A Hail Mary, a top-10 upset and the remarkable third act of Appalachian State's Chase Brice (2024)

  • A Hail Mary, a top-10 upset and the remarkable third act of Appalachian State's Chase Brice (1)

    David Hale, ESPN Staff WriterSep 23, 2022, 07:00 AM ET


    • ACC reporter.
    • Joined ESPN in 2012.
    • Graduate of the University of Delaware.

BOONE, N.C. -- The launch point was Appalachian State's own 43-yard line, an almost impossibly high arc with a trajectory that left the throw well short of the end zone. That's when it seemed as if the magic might've finally run out. But this was Chase Brice, and this was Appalachian State, and for reasons no one can quite explain, in these mountains, there's always a little more magic.

Zeroes were on the clock, but time was distorted in the moment. The pass hung for so long it was possible to recount all the chaos of the past three weeks in detail -- the 40-point fourth quarter against UNC, the shocking upset of sixth-ranked , the weeklong celebration that culminated with ESPN's College GameDay broadcasting live from a mountain here -- and yet, looking back, Brice remembers it all happening so fast.

The ball returned to earth at the 6, where it tipped into the waiting hands of Christian Horn, who looped toward the sideline and found no one in front of him. He darted into the end zone. Chaos.

"I see him running and I'm like Ricky Bobby," Brice said. "Like, what do I do with my hands?"

Brice started running, arms splayed, figuring he'd just make a loop around the field. Fans poured over the wall, tumbling onto the field, a sea of black and gold flooding over an insufficient dam.

"People were falling," Brice said, "so I figured I could help them."

Some still fell, he said. Men who'd had a few too many beverages to hold their balance, women wearing high heels utterly unfit for the occasion. But Brice kept grabbing their hands, steadying their descent. He never noticed the cameras.

"I was just in shock," he said.

That's how it happened that America's new favorite quarterback managed two viral moments in the span of just a few seconds -- one for performing a miracle, one an act of genuine humility -- all on the same day when Boone, North Carolina, just so happened to serve as the center of the college football universe. And the truly crazy thing is, to know Brice, to understand the history of Appalachian State, to see how the two fit so perfectly together -- it all somehow makes sense.

BRICE BEGAN HIS college career at Clemson, but he was buried on the depth chart. Clemson had Trevor Lawrence, the golden-armed, five-star recruit. Brice was a project.

"I had to find my role," he said.

Brice looked for ways to contribute. He was on the team's leadership council. He invited the defensive line to his house for cookouts. If he wasn't playing, he made a point of helping anyone who was getting reps.

"That's just Chase," his father, Billy, said. "That's just how he's wired."

Billy Brice remembers taking his son to a recruiting camp when Chase was still in high school. There were tons of big names there, and when Billy found his kid on the field, Chase was busy shagging footballs.

"He should be getting reps," Billy said, "and the other guys are throwing and he's running around, grabbing balls for them."

Billy implored his son to fight his way into the spotlight, but Chase pushed back.

"Dad," he said, "those guys need work, too, and they're not getting the ball back to them fast enough."

Brice was always team first, but he never doubted he belonged on the same field with Lawrence and Co. During the early part of his time at Clemson, he ran the Tigers' scout team offense. It's an often thankless rule, made tougher by the Tigers' demanding then-defensive coordinator, Brent Venables, who never believed the scout team was challenging his unit enough.

"Coach V would get frustrated and say, 'I'm taking over,'" said former Clemson tailback Darien Rencher, who played on the scout team with Brice for two years. "He'd take the ball and tell the quarterback to go play receiver."

The performance became so common, the team created an alter ego for Venables: Jimmy Greenbeans, the country's oldest scout team QB.

It was good for a few jokes around Clemson, but Brice didn't find it funny. QB was his job, and he wasn't handing it over to anyone -- especially not his 40-something defensive coordinator.

"He was the one guy who would stand up to Venables," Rencher said. "Like, 'No, I'm doing this. Go grab some play cards.' Everybody's always known Chase has some balls to him. He's a gamer."

The team loved it, and even Lawrence was enamored.

"Trevor was my biggest fan," Brice said. "He loved it when I got to go in and play. I truly thought, 'This guy's going to go in and put up crazy numbers, just so I can play.'"

Most of Brice's snaps came in mop-up duty, after Lawrence had already secured a win. Most. Not all. The game that etched Brice's name into Clemson lore was far from a sure thing.

It was Week 5 of the 2018 season, and the Tigers were hosting Syracuse. Head coach Dabo Swinney had just named Lawrence as the team's new QB1. In the aftermath, a dejected Kelly Bryant, who'd led Clemson to the College Football Playoff a year earlier, left the team. Sure enough, late in the first half, Lawrence took a hit near the sideline and was out for the remainder of the game.

