By MIKE SMITH
MONTGOMERY, Ala -- Ohio University fought back to take a late lead, only to see victory slip away on the game’s final play as Appalachian State edged the Bobcats 31-29 Saturday in the 2015 Raycom Media Camellia Bowl.
In a game marked by turnovers, miscues and big defensive plays, Ohio’s Josiah Yazdani nailed a 21-yard field goal to give the Bobcats a 29-28 lead with just 1:47 remaining. However, Appalachian State, playing in . . .
It was a redemptive moment of sorts for Matics. The senior had converted 13 of 14 field goal attempts during the regular season, only to miss his first two opportunities in the bowl game.
It was a wild finish to a wild game – at least for a little over two quarters.
Both teams struggled early. Ohio punted to end its first five possessions. Appalachian State, meanwhile, was moving the ball – with limited points to show for it. The Mountaineers’ first three drives resulted in a missed field goal, touchdown and another missed field goal. Quarterback Taylor Lamb’s 21-yard scramble at 7:17 of the first quarter put the Mountaineers up 7-0.
The next two App State possession concluded with punts, while the sixth Mountaineers drive ended when ASU was unable to convert a fourth and five at the Ohio 38. Junior quarterback JD Sprague, who got the start, kept Ohio’s next drive going with a big first down scramble on 3rd and 16. When the drive bogged down at App State’s 19, Yazdani put OU on the board with a 36-yard field goal.
It appeared the teams might go to the locker room at 7-3, but the turnover bug made its appearance just before halftime.
There was just 1:31 left before intermission following Ohio’s kickoff. But the Bobcats were about to run off 17 straight points before the break.
It started on Appalachian State’s next snap as linebacker Quentin Poling stepped in front of a Lamb pass, picked it off and rumbled 20 yards into the end zone to give the Green and White its first lead, 10-7.
Another turnover five plays into App State’s ensuing drive provided Ohio with a final scoring opportunity. This time it was a bad snap as the center hiked the ball as if the quarterback was under center. He was actually in the shotgun, so the snap ended up on the ground and Tony Porter recovered for OU.
It took the ‘Cats just two plays to score – a 16-yard Sprague-to-Sebastian Smith pass, followed by AJ Oulette’s seven-yard run for the TD. Aided by two turnovers, Ohio had scored 17 points in 1:11 of clock time.
The Bobcats’ momentum continued into third quarter action. Midway through the period, senior linebacker Jovan Johnson ripped the ball from the arms of Ike Lewis on a run to the left side. Johnson then raced 45 yards to the end zone, putting Ohio up 24-7.
With the teams combining for six turnovers, there were many short field scores. The Mountaineer’s second touchdown was not one of them. Starting late in the third period, App State used 11 plays to cover 97 yards.
Momentum might have been impressed, because the turnover bug ended up on the other sideline. Two plays into Ohio’s next drive, Latrell Gibbs picked off a Sprague pass and returned it 11 yards. Cox went around the left side on the very next snap, scoring from 26 yards out.
Another Mountaineers interception, this one by Mondo Williams, two plays into Ohio’s next drive put App State’s offense in business again. When Lamb hit tight end Barret Burns over the middle from eight yards out, it moved the Mountaineers out in front, 28-24. Just as Ohio had scored a flurry of points off turnovers, Appalachian State used two turnovers during a 21-point run that used just 1:56 of game time.
Good special teams work and defense helped Ohio pull closer on the following possession. A Bobcats punt was downed at the App State three-yard line. Cox got the call on first down and tried to get around the left side. Johnson’s hit took him down for a safety and Cox also suffered an injury on the play.
It was a double-blow for the Mountaineers. They would have to kick to Ohio, which now could grab the lead with just a field goal. As for Cox, he left after gaining 162 yards on 24 carries to drive the Mountaineers offense.
After the App State kick, Ohio took over at its own 45 and moved 51 yards in eight plays. Facing fourth and one at the App State four-yard line, Ohio brought on Yazdani. His 21-yard field goal put OU in front 29-28 with 1:47 left.
A 32-yard run by Lamb took the Mountaineers deep into Ohio territory. Three runs by Moore moved the ball to the six, and Matics came on for his game-winning kick after a time out with two seconds left.
Appalachian State owned a 427-272 advantage in total offense and registered 24 first downs to just 15 for Ohio. The Mountaineers had 303 rushing yards. In addition to Cox’s 162, Moore contributed another 96 on 13 trips.
Lamb completed 13 of 26 for 124 yards passing. He tossed two TDs and threw one interception.
Ohio owned 107 yards rushing, with Ouellette leading the way (14 carries, 45 yards, 1 TD – the only offensive touchdown by OU on the day). Sprague, who left with an injury on the Bobcats final drive, completed 14 of 28 for 132 yards with two interceptions.
Ohio finished the year at 8-5, while Appalachian State posted an 11-2 mark in its first year of FBS eligibility.