COLLEGE STATION, Texas – On paper, there was no reason to believe that Appalachian State would have a chance Saturday against No. 6 Texas A&M.
But Mountaineers coach Shawn Clark, who makes 10 times less than the over $9 million Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher receives each season at the Southeastern Conference school, made it clear to his 18 1/2-point underdog team that the game is not played on paper and mindset would mean everything.
“The key was belief," an exhausted Clark said. “You have to believe in yourself and believe in this program. I told them take the logo off of the helmet, take the logo off the field and let’s go play football."
And play football they did, with Chase Brice throwing for 134 yards and a touchdown and a stingy defense taking advantage of two turnovers to stun the Aggies 17-14.
“It didn’t feel real at first," Brice said. “I’ll be honest, I was just in shock. I just couldn’t believe the way we fought and finished. It was just great."
Appalachian State won a week after scoring six touchdowns and 40 points in the fourth quarter in a 63-61 opening loss to North Carolina.
“It means something to me to beat the No. 6-ranked program," Clark said. “It’s two different programs. We don’t recruit at the same level. We don’t have what they have, but we have a lot of heart and we have the right kind of players in our program."
Clark was thrilled to see Brice lead his team to the win after his school-record six-touchdown performance last week wasn't enough to complete the comeback.
“He was crushed," Clark said. “He loves this program and today was his shining moment."
Along with the victory, the Mountaineers got a fat $1.5 million check to take back with them to Boone, North Carolina, for playing this game.
Appalachian State (1-1) settled for a 29-yard field goal by Michael Hughes to take a 17-14 lead with about eight minutes left after Christian Wells was wide open but dropped a touchdown pass on third down.
The Aggies (1-1) had a chance to tie it with about 3 1/2 minutes to go, but a 47-yard field goal attempt by Caden Davis was short.
Camerun Peoples, who finished with 112 yards rushing, had a 1-yard run on third down on the next possession to keep Appalachian State's drive going. He then dashed 48 yards to the 12 on the next play and the Mountaineers ran out the clock.
“At the end of the day, that’s my fault as the head football coach," Fisher said. “We have to have guys ready in all three phases. We had chances to make plays in all three phases.. We had opportunities, but we have to coach it better. That’s on me.”
It’s Appalachian State’s first win over a team in The AP top 10 as a FBS team after losing in overtime to No. 9 Tennessee in 2016 and dropping an OT game to No. 9 Penn State in 2018.
The Mountaineers famously knocked off No. 5 Michigan 34-32 with a last-second blocked field goal in Ann Arbor in 2007 when they were still in the FCS.
“Respect all those guys they were great," offensive lineman Cooper Hodges said. “But I’m tired of hearing about Michigan. I want our legacy to be Sun Belt champions and I want our legacy to be beating Texas A&M."
The Mountaineers kept A&M’s offense in check a week after Clark was left looking for ways to fix his defense after the 63-point outburst by North Carolina.
Devon Achane ran for a touchdown in the first half and returned a kickoff for a score in the third, but the Aggies had trouble getting much else going on a mistake-filled day.
The Mountaineers outgained A&M 305-186 and had 22 first downs to just nine by the Aggies. They controlled time of possession, too, holding a 41:29 to 18:31 advantage in that area.
Fisher said he would consider a change at quarterback this week after a sub-par performance by Haynes King. He added that they probably would have made the switch Saturday if the game had gone differently.
“We were but we never had the ball," he said. “If we had got more possessions maybe so."
The Aggies were driving in the third quarter when Dexter Lawson Jr. forced a fumble by Evan Stewart after a 13-yard reception and it was recovered by Nick Hampton.
The Mountaineers took a 14-7 lead when Henry Pearson grabbed a 9-yard TD reception from Brice with about 2 1/2 minutes left in the third.
The lead was short-lived as Achane returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown seconds later. Achane, who is a sprinter on Texas A&M’s track team, juked a defender before shedding a would-be tackler and racing downfield for the score to tie it at 14-all.
King was sacked by DeAndre Dingle-Prince and fumbled late in the first quarter. Texas A&M lineman Layden Robinson recovered the ball, but he also fumbled and this time Appalachian State recovered it.
They cashed in on the mistake when Ahmani Marshall scored on a 4-yard touchdown run that made it 7-0 early in the second quarter.
The Aggies tied it up when Achane dashed 26 yards for a touchdown on the next drive.
King finished with 97 yards passing.
The loss puts a huge dent on Texas A&M’s preseason goal of finally contending for a national title, leaving the Aggies in an early hole before they even begin the rigors of SEC play.
Fisher was hired to take A&M to the next level after coach Kevin Sumlin was fired after his sixth season. But so far Fisher hasn't done any better than Sumlin did in his time with the Aggies.
Sumlin was 36-14 in his first 50 games and Saturday's loss dropped Fisher to 35-15 in his first 50.
The Aggies are certain to plummet in the poll after losing to an unranked opponent. Appalachian State should enter the poll after the big upset.
Appalachian State: Hosts Troy next Saturday.
Texas A&M: Hosts No. 15 Miami next Saturday night.
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