BOONE, N.C. – Behind one of its best defensive performances of the year, Appalachian State advanced to the FCS playoff semifinals as they beat Eastern Washington, 38-35. The defense gave up only three touchdowns to the highly touted Eagle offense, two of which came in the game's final minutes. The other two Eastern Washington touchdowns came from special teams.
"Every week this defense keeps getting better and better. So as long as we keep doing that, we'll effectively stop them," said safety Corey Lynch. "Obviously the score didn't depict how the defense played."
Appalachian State scored the first points of the game midway through the first quarter. The Mountaineer offense drove 92 yards in 10 plays before quarterback Armanti Edwards scored on a touchdown run from three yards out. The drive was the longest of the year for ASU.
On the ensuing possession, Eastern Washington found their way into the red zone for the first time in the game. But after a Titus Howard sack on second down and a big tackle for loss by linebacker Pierre Banks on third down, the Eagles were forced to settle for a field goal. The attempt was partially blocked by Lynch, giving the ball back to the ASU offense on their own 29-yard line. After struggling defensively throughout most of the season, this particular stop helped set the tone on defense for the rest of the game.
Several plays later, Appalachian struck again as Edwards hit receiver Dexter Jackson down the middle for a 41-yard touchdown pass.
Down 14-0, Eastern Washington gained some momentum as they ran the ensuing kickoff 82 yards down to the ASU 14-yard line. Three plays later, quarterback Matt Nichols connected with receiver Aaron Boyce for a seven yard touchdown pass with 12:48 remaining in the second quarter.
On their next drive, the Eastern Washington offense again made their way into the red zone behind a strong rushing attack.
"They ran the ball more today than I thought they might," said Moore. "We didn't hold up very good against the run last week, and I'm sure they tried to exploit that."
Once again though, the Mountaineer defense came up with a huge stop as freshman linebacker D.J. Smith recovered an Eastern Washington fumble on first-and-goal.
Appalachian then drove 81 yards in 13 plays before Edwards connected with receiver Hans Batichon over the middle for a 15-yard touchdown pass with 25 seconds remaining in the half. Edwards completed all nine of his first-half attempts to go along with two passing touchdowns.
"We knew we were going to have some shots down the field," said Edwards.
Eastern Washington came out of the break down 21-7, but quickly cut into the lead. After a questionable running-into-the-kicker penalty was called against ASU on an Eagles punt, Eastern Washington lined up to kick a second time after the penalty failed to grant them a first down.
Instead of kicking, the Eagles opted to fake the punt as Bryan Jarrett took the snap and ran 51 yards for an Eastern Washington touchdown.
"Special teams are huge anytime in a big ball game," said Moore. "That's all you've got in the playoffs, is big ball games."
Special teams cost ASU another score in the third quarter as Eastern Washington's A.J. Jimerson returned a kickoff 78 yards for a touchdown, following an Appalachian State field goal. Moore attributed the special team breakdowns to mental mistakes.
"When you play like that, there's only one problem – that's concentration," he said. "It's not getting yourself ready for your phase of the game."
Appalachian responded late in the third quarter as running back Devon Moore scored on a run from 10 yards out to push the score to 31-21 in favor of ASU. Moore, who got the start in place of injured Kevin Richardson, had a solid day running the ball. He finished with 100 yards rushing on 24 carries.
"Devon is a very fine running back," said coach Moore. "I didn't think we would lose any effectiveness with Devon in the ballgame."
Richardson didn't see a lot of action, but still found the end zone as he scored from 18 yards out to give Appalachian State a 17-point lead with 6:07 remaining in the game.
Eastern Washington added two late touchdowns to cut the lead to three, but the Eagles' hopes of a comeback fell short, as Appalachian State recovered an onside kick in the final minute of the game to seal the victory.
Eastern Washington came in to the game with one of the top offenses in the Football Championship Subdivision, highlighted by their potent passing attack. But the ASU defense stepped up in a big way, allowing only 185 yards through the air.
"We got a good rush on them," said Lynch. "We put some pressure on the quarterback, and for the most part tried to stop their attack in the passing game."
** ASU won the turnover battle 3-0, recovering two EWU fumbles along with a Corey Lynch interception.
** Lynch's interception was the 23rd of his career, placing him second all-time at ASU.
** Lynch's blocked field goal was his sixth of his career.
** ASU scored in all five of its red zone appearances.
** Justin Woazeah lead the team with 12 tackles and four pass break-ups.