Courtesy of Appalachian State Athletics
- Top-ranked Appalachian State University took advantage of terrific field position to jump out to a 20-point first-quarter lead and never looked back en route to a 37-14 win over archrival Western Carolina on Saturday afternoon at E.J. Whitmire Stadium.
Appalachian’s 24th win in its last 26 meetings with Western Carolina was also its 25th-straight Southern Conference victory. ASU (7-0, 5-0 SoCon) is just five wins short of the SoCon record of 30-consecutive league triumphs, set by West Virginia from 1952-59.
ASU’s latest win in the Battle for the Old Mountain Jug had far less drama than the last two, which were both decided in the second half, because for all intents and purposes, Saturday’s game was over in the first quarter. The Mountaineers scored on 3-of-4 first-quarter possessions, all of which started in WCU territory, to grab a commanding 20-0 lead.
Travaris Cadet (Miami, Fla./Central) set the tone for the dominating first period by returning the opening kickoff 56 yards to the WCU 44. Eight plays later, DeAndre Presley (Tampa, Fla./Middleton) scored on an 11-yard run to make it 7-0 just 3:22 into the game.
Western Carolina (2-6, 1-4 SoCon) pulled out all the stops early in the game in hopes of an upset, beginning with its opening play when it picked up 50 yards on a flea-flicker. However, the trickery backfired for the rest of the period, which was a big factor in ASU building what proved to be an insurmountable lead.
After an ill-fated fourth-down attempt left the Catamounts empty-handed following the big gain on their first play, WCU coach Dennis Wagner went into the bag of tricks again on the Cats’ next possession, calling for a fake punt on fourth-and-eight from their own 20 yard line. Demery Brewer (Lincolnton, N.C./Lincolnton) easily snuffed out the fake and ASU quickly took advantage of the great field possession, with Presley scoring his second touchdown of the afternoon from four yards out to cap a five-play, 22-yard drive and make it 13-0.
On its ensuing possession, Western gave Appalachian impeccable field position again when tailback Michael Johnson muffed a handoff and Gordy Witte, Jr. (Salisbury, N.C./Salisbury) recovered at the WCU 26. The Mountaineers once again made quick work of the short field and stretched the lead to 20-0 on Cedric Baker’s (Wilmington, N.C./New Hanover) two-yard touchdown run with 1:22 still left to play in the opening period.
After out-gaining the Catamounts 122-66 in the opening period, the Mountaineers’ offense sputtered in the second quarter and WCU appeared to grab momentum when Zac Brindise found Marquel Pittman for a 32-yard touchdown pass that cut the ASU lead to 20-7 with 2:56 to go before halftime.
However, Presley and Co. squashed any thoughts of a WCU comeback by answering the Cats’ touchdown with an eight-play, 91-yard drive, capped by Presley’s third touchdown run of the half from seven yards out. It took ASU just 2:12 to carve WCU up on the 91-yard drive, which started with a 31-yard run by Presley and a 21-yard pass to Brian Quick (Columbia, S.C./Ridge View), and the Apps took a comfortable 27-7 lead into the halftime break.
Appalachian tacked on a 10-yard touchdown run by Cadet in the third quarter and a 33-yard field goal by Jason Vitaris (Seneca, S.C./Seneca) in the fourth to close out its seventh-straight game with 30-plus points.
As has been the case all year, Presley led the offensive charge, accounting for 272 total yards. The Walter Payton Award and SoCon Offensive Player of the Year candidate torched Western for 185 yards on 21-of-26 passing and added 87 yards to go along with the three scores on just nine carries (9.7 avg.).
Presley completed passes to seven different receivers, led by Matt Cline (Thomasville, N.C./Glenn), who hauled in seven receptions for 60 yards. Cadet added 153 all-purpose yards (80 rushing, 10 receiving and 63 on kickoff returns).
After not allowing The Citadel to complete a pass a week ago, Appalachian’s run defense stepped up on Saturday, limiting Western to just 88 rushing yards. Buck Buchanan Award candidate D.J. Smith (Charlotte, N.C./Independence) led the effort with a game-high 13 tackles, good for his fifth-straight double-digit-tackle performance.
Against the pass, ASU registered a season-high five sacks, led by two from Buchanan Award candidate Jabari Fletcher (Atlanta, Ga./Grady), and broke up nine passes, paced by three by Ed Gainey (Winston-Salem, N.C./Mt. Tabor).
At 7-0 for just the second time since 1954 and only the fourth time in school history, Appalachian returns to action next Saturday when it hosts longtime rival Furman.