By Nathan Ham
Two familiar foes will battle for the Sun Belt Conference Championship this Saturday with the Mountaineers traveling to Lafeyette to take on the Ragin’ Cajuns. This will be the third meeting between the two teams in the conference championship game. App State won the previous two meetings in Boone, first a 30-19 triumph in 2018 and a 45-38 win in 2019.
Mountaineer fans are encouraged to come out on Friday morning and line up on King Street as the team will depart Boone at 11:45 a.m. and head to Louisiana to try and capture their fifth Sun Belt Championship.
Appalachian closed out the regular season last week with a 27-3 win over rival Georgia Southern at Kidd Brewer Stadium. The Mountaineer defense dominated the game, holding Georgia Southern to just 87 rushing yards on 46 carries, less than two yards per carry. App State linebacker D’Marco Jackson was named the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year as the captain of a stout Mountaineer defense all season long.
Offensively, Chase Brice completed 12-of-24 passes for 235 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Thomas Hennigan had three catches for 111 yards and a touchdown in his final home game. Corey Sutton had five catches for 55 yards and Malik Williams had two catches for 41 yards in a touchdown. Both Sutton and Williams also played their final game in Boone.
Wide receiver Jalen Virgil accounted for the final Mountaineer touchdown with a 97-yard kickoff return for a score in his final game at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
Louisiana held on to beat in-state rival UL-Monroe by a 21-16 score. It was announced that the Ragin’ Cajuns’ head coach Billy Napier would be the next head coach at the University of Florida. He is expected to be on the field coaching Louisiana this week before departing for Gainesville. Napier was also named the 2021 Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year.
These two programs have been the most consistent teams in the conference since App State joined the Sun Belt in 2014. The Mountaineers and Ragin’ Cajuns rank first and second, respectively, among its league members in overall wins (80-22 for App State, 63-38 for Louisiana) and wins against Sun Belt teams (56-10 for App State, 46-20 for Louisiana).
The Mountaineers will have to contend with Louisiana QB Levi Lewis and a strong running game behind him. Lewis has thrown for 2,437 yards, 18 touchdowns and only four interceptions this season while adding 226 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Chris Smith and Montrell Johnson have been tough to stop all year long for the Ragin’ Cajuns. Smith leads the team with 144 carries and 834 yards and is second on the team with eight touchdowns. Johnson has 135 carries for 776 yards and a team-high 11 rushing touchdowns.
Kickoff will be at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN with Dave Pasch handling play-by-play duties, Dusty Dvoracek in the analyst role and Tom Luginbill with sideline duties.
Conference Championship Week
Conference USA Championship (Friday, December 3, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network) – Western Kentucky at UT-San Antonio (Alamodome in San Antonio)
Pac 12 Championship (Friday, December 3, 8 p.m., ABC) – #10 Oregon vs. #17 Utah (Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas)
Big 12 Championship (Saturday, December 4, noon, ABC) – #9 Baylor vs. #5 Oklahoma State (AT&T Stadium in Dallas)
MAC Championship (Saturday, December 4, noon, ESPN) – Kent State vs. Northern Illinois (Ford Field in Detroit)
Sun Belt Championship (Saturday, December 4, 3:30 p.m., ESPN) – Appalachian State at #24 Louisiana (Cajun Field in Lafayette)
SEC Championship (Saturday, December 4, 4 p.m., CBS) – #1 Georgia vs. #3 Alabama (Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta)
AAC Championship (Saturday, December 4, 4 p.m., ABC) – #21 Houston at #4 Cincinnati (Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati)
Big 10 Championship (Saturday, December 4, 8 p.m., FOX) – #2 Michigan vs. #13 Iowa (Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis)
ACC Championship (Saturday, December 4, 8 p.m., ABC) – #15 Pittsburgh vs. #16 Wake Forest (Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte)