Saturday, December 18, 2021

App State "Zappe-d" By Western Kentucky in Boca Raton Bowl

BOCA RATON – Coming into the Boca Raton Bowl, App State knew they would have their hands full trying to slow down the air raid offense of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and their record-setting quarterback Bailey Zappe. The Hilltoppers and Zappe were as good as advertised offensively and throttled the Mountaineers for 639 yards in a 59-38 rout on Saturday afternoon at FAU Stadium.

Opening the game, Western Kentucky sought to impose its will on the App State defense and did so to the tune of an eight-play, seventy-four-yard drive with a one-yard scoring pass from Bailey Zappe to Jerreth Sterns opening the scoring for the day. After a turnover in the red zone ended App State's first drive of the day, a defensive stop gave the Mountaineers another chance to even the score late in the quarter and Malik Williams's thirty-six-yard touchdown pass from Chase Brice kicked off a fireworks-filled end of the first quarter.

On the next play of the game, Zappe and Mitchell Tinsley showed why they led Conference USA and the nation in passing offense with Tinsley taking a slant across the middle and racing seventy-five yards to the house to retake the lead, 14-7. The Mountaineers attacked quickly as well with Jalen Virgil's sixty-yard catch and run five plays later leaving the two teams tied at 14 going into the second quarter.

Although the second quarter did not contain the same explosive plays as the first, it was still a momentous quarter nonetheless. Each team traded field goals in what seemed to be big defensive stops for both squads. The two quarterbacks continued their race to see which arm would rule the day. App State's Chase Brice added another score in the quarter, a thirty-three-yard pass to Dashaun Davis, but the end of the second quarter belonged to Western Kentucky's Bailey Zappe. The graduate transfer from Houston Baptist continued his assault on the NCAA record books, breaking the single-season passing yards record and tying the single-season passing touchdowns record. He would go on to break the record in the second half.

App State looked to make it right in the second half, but a series of miscues started to put the game out of reach fairly quickly. A promising drive to open the half was lost to a turnover after a replay indicated a fumble on a run play at the fourteen-yard line. One snap later, Western Kentucky's Noah Whittington broke free for the eighty-six-yard score to give the Hilltoppers a two-score lead. Forcing a punt on the next App State drive, Zappe broke the passing touchdown record with a two-yard scoring pass midway through the third quarter on a drive that was extended by two App State penalties.

The Mountaineers refused to yield, though, and responded with their own one-play drive, a sixty-two-yard strike from Chase Brice to Christian Wells, but it was not enough to bridge the gap on the afternoon. Late in the quarter, the Mountaineers did find a reason to celebrate as Brice broke Armanti Edwards's App State twelve-year-ole program record for single-season passing yards. 

Camerun Peoples crossed the 100-yard rushing mark to lead the Mountaineers on the ground to go with Chase Brice's 317 yards through the air to lead the Mountaineers' offense. Kaiden Smith led the defense with ten tackles.

The loss was the first in program history for App State since the Mountaineers transitioned to FBS in 2013. App State finished the 2021 campaign with a record of 10-4, the third time in four seasons that the Mountaineers logged double-digit wins.