COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Appalachian State just keeps adding to its rich, college football history.
The small school champions that took down mighty Michigan in the Big House 12 years ago has now beaten two Power Five programs — and its first Southeastern Conference opponent — after a 20-15 victory at South Carolina on Saturday night.
"Yeah, definitely means a lot," said Zac Thomas, the Mountaineers junior quarterback. "It's remarkable coming from a Group of Five conference. A lot of people don't do that. It makes you feel good."
Thomas ran for a 1-yard touchdown and safety Nicholas Ross scored on a 20-yard interception return for a 20-15 win at South Carolina, the program's second Power Five win this season.
Chandler Staton added field goals of 40 and 47 yards and Appalachian State's defense held off the Gamecocks' late rally.
Appalachian State's time in the college football spotlight looked finished after last week as it lost its national ranking, its undefeated start and a chance at the Cotton Bowl with a 24-21 home loss to Georgia Southern.
Instead, they bounced back the best way possible and added this Power Five takedown to their to their 34-31 victory at North Carolina on Sept. 21.
The Gamecocks (4-6) rallied from 20-9 down in the final quarter on Bryan Edwards' 23-yard touchdown with 2:58 left and drove to the App State 11 in the final seconds. But Ryan Hilinski pass to Edwards in the end zone was too high, touching off the latest improbable celebration for the Mountaineers.
"This team is something special," Mountaineers tight end Collin Reed said. "We've been building for a long time."
South Carolina's chances of making a bowl took a serious hit. The Gamecocks now must win at Texas A&M (something they've never done) and No. 4 Clemson in their final two games to make their fourth postseason trip under coach Will Muschamp.
Things turned right before halftime when Hilinski's hard throw over the middle bounced off Xavier Legette's hands and was intercepted by safety Nicholas Ross and returned 20 yards for a touchdown to put Appalachian State ahead for good 13-6.
Hilinski, the Gamecocks freshman, had not thrown a pick in his past five games until Ross got the deflected ball and took it in for the score.
Appalachian State defense took away what was expected to be the Gamecocks biggest edge in the run game. Season starter Rico Dowdle, who had missed the previous two games with an ankle sprain, had zero yards on 10 first-half carries in his return.
The Gamecocks came in averaging 184 yards a game on the ground but gained just 21 on 27 carries. South Carolina played without leading rusher Tavien Feaster, who sustained a groin injury last week.
"When we don't have the ability to run the ball, we're going to struggle," South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said.
Edwards finished with nine catches for 90 yards, the senior surpassing Alshon Jeffery for the school's all-time receiving yardage mark. Asked about his record, Edwards said simply, "We lost."
Appalachian State: The Mountaineers made a strong case to re-enter the national rankings. They also made a strong impression on Power Five athletic directors about not wanting to add Appalachian State to future schedules.
South Carolina: Muschamp had touted this as his deepest, most talented group this summer. But the Gamecocks continue to confound as they struggled to make plays on both sides of the ball. It was the third time in four games, South Carolina was outplayed in the second half of losses with a chance to win the game. Florida outscored the Gamecocks in the fourth quarter while Tennessee had a 24-0 advantage in the second half. Add the Mountaineers to the list.
BACK IN CHARGE
Appalachian State coach Eliah Drinkwitz said his team wanted to win against South Carolina. They really want to capture the Sun Belt Conference crown and play well in top-flight bowl game. The Mountaineers were tied with Georgia Southern and Georgia State with only one conference defeat coming into the week. But Georgia Southern and Georgia State both fell in league play to give Appalachian State control of its Sun Belt destiny when it returns to conference play next week.
ALL THIS AND MORE
Along with the victory, Appalachian State left with $900,000 for coming to South Carolina. The teams will play twice more, including a game in Boone, North Carolina in 2025.
Appalachian State plays at Georgia State on Saturday night.
South Carolina closes Southeastern Conference play at Texas A&M on Saturday night.
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