Appalachian State (8-3, 6-2 SoCon) led 27-14 at halftime, but Furman (3-7, 2-5 SoCon) scored two touchdowns in an 18-second span early in the third quarter to take a 28-27 lead. However, buoyed by a defense that allowed only one touchdown all afternoon and two second-half field goals from Sam Martin, the Mountaineers took a 33-28 lead with 6:04 left in the ballgame.
Appalachian’s defense forced a third-straight Furman punt with 3:50 to go but the Mountaineers managed only one first down on their ensuing possession and had to punt back to the Paladins with 1:57 remaining on the clock.
A 62-yard punt by Martin pinned Furman at its own one yard line but the Paladins clawed their way out of the shadow of their goal post and, thanks to third-down and fourth-down conversions on the series, drove all the way to the App State 42, with six seconds to go. However, FU’s hail-mary pass attempt was picked off by Sanders at the five yard line and the senior co-captain slid to the ground as the clock hit 0:00, setting off a wild on-field celebration that included many of the 28,986 fans in attendance for the title-clinching triumph.
Appalachian dominated the action for much of the afternoon, but surrendered three non-offensive touchdowns on a 100-yard kickoff return and a pair of fumble recoveries that allowed Furman to stay in the game. The Mountaineers outgained the Paladins, 488-300, and also held significant statistical advantages in first downs (27-16), rushing yards (149-97), passing yards (339-203), third-down conversions (6 of 15-5 of 14) and time of possession (32:58-27:02).
The Mountaineers took leads of 10-0 and 17-7 in the first 20 minutes of the ballgame but each time, Furman responded with non-offensive touchdowns that cut the Appalachian advantage back to three points — first on Jerodis Williams’ second 100-yard kickoff return of the season and later when Gary Wilkins recovered a Jamal Jackson fumble in the end zone.
Appalachian regained control by scoring the final 10 points of the opening half, capped by Andrew Peacock’s 18-yard touchdown catch with 24 seconds to go in the half that gave the Mountaineers the seemingly commanding 13-point lead at the break.
However, before many fans were settled back into their seats for the second half, the lead evaporated. Furman took the opening kickoff after halftime and marched 75 yards in 10 plays to score its only offensive touchdown of the game on a 10 yard pass from Reese Hannon to Jordan Snellings that cut the Mountaineers’ advantage to 27-21. Then, on the first play of the ensuing series, Appalachian’s Tony Washington fumbled after a short gain and the loose ball was scooped up by FU’s Carl Rider, who scampered 27 yards for a touchdown that gave the Paladins a shocking 28-27 lead.
Appalachian responded by driving all the way to the Furman one yard line on its next possession but had to settle for a 19-yard field goal by Martin that gave the Mountaineers the lead for good at 30-28 with 5:37 to go in the third quarter.
From there, Appalachian State’s defense rose to the occasion, limiting Furman to just 52 yards over its next four possessions. The four-series dominance began with an interception by Demetrius McCray and was capped by three-straight punts that allowed the Mountaineers to stetch the lead to 33-28 on Martin’s fourth and final field goal of the day and set up the heart-stopping finish.
Offensively, Appalachian was led by Peacock, who set career highs with 11 receptions and 130 receiving yards and also threw a seven-yard touchdown to Drew Bailey on the first pass attempt of his career, which came on a reverse option early in the second quarter. He almost added a touchdown run to the scoring pass and catch but a would-be seven-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was negated by a holding penalty.
Freshman Sean Price also surpassed the 100-yard receiving mark, finishing with 115 yards on 10 catches to give Appalachian two 100-yard receivers in a game for only the fourth time in school history.
Jackson finished with 332 yards on 32-of-46 passing, making him just the fourth passer in Appalachian’s all-time annals with back-to-back 300-yard performances, and running back Steven Miller rounded out the offensive leaders with 170 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries.
Defensively, Jeremy Kimbrough led the way with a career-high 17 tackles. Sanders chipped in with seven tackles, a pass breakup and the game-ending interception while Patrick Blalock added six stops, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Appalachian, which is idle for the final week of the regular season, will learn its postseason fate next Sunday, Nov. 18 when the 20-team NCAA Division I Football Championship bracket is unveiled at 1:30 p.m. on ESPNU.
NOTES: Appalachian State shares the 2012 SoCon title with Georgia Southern (8-2, 6-2 SoCon) and Wofford (8-2, 6-2 SoCon) ... all three SoCon co-champions have wrapped up league play — GSU and Wofford close the regular season at Georgia and South Carolina, respectively, next week ... since the three squads are 1-1 against each other in head-to-head matchups, the winner of the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division I Football Championship won’t be determined until fourth place in the final SoCon standings is settled next Saturday ... regardless of who receives the automatic berth, all three SoCon co-champions are considered to be virtual locks for the 20-team playoff field ... Appalachian’s 12th SoCon championship ties it with Furman for the most titles in the conference’s 79-year history ... the Mountaineers’ 12 titles have come in 41 seasons in the conference while Furman’s have come in 74 years in the league ... Appalachian State is only the second program in SoCon history to win seven conference crowns in a span of eight years — Georgia Southern also accomplished the feat in 1997-2002, 2004 ... Appalachian moved to 12-2 all-time in games when it could clinch a SoCon title with a win ... the Mountaineers have won nine-straight potential SoCon championship-clinchers, dating back to 1995 ... Appalachian won for the 11th time in the last 14 games, 10th time in the last 12 games and seventh time in the last eight games versus Furman ... the Mountaineers have won nine-straight over Furman at home, with its last loss to the Paladins at Kidd Brewer Stadium coming in 1996 ... Price became the first freshman and sixth player overall in Appalachian State history with 1,000 receiving yards in a season, finishing the regular season with 1,029 ... he needs only 45 yards during the postseason to break the NCAA Division I FCS freshman record of 1,073, set by Marshall’s Randy Moss in 1996.