Clemson was losing 16-7. Brice was the only available option to take over. He'd thrown eight passes in his career to that point.

The second half wasn't exactly a star turn. Brice finished the game just 7-of-13 for 83 yards and an interception. But on the Tigers' final drive, trailing by 4, he engineered his first miracle, converting two fourth-down plays -- one a 20-yard completion to Tee Higgins -- and had a 17-yard scramble of his own, setting up a Travis Etienne touchdown with 41 seconds to go.

Clemson prevailed 27-23 and didn't lose a game that season, thumping Alabama in the national title game.

"And we don't have a national championship that year without Chase Brice," Rencher said.

AFTER THREE YEARS at Clemson, Brice had his degree and wanted a chance to start, so he entered the transfer market. He opted for Duke. The timing was awful.

It was the spring of 2020, and COVID-19 shut down the world. Duke didn't bring its players back to campus until late July. For a QB whose greatest strength was his personality, that was a problem.

"I'm a people person," Brice said. "It was so hard to get close with my team. We're in separate locker rooms, split half and half. ... We couldn't be in a room longer than 30 minutes at a time. We're getting tested every day. You never knew if you were going to play. It was hard."

It showed on the field. The Blue Devils were awful, finishing 2-9, and Brice shouldered a hefty chunk of the blame. He started every game. He threw 10 touchdowns and led the country with 15 interceptions.

When the season was over, Brice was ready to move again. He just wasn't sure where.

"A lot of doubts," Brice said. "Maybe I needed to just go be a backup or an emergency guy or walk-on somewhere closer to home. But I knew I could play."

Appalachian State offered him a chance to start fresh, but it was hardly a safe bet. Brice wasn't promised the starting job, and he was an outsider on a team -- and in a community -- whose roots ran deep.

Brice is from Georgia, and he'd tried his luck at two Power 5 schools before settling on App State. His roommate, right tackle Cooper Hodges, calls Brice "bougie" and notes "he's got so many clothes, he broke the rack in the closet."

If Brice was a cultural misfit at App State, around campus, he mostly blended into the scenery. Brice recalled one communications class, where his professor noticed he was wearing App State football gear.

"What position do you play?" the professor asked.

Brice sheepishly replied: "I'm the starting quarterback."

But the more the people of Boone got to see from their new quarterback, the more obvious it was that he belonged.

The day Brice arrived on campus, he got an Instagram message from Coastal Carolina linebacker Teddy Gallagher. "Imagine transferring somewhere to lose to some kids from Myrtle Beach," it read. "And that's if you win the job."

Brice took a screen shot and saved it on his phone.

Turns out, he did win the starting job. In Week 2, he came within two points of knocking off Miami. He was solid, if unspectacular in the early season. Through six games, he'd thrown eight TDs and five picks, and App State was 4-2.

On Oct. 20, the Mountaineers hosted Coastal Carolina. Brice was ready.

In the game, he threw for 347 yards and two touchdowns. He helped erase a 14-0 deficit, then led a nine-play, 55-yard drive that culminated with a 24-yard field goal as time expired. The Mountaineers won 30-27.

After the game, Brice searched his phone and found the screenshot. He posted it to Twitter, adding only a handshake emoji. Nothing more needed to be said.

🤝 pic.twitter.com/py0dtR2W3I

— Chase Brice (@chasebrice7) October 21, 2021

"Chase's biggest crime is that he wasn't recruited out of high school and didn't develop here," said Alex Johnson, who hosts the popular "Black and Gold" podcast covering App State, which Brice now endorses as part of an NIL deal. "App State -- we're a little skeptical of outsiders. But he's handled himself and represented himself so well. He fits like a glove."

Brice's story actually reflects the culture of the town, said David Jackson, a longtime broadcaster for App State who now serves as the president of the Boone Chamber of Commerce. He's a grinder, a gamer. He bet on himself, then delivered again and again.

"The Appalachia culture has a spirit of perseverance," Jackson said. "You have to do things in a gritty way. The journey is hard, but the reward is worth it, and that's reflected in this football program. And I can't remember a reclamation storyline being as deep as it is with him. This was an opportunity to rewrite [his story] in a place that appreciates the underdog."

After Saturday's Hail Mary win over Troy, Brice tweeted a photo in the locker room, arm in arm with former App State quarterback Armani Edwards. In Boone, no one is more famous than Edwards, who led the Mountaineers to a stunning upset of Michigan in 2007.

This week, there's been a lot of talk around town, comparing that win in Ann Arbor with the start this year's team has enjoyed.

