Georgia Southern goes out on sour note, losing at rival Appalachian State in season finale

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Appalachian State's quick-strike ability turned a tight ballgame into a decisive 27-3 victory for the host Mountaineers over rival Georgia Southern on Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, N.C.

The Eagles finished a dismal season with a 3-9 mark, 2-6 in the Sun Belt Conference. Interim head coach Kevin Whitley, who took over for the fired Chad Lunsford after a 1-3 start, now will yield to the next head coach Clay Helton with the schedule's conclusion.

Appalachian State improved to 10-2, 7-1 in the SBC. Having already clinched the East Division and a berth in the league championship game Dec. 4 at West Division champion Louisiana, the Mountaineers could focus fully on beating their rival to conclude "Hate Week."

What's next?: As season concludes, Georgia Southern's identity on offense could change with new leadership

They showcased a stifling defense as well as a dangerous passing attack and special teams while the Eagles were able to limit the Mountaineers' strong rushing game.

Though Georgia Southern dominated time of possession, the Eagles didn't score until true freshman Britton Williams, a Richmond Hill High School graduate, kicked a 38-yard field goal with 53 seconds left in the third quarter.

Georgia Southern quarterback Connor Cigelske (13) passes under pressure from Appalachian State outside linebacker Brendan Harrington on Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, N.C.
Georgia Southern quarterback Connor Cigelske (13) passes under pressure from Appalachian State outside linebacker Brendan Harrington on Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, N.C.

That made their deficit only 10-3, but the ensuing kickoff was returned 97 yards for a touchdown by super senior Jalen Virgil, who also accomplished the feat in the Dec. 12, 2020 regular-season finale in Statesboro.

"The fact it was on (App State) senior night, too, made it more special, (and) the fact it was against Georgia Southern," Virgil said after the game. "I had a feeling for some reason if (the Eagles) gave me an opportunity and they gave me two, so I had to take advantage of one. I'm glad I did."

Any momentum the Eagles might have had for a moment was gone.

"Even when we got the three (points), we kick it off and I thought we had a little bit of momentum and they run the kickoff straight back and knock us back out," Whitley said in a postgame interview on the Georgia Southern Sports Network.

Big play after big play

Ahead 17-3 on Virgil's TD with 40 seconds left in the third quarter, the Mountaineers struck again on their next play from scrimmage. On first and 10 from his 32, quarterback Chase Brice connected with super-senior wide receiver Thomas Hennigan for a 68-yard touchdown and a 24-3 bulge with 13:50 left in the fourth quarter.

Super senior Chandler Staton, who had kicked a 40-yard field goal in the third quarter, added a 36-yarder with 6:27 left in regulation for the 27-3 final.

Game preview: Motivation no issue for Georgia Southern with 'hate week' football game at Appalachian State

Appalachian State had scored on its first possession, an eight-play, 80-yard drive culminated by a 36-yard touchdown pass from Brice to super-senior receiver Malik Williams as an injury-depleted GS defensive secondary continued to be vulnerable to explosive plays.

"We had a couple of plays that didn't go our way tonight. Besides that, I thought we played hard," Whitley said in a postgame interview on the Georgia Southern Sports Network. "We held them under 100 yards rushing. We gave up a big kickoff return that killed us, and two long passes. Other than that, I thought we played really good football on defense."

While the Eagles led in plays (70-55) and in time of possession (34 minutes, 48 seconds, to 25:12), they couldn't do much with the ball. They averaged 2.8 yards per play, to 6 yards for the host squad.

The Mountaineers led in total yards (329-194), passing yards (235-107), rushing yards (94-87) and tackles for loss (12-6).

App State has allowed a combined 31 points in its last four games this season. In containing the Eagles to 194 yards of total offense, the Mountaineers defense was its stingiest in the series since a 19-0 playoff win in 1987, according to App State.

Georgia Southern again started redshirt freshman Conner Cigelske, who had made his playing debut in a start the previous Saturday at Paulson Stadium in a loss to then-No. 14 Brigham Young. He was 11 of 24 (46%) for 107 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions.

"I wish tonight would have turned out a little bit different, but I've enjoyed it," Cigelske said during the postgame show on the Georgia Southern Sports Network. "The past couple of weeks have been awesome."

He said the partisan-App State crowd was great and didn't bother him. The official attendance was 28,005, which gave App State a season average of 30,441 for school and SBC records.

"I just tried to go out and have fun and do what I was supposed to do," he said. "I wish we could have had a different outcome. It got to the point where I didn't let it rattle me because it's the same game I've been playing forever."

