MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Appalachian State exploded for 21 unanswered points rallying for a 31-29 victory over Ohio in the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl.
Appalachian State earned the victory in dramatic fashion, as senior place-kicker Zach Matics connected on a 23-yard field goal in the closing seconds to win the game. Matics, who had missed two attempts in the first quarter from 39 and 42 yards, respectively, had his coaches' and teammates' confidence in the closing seconds.
"We tried to get close enough where we could make a field goal. And I knew Zach Matics would make it. There's no question about him. What he went through two years ago, and what he did this year - one of the best kickers in the country - there was never a doubt that he would not make that field field goal and I don't think anybody on the sidelines thought it.
"When he started out the game he missed a couple field goals, but after we scored at the end, his kickoffs started getting all the way to the end zone. I thought, he's back, he's back. So I knew he would make that field goal when we got down there.
"That's just a fitting end."
The Matics' field goal opportunity came after Appalachian moved the ball 73 yards on nine plays and just 1:47. The final scoring drive was a product of Appalachian's relentless ability to move the ball on the ground. Despite trailing 29-28, App State chose to focus on rushing the ball with two timeouts in their pocket.
Bart Starr MVP winner Marcus Cox, who rushed for 162 yards and one touchdown, was forced out of the game on the previous possession with an injury after he was stopped in his own end zone for a safety that brought Ohio to within two points at 28-26. Jalin Moore accepted the challenge of helping to carry the Mountaineers in the final drive, rushing for 22 yards.
Lamb was also huge on the drive, caring the ball twice for 37 yards, and completing one pass to Simms McElfresh for 14 yards.
The Mountaineers were forced to orchestrate a game-winning drive after Ohio scored on a 21-yard field goal to cap an eight play, 51-yard drive to take the lead 29-28.
The Mountaineers trailed 24-7 at the start of the fourth quarter, but found life after an 11-play, 97-yard drive that culminated in a Barrett Burns 17-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Taylor Lamb with 13:52 to go. The drive, which dated back to the third quarter, helped recharge an otherwise despondent Mountaineer squad.
Two plays later, sophomore cornerback Latrell Gibbs intercepted J.D. Sprague at the Ohio 37 yard yard line and returned it 11 yards to the 26.
Marcus Cox proceeded to take Appalachian's first play of the possession 26 yards down the left side for a touchdown to pull the Mountaineers to within three points at 24-21.
The Appalachian defense came up with yet another big play on Ohio's second play of its next possession when Mondo Williams picked off Sprague at the Bobcats' 47. The Mountaineers were again in business with 12:58 to go in the game.
With a short field in front of them, Appalachian's offense made quick work of the Ohio defense, scoring on an eight yard touchdown strike from Lamb to Burns to regain the lead at 28-24. The Mountaineers moved the ball 47 yards on just four plays and taking just 1:02 off the clock.
Appalachian scored 21 unanswered points in just 1:56, erasing a 24-7 deficit.
"We didn't look at the score, we really didn't care about the score," Satterfield said. "We knew if we scored a touchdown and we started getting a little bit of momentum that we could comeback. So, we never panicked. They stayed true to the process that's been successful for us. We made some big plays.
"Defense got some turnovers there, and Taylor threw a couple touchdowns to Barrett, and we were right back in this thing."
The defense certainly was responsible for the Mountaineers' resurgence. Appalachian allowed just 272 yards of total offense, including 107 yards on the ground. Ohio managed only 15 first downs, two of which came off of penalties.
Appalachian turnovers kept them in the game, but Appalachian's ability to respond on defense proved to be the difference. Ohio ultimately forced three turnovers, two fumbles and one interception. Two of those three were returned for scores.
But Appalachian forced three of their own, all coming at a time in the second half when the Mountaineers needed a lift most.
"We always feel we need to beat the other defense," Blair said. "We say we need to get more turnovers than the other defense, that we want to hold the offense to less yards than the other defense did, so we really wanted to try to compete against the other defense.
"We were up to the challenge. Raise you one, we were going to raise one back to you. So we just needed to fight and get another turnover. We got three turnovers in a row. We wanted to make sure we got the offense a short field. The offensive line was kind of banged up and we knew that, so we tried to put it on our back to make it easier on them."
The Mountaineers began self destructing in the final minutes of the second quarter, and the implosion never let up. Multiple mental lapses ensued and Ohio took advantage of every single one.
Appalachian's first big mistake came about midway in the second quarter. At that point, the Mountaineers were in complete control, holding a 7-0 lead and allowing just 37 yards of total offense. The defense had forced a 3rd-and-16 on the Ohio 30-yard-line.
Everyone assumed Appalachian would be getting the ball back momentarily. Then things went south. Appalachian State's defense rushed the right side of the Bobcats' offense line, and quarterback J.D. Sprague side stepped to the left and picked up 18 yards and the first down.
Ohio would eventually be forced into a 36-yard field goal on the drive at the 1:31 mark of the quarter. Despite App State's ability to hold for a field goal, the 16-yard third down conversion was clearly a backbreaker.
The wheels began falling off almost immediately after the field goal.
"By the end of the second quarter we started falling apart a little bit and give credit to Ohio, Coach Solich and his staff and players for the way they play," Satterfield noted.
"We did give them three touchdowns, and to our guys credit, our players, it never ceases to amaze me they didn't quit, they kept fighting. We got a little bit of that momentum back, especially at the start of the fourth quarter and scored some touchdowns getting into the game."
Senior wide receiver Simms McElfresh took a short Ohio kickoff and called for a fair catch at the App State 15-yard-line. No one was within 10 yards of McElfresh in what was an apparent loss of awareness in the situation.
The Mountaineers proceeded to be whistled for a delay of game on the first play of the drive, pushing them back to their own 10-yard-line. Appalachian quarterback Taylor Lamb then dropped back to throw, and tossed a floater into open field with nothing but green and white jerseys in the vicinity.
Ohio linebacker Quentin Poling picked off the pass and returned it 20 yards for the touchdown.
Just like that, Ohio was in the lead 10-7, despite having gained just 107 yards on offense.
Five plays later, senior center Jesse Chapman botched the snap, which was recovered by Ohio's Tony Porter at the Appalachian 23-yard-line. Two plays later, the Bobcats were in the end zone yet again and the score was now 17-7.
Ohio scored 17 straight points in 1:11 and the half ended with complete momentum on the side of the Bobcats, despite being out-gained 186 to 111.
The start of the second half took on much of the same tone. Appalachian State was forced into its first three-and-out of the game, followed by a second three and out on the next possession. While Appalachian's offense seemed to be struggling, the defense was still holding strong with a forced punt on Ohio's first possession of the second half.
On the Bobcats' second possession, Appalachian seemingly regained life and a little bit of mojo when Ronald Blair forced a Daz'Mond Patterson fumble, recovered the ball and returned it 20 yards to the Appalachian 33-yard-line. Unfortunately for Appalachian, offensive woes continued to plague them.
Four plays into the App State drive, Lamb pitched the ball to receiver Ike Lewis on a reverse, who subsequently had the ball stripped and returned for a 45-yard touchdown by Jovon Johnson.
At that point, Ohio led 24-7 and seemed to have complete control of the game.
The Bobcats dominated in the turnover department to that moment, forcing Appalachian into three turnovers and converting them into 21 points. The tables turned in the fourth quarter, however, which sparked Appalachian's improbable comeback.
Appalachian finished the season 11-2.
"We are a team with a capital 'T'," Satterfield said. "You can go look at offense, defense and special teams and you can look at individual positions where guys have to fill in. That's just the way this team does. The next guy stepped in there. That's what a team does. That's how a team wins championships."