For the first time in seven years, No. 9/8 Appalachian State University football team failed to win a postseason game, as it turned the ball over three times and rushed for only three yards in a 34-12 loss to No. 13 Maine in the second round
of the NCAA Division I Football Championship on Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
Appalachian (8-4) lost a postseason opener for the first time since 2002, when Maine also ended its season with a 14-13 defeat in the opening round of what was then known as the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs. After failing to advance to the postseason in 2003 and ‘04, ASU had won at least one playoff contest and 10 or more games overall every year since 2005 until Saturday’s setback.
Maine (9-3) outgained the Mountaineers, 466-275, in its first postseason win since the triumph at ASU in 2002, including a whopping 216-3 advantage on the ground.
"I really felt good about our chances coming into this game," said ASU coach Jerry Moore. "I was embarrassed at how we played. But that's part of life and part of this game. You go out there with great expectations. I thought we were ready to play.
"We ran for seven or eight yards on the first play of the day, and it's a good start. But two plays later, we're punting. And that's just how the whole day went."
Despite being outgained 176-22 in the first quarter and punting on eight of its first nine possessions, including six three-and-outs, Appalachian found itself down just 7-6 late in the second quarter and still within striking distance at 13-6 midway through the third period. However, Maine scored two touchdowns in a span of two minutes and 20 seconds. The first on a 21-yard pass from quarterback Warren Smith to a wide-open John Ebeling, and the second on a 54-yard by David Hood on the first play following the fifth of ASU’s six three-and-outs.
"I hurt for our seniors." Moore said. "We just didn't play well. We missed a jillon tackles. It wasn't a good effort on our part. Our seniors had a good experience here. Many of them were part of our last national championship (in 2007) and they've been a part of many conference championships.
"We knew what it took to play in games of this magnitude. So, this wasn't anything new for us. But we didn't handle it well and it was a tough deal for all of us."
The Mountaineers kept their hopes alive when Travaris Cadet (Miami, Fla./Central) made it 27-12 with a one-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter. Then ASU forced Maine into a three-and-out to get the ball back with 13:15 still to play. However, after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty forced a third-and-25, Jamal Jackson (Atlanta, Ga./North Atlanta) threw an interception at midfield and, five plays later, Maine’s Pushaun Brown broke the Mountaineers’ backs with a 31-yard touchdown rumble that made it 34-12.
"I never lost confidence in these guys." Moore said. "Even when we fell behind the way we did, I really thought we could put 21 points on the board. We have the players to do it. But we just couldn't win the field position battle. It was just a touch afternoon for the Mountaineers."
Defensively, Appalachian’s troubles could be attributed at least in part to being down three players in its secondary just four plays into the game. Starting free safety Dominique McDuffie (Chattanooga, Tenn./Red Bank) was not available due to a University-related issue and his backup, Patrick Blalock (Asheville, N.C./A.C. Reynolds) reaggravated a hamstring injury on the third play of the game. One play later, starting cornerback Rodger Walker (Thomasville, Ga./Brookwood) sustained a groin injury that allowed Damarr Aultman to be wide open for the first of his first two touchdown receptions from Smith, giving Maine the early lead that it would never relinquish.
The personnel issues combined with stellar offensive play by Maine, particularly from Smith (272 yards of total offense, three touchdown passes), Brown (111 rushing yards) and Aultmann (five receptions for 117 yards and two scores), added up to ASU surrendering 466 yards, its most allowed since a 66-13 defeat at the hands of Virginia Tech in the season opener. Linebacker Brandon Grier (Charlotte, N.C./West Charlotte) led the Apps’ depleted defense with a game-high 13 tackles, including three for loss. Jeremy Kimbrough (Decatur, Ga./Cedar Grover) chipped in with 12 stops and a fumble recovery.
"It was just a case of not following our assignments," Kimbrough said. "And we didn't tackle very well, either. Anytime you have good backs like that and you don't tackle well, they can take it to the house. And that's what happened. "
Defensively, the Black Bears never allowed Appalachian to get on track. The Mountaineers’ three rushing yards were their fewest since running minus-one yard in a 40-35 loss at Northwestern State in 2005 while their three turnovers were one short of a season high.
