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October 6, 2012

App State knocks off Elon in Boone

BOONE, N.C. -- Appalachian State and Elon put together another classic battle Saturday with the Mountaineers earning a 35-23 victory, pushing their streak to 17 straight over The Phoenix.

The contest took on a disturbing tone early when the visitors easily marched 75 yards downfield in just 3:19 to open up the scoring, grabbing a 7-0 lead out of the gates. The most concerning aspect of the opening drive was Elon's ability to strike quickly when quarterback Thomas Wilson connected with Aaron Mellette for a 34-yard gain on the very first play to move into Appalachian territory.

Soon after, Elon scored the first points of the game, and seemingly looked to have ASU's defense where it wanted.

In response, the Mountaineers tried to take advantage of The Phoenix's history of run-stopping struggles but the visitors came prepared to fluster ASU's ground attack.

ASU entered the game believing there would be some opportunities to move the ball inside, but Elon closed off those opportunities rather quickly. The result was just 21 first quarter rushing yards.

"We thought we could run the inside zone on them and be effective with it," head coach Jerry Moore said. "If we had it five times in the first quarter, I bet three of them we ran the ball inside. And we just weren't very successful with it."

The struggles to move the ball in the opening quarter continued throughout, but ASU finally found a way to breakthrough the Elon defense and move the ball late, before finally finding the end zone at the beginning of the second quarter.

The teams continued to battle back and forth throughout the first half, but Appalachian managed to get its offense moving in the second quarter. The result was a 14-3 advantage in the scoring column during the second quarter, giving the Mountaineers a 14-10 lead going into the break.

Elon regained the lead early in the third quarter on a Mellette 59-yard touchdown reception, one that many felt should not have been allowed.

Before catching the pass, Mellette ran out of bounds which should have rendered him ineligible to be the first player to touch the ball. The referee tossed his hat to the ground indicating the receiver had gone out of bounds.

That move by the referee created the assumption that the play was dead, thus resulting in ASU defenders stopping on the play. Despite the tossed hat, the play was allowed to continue and Elon scored. No reviews took place, as the call indicated that Mellette had been pushed out of bounds by Demetrius McCray.

The senior cornerback for ASU saw it play out a little differently.

"That's what I thought," McCray said when asked if he believed the play over. "I thought the rule was when he runs out of bounds himself and the ref throws his hat he can't be the first one to touch it. When I saw the ref throw his hat I thought the play was dead. And they called it to continue.

"I got a jam on him, he got off and ran out of bounds. He was the first one to touch it and I thought he wasn't supposed to do that. I guess the whole defense thought that too. It was just a fluke play."

Coach Moore did not dispute the play, simply stating that he had the worst view in the stadium and could not make a judgment on the ruling.

The result was a score and an Elon 17-14 lead.

Elon held onto the advantage for nearly seven more minutes in the game, but then ASU's offense began to wear down The Phoenix and the defense came up with some big plays.

Appalachian State went on to outscore Elon 21-7 over the course of the final 18-plus minutes of the game. The Mountaineer offense out gained The Phoenix 287 yards to 222 in the final half with 141 of those coming on the ground.

The Mountaineers concluded the game with 499 yards of total offense while Elon posted 515 yards.

Mountaineer quarterback Jamal Jackson had a career high 398 total yards (304 passing, 94 rushing), as well as a personal best of four passing touchdowns. He accounted for five scores overall.

The struggles early were tough to overcome, but once Jackson and his teammates found a rhythm things began to change.

"I had to settle in," Jackson said of the early struggles. "In the beginning they play a lot of zone. I know on the first drive I had a couple reads I had to shore up on. We saw it on film, but I was trying to make sure I was reading the right thing and seeing what they would give me. Once we got a rhythm we were good."

TURNOVERS KEY FOR ASU

Appalachian State's defense gave up 515 total yards Saturday, including 237 receiving yards on 13 catches for star receiver Aaron Mellette. And while the visitors found a couple big plays and ways to move the ball consistently for big portions of the game, ASU was able to come up with some huge defensive stops to help determine the outcome of the game.

ASU forced three turnovers in the game, with each one coming in big moments.

In the middle of the second quarter, Elon was threatening to score and go up 17-7 on the Mountaineers, but senior linebacker Jeremy Kimbrough picked off Thomas Wilson's pass attempt into the end zone and returned it 36 yards. The interception set up ASU's second score of the game, giving them a 14-10 lead before the half.

Late in the third quarter, Demetrius McCray thwarted another Elon scoring attempt by intercepting Wilson's pass at the Mountaineer 12-yard-line, returning it 22 yards. ASU failed to score off the turnover, but the interception kept Elon from regaining the lead, as they were trailing 21-17 at the time of the play.

Jerry Moore preached to his team all week that Elon would convert passes, but if they continued to battle there would be opportunities to force some turnovers.

"I would walk up to one of those DBs or linebackers and pat them on the butt in practice and say 'They're going to complete some balls on you. They throw it and catch it too well not to complete some balls on you. You can't lose your poise, you can't panic.' I said, 'You hang in there and you're going to get a pick here and a pick there.'"

ASU picked up its third interception late in the fourth quarter when Jamill Lott intercepted Wilson's pass to end any threat for an Elon comeback. The pick gave ASU the ball and sealed the game for the home team.

MILLER BIG AGAIN

Steven Miller and the ground game started off rather slowly. In fact, neither he nor his fellow running back teammates could move the ball on the ground. But he stuck with it and continued to run hard and eventually found a way to break the Elon defense.

Miller had just 11 yards rushing in the first half, but managed to finish the day with 75 after picking up 64 in the final 30 minutes of play. Miller did not find the end zone on the ground, but he was a major threat in the passing game for ASU.

After catching just two passes for 17 yards and one score in the opening half, Miller exploded for 80 yards and a score on just three touches. The opportunities for Miller came after he studied how the Elon secondary was defending him.

"We have a lot of really great wide receivers, so when I'm out there I'm pretty much a decoy," Miller stated. "But I realized towards the second half that their corners were trying to play press and he wasn't really that fast. And I told Jamal when I'm on the outside make sure you look for me because I'm leaving them on the outside. After I told him, we adjusted."

Jackson eventually connected with Miller for a 48-yard scoring strike down the sideline, and it was a direct result of that adjustment.

As far as the ground game went, Miller echoed coach Moore's thoughts about believing they had the inside to run. When that was taken away, he wanted to get to the edges and use his speed to his advantage.

He did exactly that, and though the team didn't start off well in the ground game, he was proud of how himself, Jackson and Rod Chisholm moved the ball.

"We knew what we had to do," Miller said. "We thought the inside was going to be open, but those guys hit a lot of slants, they blitzed a lot and I really couldn't get it going. But the outside, for the most part, was there towards the end of the game. Those guys prepared well, I just thought we finished well."

NOTES

** ASU bandit Deuce Robinson was taken off the field with a knee injury on Saturday, and the report after the game was that he would be evaluated further on Sunday.

** Alex Acey also suffered a leg injury on Saturday and will be evaluated on Sunday.


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