By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
ATLANTA — Unlike the past two weeks of wet weather, there was a fast track Saturday for Appalachian State indoors at the Georgia Dome and the Mountaineers performed like thoroughbreds to race to the 37-3 victory over Georgia State in their Sun Belt Conference opener before an announced crowd of 10,101.
Appalachian (4-1 overall, 1-0 in conference) sprinted to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter, expanded that to 20-3 by halftime and could have opened an even bigger first-half advantage lead as two long passes fell tantalizingly close to potential TD targets.
Setting the tone on its first offensive play from scrimmage, sophomore quarterback Taylor Lamb (18-of-24, 291 yards passing, three TDs and one interception, 344 yards of total offense) drilled a perfect strike to senior receiver Malachi Jones (three catches, 102 yards) after Lamb’s play-action fake and the double move by Jones for 45 yards.
That set up the first of three Zach Matics field goals — this one from 45 yards — with less than three minutes gone off the first-period clock. The Mountaineers were off and running and never looked back, offensively, or defensively.
Bobo Beathard capped off an eight-play, 82-yard drive by ripping one of Lamb’s passes away from the defender in the end zone for 29 yards and App State’s first touchdown midway through the first stanza.
On its third possession, Appalachian needed only four plays to move 71 yards for its third straight score.
Lamb threw over the top of the Panther secondary and Simms McElfresh ran the pass down for 49 yards and the first down at the GSU nine. Backup tight end Levi Duffield hauled in his first career reception on the next play for nine yards and a touchdown to extend the lead to 17-0 with 1:37 left in the initial segment of the game.
ASU coach Scott Satterfield said his team has to emphasize the passing game to combat the Panthers’ game plan.
“We had to do that, because they were loading up the box and trying to stop the run,” Satterfield explained “Offensively, I was proud of those guys, the way we hit some balls down the field.”
Georgia State, meanwhile, managed just one first down in the first 26 minutes of action against ASU’s high-pressure, attacking defense. The Panthers finished with only 225 yards of total offense, with 59 coming on the ground.
“Hats off to Appalachian State,” said beleaguered Georgia State coach Trent Miles, who has seen his team lose 27 of its 29 games since he took over the program in 2013 and fell to 1-4 overall and 1-1 in conference this season. “They are one of the top teams in the conference and they completely controlled us today. We weren’t able to move the ball on offense and couldn’t stop any of their throwing when they attacked us on the perimeter.”
The teams traded field goals in the second quarter, but Appalachian iced the game by marching 75 yards on 10 plays and milking over five minutes off the clock after the third-period kickoff.
Another perfect play-action fake by Lamb was converted into another touchdown when Shaedon Meadors grabbed a 30-yard pass in the end zone to increase ASU’s edge to 27-3.
The Mountaineer defense forced Georgia State to turn the ball over on downs by stopping a fourth-and-one pass at the ASU 37 on the Panthers’ first drive of the second half.
That was converted into another Matics field goal from 39 yards out to push the lead to 30-3 with a couple of minutes left in the third period.
App State was content to run time off the clock the rest of the way on offense, but Latrell Gibbs added to the winning margin when he blizted off the edge midway through the fourth quarter.
The Nick Arbuckle pass was deflected in the air and into the hands of Gibbs for an interception that the sophomore cornerback intercepted and took 53 yards across the goal line for one final touchdown.
It was the fifth consecutive game that Gibbs had an interception and the second week in a row he had scored off the turnover. Last week, Gibbs ran his interception back 91 yards to score against Wyoming in the first quarter.
Arbuckle came into the game as the Sun Belt’s leading passer, but he was harassed to finish 21-of-37 for 166 yards, with two sacks, one interception and four pass breakups. His replacement, redshirt freshman Emiere Scaife was 0-of-2 and was sacked once in the final GSU possession.
In winning for the 10th time in 11 games over the past two seasons, Appalachian showed it most balanced offense of the season with 207 yards rushing and 291 passing yards for a total of 498.
That allowed a pleasant homecoming for the 26 players on the Mountaineer roster that prepped in Georgia.
“I didn’t want to be embarrassed today,” said inside linebacker John Law, who paced ASU with seven tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack in front of over 100 family members and friends. “I wanted to come out and have us put on our best performance.”
The Mountaineers will be back on the road next Saturday at 7 p.m. for another Sun Belt game at Louisiana-Monroe. The Warhawks were 1-3 overall and 0-1 in conference, heading into a non-conference game at Tulsa on Saturday night.