"We were out of sync," Moore said. "After we fell behind, we weren't in a position to pick and choose what we wanted to do. We're not that strong up front. Orry Frye is the only senior up there (on the offensivel line). But I'm proud of those guys. And up until the third quarter, I was real confident that we still had a chance to win the game."
In his last game in the Black and Gold, wide receiver Brian Quick (Columbia, S.C./Ridge View) caught a game-high seven passes to become ASU’s all-time leader with 202 career receptions. Quick finishes his collegiate career as Appalachian’s career leader in receptions, receiving yards (3,418) and touchdown receptions (31).
Jackson completed 26-of-45 yards for 272 yards and a touchdown but was picked off twice. Andrew Peacock (Durham, N.C./Northern Durham) hauled in six passes for a team-high 75 yards and a score.
"Maine plays hard," Moore said. "There's nothing flashy about them at all. Theyjust have a bunch of aggressive kids. I also thought the were a class act after the game. We just got beat by a real good football team. That's the bottom line."
"We just didn't play our game today," Cadet said. "We took things for granted at times. They just wanted it more than us."
Maine goes on to face Georgia Southern, a 55-48 second-round winner over Old Dominion, in next week’s national quarterfinals.
NOTES: ASU has not lost a postseason opener to a team other than Maine since 1999 (a 44-29 defeat versus Florida A&M) ... the Mountaineers lost for only the fourth time in its last 20 postseason games overall ... Appalachian fell to 61-5 in its last 66 home games but is just 2-3 in its last five postseason games at The Rock ... ASU’s three rushing yards were its fewest ever in an NCAA Division I FCS/I-AA playoff game — its previous low was 28 in a 19-16 overtime loss at Montana in the 2000 national semifinals ... the Mountaineers’ string of six-straight 10-win seasons was the longest streak of its kind in NCAA Division I FCS — only Virginia Tech, which has already secured its seventh-consecutive 10-win season, is the only Division I program with more 10-win campaigns since 2005 ... Saturday’s attendance of 15,291 was the second-largest for a postseason opener in ASU history — the largest was the 16,223 that attended the 2006 first-round contest versus Coastal Carolina ... Appalachian fell to 9-4 all-time in the postseason versus opponents from the Colonial Athletic Association (and its precursors, the Atlantic 10 and Yankee Conference).
MAINE 34, ASU 12
1 2 3 4 Score
Maine.................7 6 14 7 - 34
Appalachian St......0 6 0 6 - 12
MainE - 44-yard pass from Warren Smith to Damarr Aultman. (Brian Harvey kick). 12:48 Remaining.
Appalachian St - 20-yard pass from Jamal Jackson to Andrew Peacock. (kick blocked). 9:00 Remaining.
Maine - 35-yard pass from Warren Smith to Damarr Aultman. (kick blocked). 4:51 Remaining.
Maine - 21-yard pass from Warren Smith to John Ebeling. (Brian Harvey kick). 8:32 Remaining.
Maine - 54-yard run by David Hood. (Brian Harvey kick). 6:12 Remaining.
Appalachian St - 1-yard run by Travaris Cadet. (kick failed). 14:56 Remaining.
Maine - 31--yard run by Pushaun Brown. (Brian Harvey kick). 9:30 Remaining.
FIRST DOWNS: MAINE 20, ASU 17
TOTAL YARDS: MAINE 466, ASU 275
RUSHING YARDS: MAINE 216, ASU 3
PASSING YARDS: MAINE 250, ASU 272
PENALTY YARDS: MAINE 5-32, ASU 4-50
TIME OF POSSESSION: MAINE 32:22, ASU 27:38
TURNOVERS: MAINE 1, ASU 3
3RD DOWN CONVERSIONS: MAINE 4-13, ASU 5-17
4TH DOWN CONVERSIONS: MAINE 1-1, ASU 1-2
MAINE: BROWN 24-11-TD, HOOD 4-88-TD
ASU: BAKER-BONEY 7-16
MAINE: SMITH 17-26-250-INT-3TD
ASU: JACKSON 26-45-272-2INT-TD
MAINE: AULTMAN 5-117-2TD
ASU: QUICK 7-41, PEACOCK 6-75-TD, CADET 4-48
Photo Courtesy: Andrew Peacock, by David Scearce, ASU Athletics