By David Coulson
Nov. 23, 2014. LAFAYETTE, La. — It started on defense and ended with another dominating Marcos Cox ground performance as Appalachian State stunned Louisiana-Lafayette 35-16 and all but ruined the Ragin’ Cajuns hopes for a Sun Belt Conference championship Saturday afternoon.
Louisiana came into the game with a 6-0 record in Sun Belt play and needed only wins over App State and hapless Troy to earn a share of the conference crown.
But behind an aggressive defense that sacked Ragin’ Cajun quarterback Terrance Broadway six times and a 36-carry, 151-yards, two-touchdown performance from Cox, the Mountaineers built a 14-13 lead at halftime and wore down Louisiana in the second half on the way to their fifth consecutive victory.
Broadway had been sacked just 15 times in 10 games prior to Saturday’s game and the Ragin’ Cajuns were limited to 259 yards, 166 less than average.
The win clinched no worse than a tie for the league title for longtime Appalachian rival Georgia Southern, who can claim the crown outright with a win over Louisiana-Monroe next weekend.
The Mountaineers (6-5 overall, 5-2 in conference) moved into third place with the victory and pulled their overall mark above .500 for the first time since the 2012 season.
When freshman quarterback Taylor Lamb (11-of-22 passing for 195 yards) threw an interception on ASU’s second drive of the first period to T.J. Worthy at the App 24, it looked anything but promising for the Mountaineers.
But the defense dug in and held the Ragin’ Cajuns (7-4, 6-1) without a first down, forcing Hunter Stover’s 38-yard field goal.
What followed was an 11-play, 82-yard for the Mountaineers, keyed by Lamb’s 33-yard passing connection with Malachi Jones. Cox, who piled up 33 yards of his own on the possession, finished it off by slashing eight yards into the end zone for the first touchdown of the game.
With the heavy pressure of the ASU defense beginning to take a toll, a Ronald Blair sack at the two forced the Ragin’ Cajuns to punt from their own end zone on the next drive and Bobo Beatherd weaved through ULL tacklers for a 33-yard punt return for a score that made it 14-3 at the end of the first quarter.
Louisiana responded with its best possession of the game to set up Elijah McGuire’s eight-yard scoring slash to cut the lead to 14-10 midway through the second stanza, but then the Appalachian defense reestablished itself.
After Broadway led the Ragin’ Cajuns from their own 21 to the ASU eight late in the half, the Mountaineers stiffened and forced another Stover field goal from 26 yards that sent the teams to the locker room in a 14-13 game.
The second half belonged almost completely to the Mountaineers, however.
Appalachian moved 65 yards on its first drive of the second half before Bentlee Critcher missed a 27-yard field goal, but that was just a temporary setback.
After holding in Mountaineer territory on the next ULL possession, Lamb fired completions of 43 yards to Sheedon Meadors and 40 yards to Montez McGuire for the next App State score.
ULL responded with Stover’s third field goal, this one from 33 yards to slice the Mountaineer edge to 21-16 in the third period, but ASU answered with the definitive drive of the game.
Grinding out six minutes of the fourth quarter, Cox and company methodically marched 76 yards in 13 plays before Cox smashed in from the two to grow the lead to 28-16.
Down two scores with around five minutes to play, Louisiana gambled on fourth and seven from its own 31, but failed to convert the first down. ASU then used the short field to finish off the game.
After two Cox runs lost a pair of yards, Terrence Upshaw spelled him and squirted through a hole for 36 yards and the final touchdown of the game with 2:26 remaining.
Appalachian will close out its 2014 season at home next Saturday when it hosts Idaho in a 2 p.m. contest at Kidd Brewer Stadium.