Previous starting quarterbacks Justin Tomlin, a redshirt junior, and Cam Ransom, a true freshman, had been injured two games earlier in a win at Texas State and were not available for the season finale.

QB situation: Quarterbacks' availability in question going into Georgia Southern's season finale Saturday

Appalachian State running back Nate Noel (20) tries to run past Georgia Southern safety Anthony Wilson on Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, N.C.
Appalachian State running back Nate Noel (20) tries to run past Georgia Southern safety Anthony Wilson on Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, N.C.

Cigelske's counterpart, Brice, a graduate student who previously played at Clemson and Duke, was 12 of 24 (50%) for 235 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

"Their whole deal was to stop the run," Brice said of the Georgia Southern defense. "They put eight, nine guys in the box, playing soft outside. The ball had to get out pretty quick. They were getting to me here and there. Not too thrilled with my (completion) percentage. I've got to be more accurate to give my guys a better chance.

"Other than that, we connected on those two long shots that were touchdowns. Thomas (Hennigan) made the incredible play, catch and run. We did what we had to do today. The defense played great and we came out with the win."

Jalen White led the Eagles' rushers with 38 yards on eight carries, with Logan Wright adding 27 on 14 carries and Amare Jones 17 on seven. Jones was the leading receiver with five receptions for 56 yards.

App State's Nate Noel, who entered the game leading the Sun Belt in rushing yards (1,036), had just 21 yards on nine carries. Teammate Camerun Peebles, who led the SBC with 13 rushing touchdowns, had seven carries for 24 yards and did not score.

Georgia Southern redshirt junior Anthony Beck II (South Effingham High) put on a punting clinic, with eight punts for a 47.6-yard average, a long of 57 yards, four over 50 and two inside the 20.

Eagles true freshman inside linebacker Michael Edwards III had a game-high 10 tackles, while redshirt seniors Justin Ellis (five tackles, one sack) and Dillon Springer (four tackles, one sack, forced fumble) contributed from their defensive end positions.

After the game, Whitley said he told the team that he appreciated their effort, that they kept playing hard and didn't give up.

"I'm proud of the guys," Whitley said. "Our seniors fought (hard). I wish them nothing but success. I hope our young guys remember what this feels like so we can get it right next year."

Nathan Dominitz is the Sports Content Editor of the Savannah Morning News and savannahnow.com. Email him at ndominitz@savannahnow.com. Twitter: @NathanDominitz

APPALACHIAN STATE 27, GEORGIA SOUTHERN 3

GS;0;0;3;0;—;3

APP;7;0;10;10;—;27

First Quarter

APP—Ma.Williams 36 pass from Brice (Staton kick), 2:18.

Third Quarter

APP—FG Staton 40, 5:19.

GS—FG B.Williams 38, :53.

APP—Virgil 97 kickoff return (Staton kick), :40.

Fourth Quarter

APP—T.Hennigan 68 pass from Brice (Staton kick), 13:50.

APP—FG Staton 36, 6:27.

A—28,005.

;GS ; APP

First downs ;15 ; 12

Total Net Yards ;194 ; 329

Rushes-yards ;46-87 ; 31-94

Passing ;107 ; 235

Punt Returns ;0-0 ; 3-41

Kickoff Returns ;2-26 ; 2-123

Interceptions Ret. ;0-0 ; 0-0

Comp-Att-Int ;11-24-0 ; 12-24-0

Sacked-Yards Lost ;4-31 ; 2-11

Punts ;8-47.625 ; 5-46.0

Fumbles-Lost ;1-1 ; 2-1

Penalties-Yards ;4-25 ; 7-66

Time of Possession ;34:35 ; 25:25

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING—Georgia Southern, J.White 8-38, L.Wright 14-27, Jones 7-17, Hood 1-8, Cigelske 16-(minus 3). Appalachian St., Castle 6-31, D.Harrington 6-26, Peoples 7-25, Noel 9-21, Brice 3-(minus 9).

PASSING—Georgia Southern, Cigelske 11-24-0-107. Appalachian St., Brice 12-24-0-235.

RECEIVING—Georgia Southern, Jones 5-56, Hood 2-18, Lewis 2-12, McAfee 1-26, L.Wright 1-(minus 5). Appalachian St., Cor.Sutton 5-55, T.Hennigan 3-111, M.Williams 2-41, Evans 1-15, Virgil 1-13.

MISSED FIELD GOALS—Georgia Southern, Raynor 51.

Nathan Dominitz is the Sports Content Editor of the Savannah Morning News and savannahnow.com. Email him at ndominitz@savannahnow.com. Twitter: @NathanDominitz

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Georgia Southern loses to Appalachian State in season finale

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