Big play after big play after big play. Day two of Bowl Season delivered one of the best offensive games of the year. The morning kickoff between Appalachian State and Western Kentucky turned into a shootout led by two dynamic offenses with excellent quarterbacks. Bailey Zappe and the Hilltopper passing attack didn’t let up. Western Kentucky handed Appalachian State their first bowl game loss in program history. The Hilltoppers are victorious in the Boca Raton Bowl by a score of 59-38, after a record-setting win for Zappe and WKU in Boca.
Zappe in the Record Books
It took seven first half possessions for Zappe to break the single season passing yards record. On a 43-yard pass to Jerreth Sterns late in the second quarter, Zappe surpassed the 2003 record of B.J. Symons from Texas Tech for the most passing yards in a single season. The throw put him at 300 passing yards for the game and 5,845 yards on the season. Zappe entered the Boca Raton Bowl averaging north of 425 passing yards per game, and matched that against Appalachian State. He ended the game with 422 yards and a season total of 5,967 yards, shattering the existing record of 5,833. Zappe came up just 33 yards shy of the 6,000 yard mark.
Zappe also broke the record for passing touchdowns in a single season. The previous record of 60 was held by LSU’s Joe Burrow and set in 2019. Zappe tied the record in the first half of the Boca Raton Bowl after throwing four touchdowns. Mid-way through the third quarter, Zappe tossed a 2-yard touchdown pass to Mitchell Tinsley and broke Burrow’s record. Zappe’s 61st touchdown pass of the 2021 season gave the Hilltoppers a 45-24 lead. He proceeded to throw one additional touchdown in the second half, setting the new all-time single-season passing touchdown record at 62.
Hilltopper Air Raid
In Zach Kittley’s last game as the offensive coordinator of Western Kentucky, his offense put on a show. The Hilltoppers threw the ball 47 times versus a sack-adjusted 23 running attempts. Zappe was incredibly efficient through the air, completing 70% of his passes and throwing six touchdowns. The record-setting quarterback utilized nine different receivers in the Boca Raton Bowl, and two of them passed the 100-yard mark.
After just one season at Western Kentucky, Kittley took an offense that averaged just 19 points per game in 2020, to a high-powered air-raid attack that finished the season averaging well over 40 points per game. He is on to Texas Tech next season, but his work in Bowling Green was literally record-setting. His changes to the Hilltopper offense put Western Kentucky on the map, and introduced a new team to beat in Conference USA.
Second Half Momentum Swing
Western Kentucky went into the half with a seven-point lead. But Appalachian State had the ball to begin the third. Chase Brice and company strung together a great drive with a couple of big runs and passes. However, on a Camerun Peoples run, the ball appeared to be knocked loose and was recovered by the Hilltoppers. Peoples had the ball pinned between his elbow and side as he fell, when the ground forced the ball out upon impact. He was initially ruled down by contact, but review overturned the call and Western Kentucky took over, nullifying a solid opening-half drive for the Mountaineers
On the first play of the ensuing Hilltopper drive, Noah Whittington took the handoff and shot through the middle for an 86-yard touchdown. On just the eighth designed run of the day, Whittington put the offense over the 400-yard mark, and made it a 14-point lead. The huge momentum swing ultimately put the game out of reach for Appalachian State, as they did not get back within two scores for the remainder of the game.
Big Play After Big Play
Western Kentucky and Appalachian State traded big plays all afternoon in Boca Raton. The term “big play” is defined as a pass play of more than 15 yards, and a rush of more than 10 yards. The Hilltoppers had 16 big plays, and three of them went for touchdowns. Zappe averaged 8.6 yards per pass attempt, and the run game was explosive on every touch. Whittington and Kye Robichaux accounted for seven big plays, and tallied 217 of WKU’s total rushing yards.
Appalachian State matched the Hilltopper tempo all game. The Mountaineers accounted for 16 big plays as well, and averaged nearly eight yards per play. Brice was effective in the passing game, and had four big-play touchdown passes. He finished with four touchdowns on 23 attempts and over 300 yards. Unfortunately, Brice left the game in the fourth quarter after suffering an apparent leg injury.
Record-Setting Win for Zappe and WKU in Boca
Zappe got his curtain call late in the fourth quarter, and re-entered the game to take the final knee of the season. The quarterback finished his final collegiate football season in the record books. The Hilltoppers win their fifth bowl game in the last ten seasons with a 21-point victory in Boca. There will be some personnel changes in Bowling Green, KY this offseason. However, it usually symbolizes a good thing when a team’s best coaches are offered bigger jobs following a season. This year, it meant a 9-5 campaign, Conference USA championship appearance, and a record setting win for Zappe and WKU in the Boca Raton Bowl.