Appalachian State footballSports

App State Tops 18th-Ranked, Unbeaten Dukes in Dramatic OT Thriller

Last Updated on November 18, 2023 7:44 pm

HARRISONBURG, Va. — Not so fast, my friend. Don't count out these Mountaineers, who just keep digging deeper and deeper.

Facing unbeaten and 18th-ranked James Madison with the Dukes serving as the darlings of ESPN's College GameDay on Saturday, App State stayed in the hunt for a Sun Belt Championship Game berth with a 26-23 overtime victory in front of a sold-out crowd at Bridgeforth Stadium.

During a slugfest of a conference showdown with plenty of purple and gold streamers being tossed onto the field, Joey Aguilar's 8-yard touchdown pass to Kaedin Robinson in overtime proved to be the biggest throw of the night. Robinson cut across the middle on third down, made a catch at the 5, broke one tackle, broke a second tackle attempt at the 3 and reached the ball across the plane as he avoided another tackle attempt at the front-left corner of the end zone.

App State coaches and players stormed onto the field and were able to celebrate again after a review of the play confirmed that Robinson had scored before losing control of the ball for a potential touchback and JMU victory.

At this point, to advance to the Dec. 2 title game, the Mountaineers (7-4, 5-2) need to beat Georgia Southern next weekend and have JMU (10-1) collect a bounce-back win against Coastal Carolina. In its second year of an FCS-to-FBS transition, the Dukes are not eligible to advance to face West Division champion Troy.

App State withstood a late rally from the Dukes, who trailed by 12 points early in the fourth quarter and were behind 20-12 before tying the game in the final minute of the fourth quarter. JMU completed a fourth-and-18 pass for 27 yards to the App State 11 before throwing an 11-yard touchdown pass on the next play.

The tying two-point pass was successful in the back-right corner of the end zone, and App State advanced to the JMU 45 with 17 seconds left before an interception on a deep throw sent the game to overtime. Playing defense first, the Mountaineers allowed an 18-yard gain that set up a first-and-goal situation from the 7, but three straight incompletions triggered a 25-yard field goal.

Aguilar connected with Dalton Stroman on a 17-yard gain to move the ball to the JMU 8, and two incompletions preceded the game-winning score. That allowed head coach Shawn Clark to improve to 3-2 in his last five games against ranked opponents.

The Mountaineers had dropped five straight overtime games and nine of their last 10.

Aguilar threw for 318 yards and three touchdowns, including two to Robinson, while Nate Johnson and Michael Fletcher had two sacks apiece, with Kevin Abrams-Verwayne adding one. Thomas Davis' forced fumble and Ethan Johnson's interception during the second quarter helped the Mountaineers take a 10-5 lead into halftime.

The defense was on display, with both units forcing red-zone field goals before James Madison took a 5-3 lead on an intentional grounding penalty on a third-down throw from the end zone.

Instead of punting from their own end zone, the Mountaineers delivered a free kick and had its defense take the field at the JMU 32. They then forced turnovers on back-to-back JMU possessions to end the half.

Davis chased down quarterback Jordan McCloud on a second-down keeper to the left and knocked the ball loose, leading to Nick Ross' recovery at the 33. Aguilar's 27-yard completion to Eli Wilson preceded an 8-yard, go-ahead touchdown pass to Robinson.

The Dukes moved into App State territory late in the first half before Ethan Johnson recorded his first career interception by getting his hands underneath a tipped pass toward the sideline.

JMU forced a third-quarter fumble and moved inside the App State 15, but Nate Johnson recorded a sack on a third-and-5 play before the Dukes missed a 38-yard field goal wide left. The Mountaineers responded with a 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that included third-down conversions on passes to Makai Jackson, Wilson and Anderson Castle.

Castle's 10-yard gain ended the third quarter, and Aguilar opened the fourth quarter with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Eli. Michael Hughes' extra point gave the Mountaineers a 17-5 lead.

JMU answered with a 15-play, 76-yard touchdown drive that covered 6:36, capped by McCloud's 6-yard scramble for a touchdown on a third-and-goal play in which he faced heavy pressure from Montez Kelley.

Leading 17-12 with 8:20 remaining, App State went on an 11-play, 70-yard march that included Aguilar's big pass to Wilson for 13 yards on a third-and-12 throw from the JMU 30. Hughes knocked in a 30-yard field goal to push the advantage to eight points with 3:55 remaining.

That set up a dramatic and nail-biting finish.

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