BOONE, N.C. - As South Carolina State lined up to attempt the go-ahead 32-yard field goal with less than eight minutes to play in Saturday's first-round FCS playoff game, the Bulldogs were looking at taking the lead on Appalachian State.
But when the snap sailed past an unaware holder Matt Washington and kicker Blake Erickson, the Bulldogs were left looking at the back of Dominique McDuffie as he sailed down the right sideline for what proved to be ASU's game-winning score in a 20-13 victory.
McDuffie scooped up the football at the 50 and coasted untouched to the end zone after Erickson was unable to collect the football following the errant snap by David Davis. Dreams of advancing to the second round of the playoffs vanished as quickly as it took McDuffie to cover half the field and somersault into the end zone.
"It's a tough way to lose a football game," S.C. State coach Buddy Pough said.
S.C. State (10-2) sees its season end in Kidd Brewer Stadium for the second consecutive season, while the Mountaineers (10-2) advance to play Richmond (11-1), a winner against Elon, for the second year in a row.
Pough blamed the bad snap on crowd noise, saying Davis thought he heard snap call when it was actually the ready call. That left Washington and Erickson with no chance to make a play as the ball whizzed by them.
"They had their heads turned," Pough said. "They didn't even see it."
Erickson lamented that he was unable to secure the football before McDuffie could make the play.
"It was still rolling. I wasn't able to do it," said Erickson, who kicked field goals of 31 and 19 yards earlier in the game.
McDuffie was able to do it.
"I noticed the kicker and the holder weren't paying attention when the ball was snapped so I ran back there," McDuffie said. "A couple of people dove on it, but they couldn't get to it and somehow I ended up with it, got a few blocks, and was able to coast into the end zone."
Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore was looking at his play list as well as the clock when the bad snap occurred. He was thinking about overcoming a three-point deficit that didn't happen.
"Obviously, it was a big play," Moore said.
The play was one of five turnovers by the Bulldogs, who had three passes picked off and lost two fumbles. But they also picked off three ASU passes and picked up a pair of Mountaineer fumbles.
"We played pretty good for a while. We had our moments on both sides of the ball, but we didn't do enough on offense to win a game like this," Pough said.
Senior running back Will Ford, the MEAC's all-time leading rusher, was held to 22 yards on eight carries before leaving the game late in the third quarter with a sprained knee. Junior quarterback Malcolm Long, who entered the game with a school-record 2,313 passing yards, never got into a rhythm. He completed 18 of 36 passes for 189 yards.
S.C. State's only touchdown came on a 46-yard interception return by Rafael Bush of an Armanti Edwards pass late in the second quarter.
"They were giving different looks and making plays," said Long of his three interceptions.
Pough also credited a veteran ASU defense for taking away the running game. Moore was just as complimentary of the Bulldogs.
"It was a good fight. I told Buddy Pough after the game that I think they're one of the best teams we played this year. They may have been the best team," Moore said. "We were really fortunate to win this game. We played hard. They played hard. In the playoffs, you've got to be good enough, and somebody would say lucky enough, to win a game like this."
The Bulldogs missed a golden opportunity to take the lead in the third quarter after a long drive gave them first-and-goal at the ASU 4. But they netted one yard and had to settle for a 19-yard field goal by Erickson that tied the game at 13. Long's passes to Tre Young of 9, 32 and 23 yards got S.C. State in scoring position.
"Our defense has gotten a lot better," Moore said. "They've been a mainstay, and they've been a difference maker."
Appalachian took a 10-3 lead with 4:35 to play in the first half when Edwards found former Ridge View High standout Brian Quick in the back of the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown. The third-down play capped a 12-play drive that covered 74 yards.
But the Bulldogs answered when Edwards made a mistake late in the half. Bush picked it off and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 10 with 1:34 to play in the half. Junior bandit Davonne Quattlebaum also picked off two passes by Edwards, one in each half. Edwards, who threw for a school-record 433 yards in last season's 37-21 victory against S.C. State, finished with 218 yards this time.
"We knew as a defense that their offense was based around the quarterback. We wanted to play a good solid game and keep him contained," Quattlebaum said.
The Mountaineers were able to take the lead at the half thanks to Bulldog penalties on the interception return and the PAT. Kicking off from the 7-yard line, S.C. State watched the Mountaineers return the kickoff 31 yards to the SCS 33. Seven plays later, Jason Vitaris kicked a 24-yard field goal as time expired for a 13-10 advantage.