It came all the way down to the waning seconds of this one, but in the end, Georgia Southern was able to grind out a win over its hated rival in #20 Appalachian State, by a final score of 24-21. This is now the second consecutive year that the Mountaineers have carried a top-25 ranking into the rivalry game between these two teams, only to have the Eagles come across the other side as winners in a head-to-head matchup.
Southern running back Wesley Kennedy III was a star for the second week in a row, rolling up a game-high 145 yards rushing on just 13 carries, and scoring two touchdowns on an average of over 11 yards per carry.
Eagles’ quarterback Shai Werts was also a major factor in the running game, collecting 83 yards on the ground, with the majority of it coming on a 55-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that essentially put the game out of reach for App.
Zac Thomas did what he could to put the Mountaineers on his shoulders in this one, throwing for 271 yards and three touchdowns and making some nice plays, but had to suffer through both some bad drops by his receivers throughout the game and a shaky offensive line for the first three quarters.
Darrynton Evans led the way for App State on the ground, rushing for 76 yards on 17 carries, but the Eagles’ front-seven on defense made it especially hard for much of the game until Evans was able to find some space, usually out wide, in the fourth quarter.
Georgia Southern jumped out to a 10-0 lead by early in the second frame thanks to the combination of Kennedy and kicker Tyler Bass, but GS elected to go conservative on a few 3rd down plays that allowed the Mountaineers to get some stops and force punts.
App scored its first touchdown almost as time expired before half, as Thomas rolled to his right and hit Malik Williams (8 catches for 89 yards) who did a nice job tapping his toes in the end zone as Southern took a 10-7 lead into the break.
Both teams were not really able to kick the ball in the swirling 40 MPH winds and cold temperatures, as both Bass and App kicker Chandler Staton had attempts sailing into the corner of the stadium.
Werts and Kennedy owned the third quarter with huge touchdown runs of 68 and 55 yards, giving the Eagles a 24-7 advantage heading into the final quarter of play.
Thomas and the Mountaineers did all they could to pull even (or even take the lead) late in the fourth quarter after two additional touchdown passes, but it proved to be too little, too late, as time expired and Georgia Southern was able to wrestle away a 24-21 defeat of its biggest rival.
For Appalachian State, this loss has further reaching implications beyond just a conference title. While it is always rough losing to your biggest rival, the Mountaineers were potentially eyeing an undefeated season and a trip to the Cotton Bowl as the highest-ranked Group of Five school. Now they have to pray that teams like SMU and Memphis drop more games along the way while App has a matchup at South Carolina on the docket for next week.
From here in the conference race, the Eagles control their own destiny on the Eastern division side. Upcoming games against Troy, Arkansas State and Georgia State all loom large, but if Southern can run the table it can secure a bid to the Sun Belt Championship game.