Story and photo courtesy of Appalachian State Athletics
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Sean Price hauled in a 22-yard touchdown pass from Jamal Jackson with 22 seconds to go to give No. 13/12 Appalachian State University a thrilling 28-25 victory over No. 25 Samford on Saturday at Seibert Stadium.
Trailing 25-21 with 1:33 to go in the ballgame, Jackson engineered a seven-play, 80-yard drive to lead Appalachian State (5-2, 3-1 SoCon) to its fourth-straight victory.
The game-winning drive was set up by Appalachian's defense, which stopped Samford twice with the Bulldogs needing only one yard to seal their first victory over the Mountaineers since 1970. On second-and-one with 2:33 to play, Ronald Blair and Davante Harris stuffed SU's Jeremiaha Gates for no gain and, on the following play, Blair and Adam Scott combined to keep Gates short of the first down marker again, forcing Samford to punt. The boot sailed into Appalachian's end zone, setting the stage for the late-game heroics.
After an incomplete pass to open the drive, Jackson hit Price for a 20-yard gain. Two plays later, Jackson scrambled for 17 yards to move the Mountaineers into Samford field position and, after an incomplete pass, he connected with Andrew Peacock for a 21-yard pass that gave the Apps the ball on the 22 yard line.
On the very next play, Jackson lofted the ball into the end zone for Price, who had a step on Samford defensive back James Bradberry. Price stretched out to make a spectacular lunging catch and got his right foot down inside the right sideline before Bradberry was able to push him out of out-of-bounds. The official, in great position to make the call, displayed the touchdown signal immediately, setting off a wild celebration along the Appalachian sideline and stunning Samford's homecoming crowd that was announced at 9,712 at 6,700-seat Seibert Stadium.
Samford returned the ensuing kickoff six yards to its 36 yard line but lost six yards on its first two plays thanks to a dropped pass and Scott's third sack of the game. On the final play of the ballgame, Samford attempted to lateral its way to a 70-yard game-winning touchdown but Appalachian's Brandon Grier ultimately came away with the ball and nearly returned it for a touchdown before being dragged down at the 3 yard line as time expired.
For most of the afternoon, it did not appear that Appalachian would need a heart-stopping finish to come away with its fourth-straight victory. Despite struggling offensively, the Mountaineers jumped out to a 21-10 halftime lead and held the same advantage going into the fourth quarter.
However, Samford (5-2, 3-2 SoCon) erupted in final period and put together back-to-back touchdown drives that turned the seemingly safe 11-point Mountaineer lead into a four-point deficit with 7:37 left to play.
Appalachian responded to the Bulldogs' go-ahead touchdown by driving 67 yards on its ensuing possession but the series stalled out at the Samford 15 yard line with 4:01 to go. The Bulldogs immediately picked up a first down, followed by a nine-yard run that set up the second- and third-down stops and put the game-winning sequence in motion.
Although it sputtered for much of the day, Appalachian's offense stepped up when it mattered most, racking up 179 of its 413 yards in the fourth quarter. With the 413-yard performance, the Mountaineers surpassed the 400-yard plateau for the seventh-straight game to open the season, extending a school record.
Jackson accounted for 294 of the 413 yards, highlighted by 288 yards and two touchdowns on 22-of-39 passing. For the second-straight week, senior running back Steven Miller set career highs for receptions and receiving yards, finishing with team-high 98 yards on six catches. Miller also ran for 88 yards on 17 carries.
Peacock was Jackson's favorite target with seven receptions for 60 yards while Price shrugged off a slow start to finish with 90 yards on five catches.
Defensively, the star was Scott, who made his first-career start in place of injured Deuce Robinson and finished with three sacks among his career-high seven tackles. Sophomore Joel Ross opened the scoring for the Mountaineers with a 17-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter and Jeremy Kimbrough led the squad with 10 stops.
All told, the Mountaineer defense limited Samford to just 337 total yards, which was the Bulldogs' lowest output of the season.
Appalachian returns home next Saturday for a mammoth Southern Conference showdown versus No. 5/4 Wofford (5-0, 3-0 SoCon going into Saturday night's game at Georgia Southern). Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. at Kidd Brewer Stadium.