We all know of Appalachian State for one reason, and as the fates would have it, they played Tennessee nine years to the day of the upset that turned the school into as household a name as any then-FCS program could imagine. App State almost certainly could have earned another myth-making win last night, had their own coach not blown it for them.
The Mountaineers went into the locker room at halftime up 13-3. Their redshirt-freshman kicker had missed an extra point, and Tennessee looked the sort of lethargic that big schools often do against lesser opponents, but App State had still scored two square touchdowns. The lead was cut to 13-6 in the third quarter, and then in the fourth the Volunteers hit a 67-yard touchdown pass, but Tennessee never got to the part where the favorite puts its foot on the gas and leaves the underdog swallowing dust.
On its next drive following the touchdown, Tennessee lost eight yards and punted. App State returner Jaquil Capel took the ensuing punt 45 yards, bringing the Mountaineers inside Tennessee’s 30-yard line. With a prime opportunity to take back the lead, App State ran the following three plays:
- Run up the middle, loss of three yards
- Run up the middle, gain of eight yards
- Run up the middle, loss of two yards
App State coach Scott Satterfield called on Michael Rubino, whose missed extra point was the only reason the game was tied in the first place, to attempt a 42-yard field goal. Rubino pushed it far right.
After App State’s defense held Tennessee again, the Mountaineers got the ball back with 2:30 left inside their own 20. Satterfield clearly wanted his team to move cautiously—the first play call was another run up the middle, and they ran the clock down in between snaps—but three nice passes put App State once again to the edge of field goal range. With 21 seconds left, App State tried a swing pass that got snuffed out immediately, losing four yards and putting them at the Vols’ 37. With the clock bleeding they declined to use their final timeout and bring on the kicking unit, instead snapping the ball with eight seconds left. Regulation ended with quarterback Taylor Lamb unsuccessfully trying to scramble out of bounds.
Tennessee then won in overtime by fumbling into its own end zone. It was a cheap way for App State to lose, but, really, they—well, Satterfield—asked for it. With two chances to beat another top-10 blueblood program on the road, App State played it safe. After the game, Satterfield said (via the Charlotte Observer):
“It took forever to get lined up to get the ball snapped and ended up running out of time,” Satterfield said. “Obviously, hindsight, you’d call a timeout right there, no question about it. We were trying to save that to kick the field goal to win the game.”
Yes, in hindsight you would not have swallowed your last timeout, though anyone who was watching the game in real time would quibble with Satterfield’s use of “in hindsight.”
You also, “in hindsight,” might not have run the ball right directly into the teeth of one of the best defensive lines in the SEC on the previous drive so that your true freshman kicker could try a long go-ahead field goal.
When upsets happen in college football, it’s usually not because the underdog was playing not to lose. The unfolding of last night’s game was reminiscent of last year’s early-season match-up between Auburn and FCS Jacksonville State, in which the Gamecocks (of Jacksonville State...) kneeled out the clock at the end of a tie game only to inevitably lose in overtime to what ended up being a total shitpile of a Gus Malzahn team.
In college football, betting on the clock to outlast your opponent’s talent is usually a losing proposition. Rick Bonnell of the Observer wrote that “the sense of regret after this game was universal in the Mountaineers’ locker room,” but, fuck, I feel robbed, too.