Appalachian State lost to No. 15 Coastal Carolina 34-23 on Saturday in Conway, S.C., giving the undefeated Chanticleers control of the Sun Belt Conference's East Division and a path to the league championship football game.
App State would need to win out and see Coastal lose to heavy underdog Texas State and to Troy to reach the championship game in a bid to win a fifth consecutive league title.
What an ending. Coastal Carolina scored with 2:24 remaining on a 3-yard touchdown by Reese White. A failed two-point conversion left Coastal Carolina up 27-23 and App State needing a touchdown.
The Chanticleers thwarted that, though. They sacked Zac Thomas on a third down, putting App State in a fourth-and-long situation backed up on their own goal line. Thomas' pass attempt on fourth down was picked off and returned for a touchdown by defensive back D'Jordan Strong.
The deciding stretch
A critical fourth-quarter turnover for Coastal Carolina nearly became the pivot point. A Chanticleers drive featuring plays of 48 and 22 yards ended with quarterback Grayson McCall scrambling and fumbling at the goal line. App State safety Kaiden Smith forced the ball out, and linebacker Nick Hampton recovered.
But the Mountaineers followed with a brutal error of their own, an interception thrown by Thomas as he ran left and tried to target wide receiver Christian Wells. It set up the deciding sequence for Coastal Carolina to take control of the game. Thomas threw three interceptions.
How they finished
App State leaned on Chandler Staton to keep the game tight. The senior hit three field goals, two in the second half. He connected on a 36-yard field goal for a 20-15 App State lead. Then after the Chanticleers went ahead again, Staton gave the Mountaineers the lead once more. He hit a 45-yarder with 11:47 remaining in the fourth to give Appalachian a 23-21 lead.
How they opened
App State elected to receive at the beginning of the game, and its second play was a 50-yard run from Cam Peoples. He scored from 1 yard out later in the drive. Coastal Carolina responded with a 75-yard touchdown pass from McCall to Isaiah Likely.
The Mountaineers took a 17-9 lead into halftime after Thomas found Wells for a 25-yard touchdown pass with nine seconds remaining.
Peoples shined for the Mountaineers, especially in the first half as the offensive workhorse.
The sophomore running back finished with 178 rushing yards. He had had 171 of those at halftime, scoring his touchdown to end App State's opening possession.
Appalachian State: 4-1 Sun Belt, 6-2 overall
Coastal Carolina: 6-0, 8-0
Appalachian State: Troy, 8 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU)
Coastal Carolina: At Texas State, 3 p.m. Saturday (ESPN+)