BOONE — The Appalachian State Mountaineers clinched a tie for the Southern Conference championship on Saturday, overcoming three big plays by Furman to eke out a 33-28 win against a Paladins team the Mountaineers dominated statistically.
The win, which marks the seventh time in the past eight seasons the Mountaineers have laid claim to the conference title, came despite two fumble returns for touchdowns by Furman and a 100-yard kickoff return by the Paladins’ Jerodis Williams.
“The guys kept talking about this being the ring game and how they wanted a ring,” head coach Jerry Moore said. “Ring game, ring game, ring game … even at halftime they were talking about it. I told them it’s not the ring. It’s winning the game.”
Williams’ return and the first fumble return for a score kept Furman from getting blown out in the first half, which ended with Appalachian State leading 27-14.
When the Paladins scored on the opening drive of the third quarter, and then returned another fumble for a score on the Mountaineers’ first play from scrimmage, ASU found itself trailing 28-27.
“We kept giving them momentum,” Moore said. “It looked for awhile like we weren’t going to get invited to the party, let alone get rings.”
The Mountaineers made just enough big plays throughout the game to secure the victory, getting a solid offensive performance from quarterback Jamal Jackson, running back Steven Miller and wide receivers Andrew Peacock and Sean Price.
Jackson threw for 332 yards. Miller chalked up 170 yards on 25 carries. Peacock had 11 catches for 130 yards, while Price added 10 receptions for 115 yards.
Combine those statistics with a defense that only allowed one score and it might seem as though a blowout victory would have been the result.
But the Mountaineers needed four field goals from Sam Martin and a booming 62-yard punt by Martin that pinned the Paladins at their own 1-yard line with 1:57 remaining to secure the victory.
“Our defense really played well,” said Jackson, who was battling serious knee pain throughout the game.
Added senior safety Troy Sanders, who clinched the victory by intercepting a pass at the goal line on the game’s final play: “I’m proud of our defense and the way we played. All they scored was 7 points on us (the defense).”
The Mountaineers’ bye week comes next week. Saturday’s win puts them at 6-2 in Southern Conference play and 8-3 overall. It’s a three-way tie at the top with Georgia Southern and Wofford also going 6-2 in conference play. The top seed and automatic bid for the SoCon will be determined next week when Furman plays The Citadel. A Furman win would give Appalachian State the top seed. A win by The Citadel would leave Wofford as the top seed. All three conference foes are certain to be in postseason play.
“Conference champions. Check this off our checklist and keep on moving,” Jackson said.