That win over Michigan marked a turning point for App State -- not just the football program, but the school, the campus, the town of Boone. Applications soared. The football program moved from FCS to the Sun Belt in 2014. The stadium was renovated and buildings sprung up across campus. That was one game.

"They're going to have to start building some more dorms and parking decks," Brice joked.

So, which was bigger: 2007 or 2022?

It's hard to decide, Jackson said. Social media wasn't around back then, and Edwards' heroics were largely relegated to SportsCenter highlights and newspaper stories. Now Boone's hosting GameDay and Brice is a viral sensation. The world has changed. So has App State.

And yet, even the idea that this unassuming kid from Georgia could show up four years into his college career and have the town asking if he'd surpassed Edwards' notoriety -- well, that says something, doesn't it?

"They'll never forget Chase for that throw," Jackson said of the Hail Mary. "And that's cool. That's now a part of App State."

AT THE BOONESHINE Brewing Company, about a mile from Kidd Brewer Stadium, people crowd in daily wearing their Mountaineers gear, said Hannah Decubellis, a shift leader there. They were featured on GameDay thanks to Brice's heroics, and she's noticed the past few weeks, when she greets a table, more often than not, the customers are talking about App State and the team's hotshot QB.

That professor who didn't know Brice was the team's QB a few weeks ago? Chris Patti said he's not much of a football fan, so he simply never thought to ask. He was watching MMA -- "the one sport I pay attention," he said -- after the Texas A&M win, and lo and behold, the announcers are talking about App State, about his student. This week, Patti had the whole class give Brice a standing ovation.

Brice was talking on the phone with his dad Wednesday morning, Billy's TV chattering in the background.

"Well," Billy interrupted, "they're showing you on SportsCenter again."

The team's backup kicker, Austin Shook, bears a passing resemblance to Brice -- sandy blond hair, the scruff of a recently groomed beard.

"I'm a few inches shorter though," Shook said.

On his way to class this week, Shook noticed a couple students staring. They flagged him down.

"Are you ..."

Shook laughed. No, he's not QB1, but he quickly texted Brice to tell him about the encounter.

None of it seems to register with Brice, who gives an embarrassed shrug at the mention of his new celebrity status and notes he's not even the most famous member of his family. He has twin sisters, and one -- Beth Anne -- is a social media superstar.

"Beth Anne is TikTok famous. I'm the lesser of the status," Brice said. "When they come to the game, it's like paparazzi."

If anything, Brice is hoping he can settle back into a bit of normalcy soon. It's not that he wants this story to run its course. He'd just like the subsequent chapters to have a bit less drama. He points to the Troy game as an important reminder. GameDay came to Boone and App State nearly blew its big moment on center stage.

The 40-point quarter against North Carolina, the shocker against A&M, the Hail Mary -- that's old news. Brice is ready to turn the page.

This week, signs are taped to the glass doors entering the Mountaineers' football building this week. They read: "Beat JMU. 1-0."

Johnson and his podcast co-host, Charles Haynes, believe fate has intervened on App State's behalf this season, and few people in Boone doubt that mojo. After all, Saturday's win was actually dubbed "Miracle on the Mountain II" -- a sequel to the miraculous win over Furman in 2002, in which, on the final play, Josh Jeffries intercepted a pass on a 2-point try (from Furman QB and current Florida head coach Billy Napier) and App State returned it for a score and a 16-15 win.

"We don't know what it is, but we have some type of magic here," Haynes said.

But that's just the thing, Brice said. This year's success isn't magic. It's work. And he's no overnight sensation. He's been waiting six years for this.

Take that Hail Mary, App State coach Shawn Clark said. His team practices that play twice a week, every week.

"I can show you how it worked out just like that in fall camp," Clark said.

And, OK, maybe a little bit of magic helps, too.

"Now, we could do that play 100 more times, and it probably wouldn't work," Clark laughed. "But on that day, it worked out just how we practiced it."

Whatever has brought Brice to this moment -- work, magic, destiny -- he knows there's no guarantee that perfect formula will keep working forever.

Brice points to a lesson he learned from Swinney early in his career with the Tigers. There was tradition at Clemson, and that was important. But tradition doesn't win football games. Swinney told his players it was their job to build their own legacy, to write their own story.

Brice has finally reached the chapter in his story where the hero rises from the ashes. It's a good feeling, he said. But it's not the end.

"Looking back to see how far I've come," Brice said, "from being [a backup] to my downhill year at Duke and then coming here to App and flipping the script. It's crazy. But I've been up and I've been down, and I know what reality is."

A Hail Mary, a top-10 upset and the remarkable third act of Appalachian State's Chase Brice (2024)
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