App State overcomes injury to Thomas, rallies past Georgia State

Backup quarterback Jacob Huesman leads the Mountaineers on the winning fourth-quarter drive

Appalachian State tight end Henry Pearson dives for the end zone pylon for a touchdown during the Mountaineers' 17-13 win over Georgia State on Saturday in Boone. (Walt Unks / Winston-Salem Journal via AP)

Appalachian State didn’t lead until there was under five minutes remaining in the game, but Camerun Peoples’ 10-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter finally put the Mountaineers ahead and gave the home team a 17-13 win over Georgia State at Kidd Brewer Stadium.

Three thoughts

1. It perhaps took more drama than expected, but App State came away with a win to set up its big game next week against No. 15 Coastal Carolina. Also unexpected: losing Zac Thomas when he was hit along the sideline at the end of a 15-yard yard while the Mountaineers were driving for the go-ahead score.

That left the offense in hands of Jacob Huesman, the senior backup who hadn’t thrown a pass in a game in nearly a year. But Huesman looked ready — he connected on his first play, a quick swing pass to Peoples for a 12-yard gain, and then made the biggest play of the game by converting a third-and-8 later in the drive to Thomas Hennigan. Peoples’ 10-yard rushing touchdown with 4:55 left gave the Mountaineers both their first lead and the decisive score.

2. Georgia State and Appalachian State were second and third, respectively, in scoring in the Sun Belt coming into the game, but the teams combined for only 13 points in the first half and 30 for the game. The Mountaineers particularly struggled in the first 30 minutes, totaling just 89 yards of offense and only 41 yards on 20 rushing attempts.

But App State made some halftime adjustments, and the defense — which allowed only three points in the second half and held Georgia State quarterback Cornelious Brown IV to 152 yards and a touchdown on just 11-of-33 passes — continued its run of allowing 21 or fewer points to every opponent in 2020.

3. Longtime Mountaineers assistant and App State alumnus Shawn Elliott is now 19-25 in three-plus seasons as Georgia State coach, including 0-4 against his alma mater. In fact, the Panthers have never beaten the Mountaineers, going 0-7 against their Sun Belt Conference rivals.

The same is true of this coming Saturday’s opponent, unbeaten Coastal Carolina. The 15th-ranked Chanticleers are 0-3 all-time against Appalachian State and the margin of victory has grown in each of the last three years, including a 56-37 Mountaineers’ win last season. But 7-0 Coastal should be fresh after having its game this week against Troy postponed, while App State continues to be banged up.

Number to Know

38.3 — The average margin of victory for Appalachian State in its previous six games, all wins, against Georgia State. Before Saturday’s four-point win, the closest game in series history was the Mountaineers’ 17-3 win in 2016.

They Said It

“He’s just a guy that does the right thing, and not to mention he’s one of my best friends too. So it’s that’s right up there with one of the best memories I’ll get out of this place.”

— App State fifth-year senior quarterback Jacob Huesman on connecting with Thomas Hennigan — who was playing hurt — on a key third-and-8 play during the Mountaineers’ winning drive.

Player of the Game

Jacob Huesman, App State quarterback — Thomas has powered the Mountaineers’ offense for much of the last three seasons under three coaches, but Huesman was ready when Thomas went down. He only threw four passes, completing three for 33 yards, but led the Mountaineers during the winning drive.

“Jacob Huesman’s been a backup here his entire career,” App State coach Shawn Clark said, “and he’s practiced like a starter every single practice. … But he was ready when his number was called and he came in and really won the game for us.”

Critical thinking

Thomas left the field on a stretcher, but Clark said, “It was all precautionary and he had feeling all his extremities.” While the top priority is Thomas’ well-being, the Mountaineers will have an even taller task in knocking off Coastal Carolina next week if they have to do it without their star quarterback.

Huesman, however, showed he’s capable of guiding the App State offense, and the Mountaineers will need more from their running game regardless if they’re going to pull off the upset. While Peoples had the winning score and helped run the clock down on the following drive, App State rushed for only 131 yards and averaged just 2.8 yards per carry.

Clark is hopeful starting right tackle Cooper Hodges and leading running back Daetrich Harrington, who both missed the Georgia State game, will be back for the Coastal Carolina game and that their addition will get the running game back on track.