BOONE — With two wins needed to continue their eight year bowl game appearance steak, App State pitched a shutout for three-and-a-half quarters in a 27-14 victory over newly minted Sun Belt conference foe Old Dominion on Saturday, Nov. 19.
“First of all I want to say that this game we played in honor of the three Virginia football players who lost their lives last weekend,” head coach Shawn Clark said. “This a tough week for everyone in college football. We have players on our team that knew some of those kids, and parents put their trust in us when they place their kids in our care. If something happens (like the shooting), it’s just heartbreaking. To Tony Elliot (Virginia head coach) and Taylor Lamb (Virginia quarterbacks coach and former App State QB and alum) at Virginia, this was for you.”
Before kickoff of the final home game of the season, the team honored 28 upperclassmen set to graduate. In total, those 28 have a cumulative record of 49-15 at Kidd Brewer stadium. During the contest, App State (6-5, 3-4) took a 24-0 lead into halftime against the Monarchs (3-8, 2-5) and was ahead 27-0 midway through the fourth quarter before ODU scored twice in the final 7:05.
It was only the third meeting between the two programs, and the first since 2016 when App State won 31-7. The Mountaineers are now 3-0 all-time against the Monarchs, having outscored ODU 107-21 over those three games. Old Dominion joined the Sun Belt Eastern Division this season, and so will become more familiar foes in the coming years.
Saturday’s attendance of 32,096 means that App State cleared more than 30,000 attendees for all seven home games this season, producing an average of 33,566 that set both single-season Sun Belt and school records. The Mountaineers broke the previous league and program records of 30,441 they established in 2021.
Clark gave out plaudits to fans and staff, saying, “Most of that credit goes to Doug Gillin and his staff, the history of winning as much as we have here in the past, and the caliber of teams we’re bringing in to The Rock. App Nation is something very special, and we appreciate what they do for us, they give us that winning edge. To set the single season Sun Belt record now for two years in a row, that speaks volumes for our program.”
The pregame Senior Day ceremony included five sixth-year college players, including quarterback Chase Brice, who was set to be one of four game day captains before he asked that his spot go to tight end Henry Pearson. Brice transferred into App State’s program just before the 2021 season, while Pearson arrived as a true freshman in 2018.
Mirroring the only other home meeting against ODU in 2016 — when Taylor Lamb hit Jaquil Capel for a 40-yard gain on a deep pass on App State’s first offensive play — Brice found Robinson open on a deep pass for a 57-yard gain to the 33 on the Mountaineers’ first offensive snap.
“It was all part of the game plan,” Robinson revealed later. “Going into this game, we knew what kind of defenses they were running and Coach (Kevin Barbay) was like ‘We’re gonna take the shot first play, you just go make a play, I believe in you.”
Michael Hughes ended that 80-yard drive with a 27-yard field goal.
Hansky Paillant recovered a red-zone fumble forced by Markus Clark to keep ODU from scoring on its next drive, and App State increased its lead to 10-0 on Brice’s 35-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Robinson, who ended the day with 90 yards and one touchdown on three receptions.
After the Mountaineers forced a three-and-out on ODU’s next possession, App capitalized immediately on Brice’s 75-yard touchdown pass to a streaking Wells with 13:43 remaining in the second quarter. At that point, Brice was 6 of 7 through the air for 208 yards. For his final game at The Rock, Chase Brice completed 15 of 22 passes for 291 yards.
Brice described the respect he has for the Monarchs, explaining, “At Sunbelt media day, I got to know their safety RT (R’Tarriun Johnson). He’s a great player, savvy, very smart. Meeting some of their guys, and looking at film, I could tell that they’re a bunch that is never going to give up. So we knew what type of team they’d have. And the film definitely shows it, they’re a group that doesn’t give up, they play really hard. Honestly, they’re just really good dudes. They had a lot of fun out there, even though the scoreboard may not look like it.”
After another three-and-out stop, App State’s offense marched 60 yards on eight plays and scored on an 18-yard run by running back Ahmani Marshall, who covered the final few yards thanks to a helpful push from center Isaiah Helms and other members of the offensive line. Marshall led the running game with a career-high 137 yards and a touchdown on 19 attempts.
“I’m just proud of my team, we continue to fight and we just keep on pushing,” Marshall said. “We know the season is not going how we wanted it to, but day after day, we are just still out there, putting in that work. Tonight was kind of emotional night, especially for the seniors since it was senior night. We just wanted to make the night memorable for them and of course we want to keep this thing going, so going out and winning one more game would be great for those boys.”
On their ensuing drive, ODU appeared to trim the gap to 24-7 on a short touchdown pass late in the half, but a video replay confirmed that the receiver didn’t get a foot down in the end zone.
Two further incompletions from the Monarchs preceded a trick play on fourth-and-goal. On that play, freshman cornerback Ethan Johnson pressured Old Dominion’s quarterback Hayden Wolff, who flipped the ball to receiver Javon Harvey. Mountaineer defensive back Nick Ross tracked Harvey down and forced him out of bounds for a 2-yard loss, allowing App State to hold the Monarchs scoreless in the first half.
Defensively, sixth-year senior Steven Jones Jr. matched his jersey number by breaking up six passes. Jalen McLeod and Caden Sullivan each delivered one sack apiece, while Ross made a team-high 11 tackles.
“I think the defense played good as a whole,” said 5th-year senior linebacker Logan Doublin. “It’s really just knowing your assignment, and everyone gonna fly to ball and make tackles. As long as we do our assignments right, we’re gonna be a sound defense. And that’s really how we were playing the first three quarters, as you saw.”
A season-long field goal of 40 yards in the third quarter from Hughes, a first-year starter, accounted for App State’s only second-half points. Hughes also went 3-for-3 on extra point attempts.
Old Dominion trailed 27-0 until halfway through the fourth quarter, after Appalachian State had started inserting many backups and true freshmen into the offense and defense.
The Monarchs had two touchdown passes from Wolff to Harvey of 36 and 25 yards to cause the scoreline to make the game seem a closer affair than it actually was.
Now 6-5 and removed from contention for a conference championship, Appalachian still has the chance to maintain a remarkable streak: since transitioning to the FBS, App State has been to a post season bowl each of the eight years they have been in the bowl system division. Although normally a program can become bowl eligible after six wins, only one victory against an FCS opponent can be counted. From the Mountaineers six victories, two were against FSC competition (The Citadel and Robert Morris).
App State will need to win their final game against Georgia Southern (5-6, 2-5 Sun Belt) to reach bowl eligibility. That game will take place in Statesboro, Georgia, on Saturday, Nov. 26.