told me I had time for only a couple of hours of sleep before hitting the road again to transport my daughter to Charlotte-Douglas Airport for a Christmas flight to Philadelphia.
Sometime on Monday morning, I was back at home with sleep on my agenda.
Sleep, precious sleep.