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Appalachian State to Play Georgia State in Crucial Sun Belt Conference Home Game Saturday

By Tim Gardner

Appalachian State looks to avoid a major upset and inch closer to playing for the Sun Belt Conference’s East Division Championship this Saturday, November 17, when the Mountaineers host Georgia State. Kickoff in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) battle is set for 2:30 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time) in Boone’s Kidd Brewer Stadium.

The game will be televised live on ESPN-Plus and via radio airways on the following affiliates: 97.3 FM (North Wilkesboro) – FLAGSHIP; 96.5 FM/1450 AM (Boone); 1270 AM (Gastonia/Charlotte); 1150 AM (Rock Hill, SC/Charlotte); 101.5 FM/600 AM (Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point); 107.7 FM/1450 AM (Hendersonville); and 1350 AM (Asheville).

With home games left against Georgia State (2-8 over-all, 1-5 conference) and Troy (8-2 over-all, 6-0-conference) to close the regular season, Appalachian State (7-2 over-all, 5-1 conference) needs victories over both to clinch the East Division title and earn the right to host the first Sun Belt Championship Game on Dec. 1.

If Troy beats Texas State this week and then defeats Appalachian State, Troy wins the East outright as the Trojans would have the division’s only final unblemished record.

At best, Georgia Southern (4-2 conference; 7-3 over-all) could only tie Troy for first place, but Troy would still be considered first because of beating Georgia Southern. However, Georgia Southern could finish ahead of Appalachian State, but would have to beat Coastal Carolina and Georgia State and also have the Mountaineers lose to both Georgia State and Troy.

If Georgia Southern wins both its remaining games and Appalachian loses one, the two would tie for second place. In that scenario, Georgia Southern would be considered the second place team by virtue of beating Appalachian State 34-14.

Appalachian State also lost to Penn State this year, but beat Charlotte, Gardner-Webb and league foes South Alabama, Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Coastal Carolina and Texas State.

Aside from wins over Kennesaw State and Sun Belt foe LA-Monroe, Georgia State has lost to N.C. State, Memphis, Western Michigan and league opponents Troy, Arkansas State, Coastal Carolina, Texas State and Louisiana-Lafayette.

The Mountaineers have never lost to Georgia State in four previous meetings and defeated the Panthers 31-10 last season on the road.

There’s much familiarity between the head coaches—Appalachian State’s Scott Satterfield and Georgia State’s Shawn Elliott.

When Satterfield moved into college on Aug. 3, 1991, he drove his truck from Hillsborough, NC toward Boone, made a pit stop in Yadkin County, NC and introduced himself to a stranger, Shawn Elliott, who was moving to Boone from Camden, SC. They became summer roommates at Appalachian State, senior co-captains on the 1995 team that went 11-0 in the regular season and assistants together there for eleven seasons (1998-2008). Elliott, who was an All-Southern Conference player in 1995, became an Appalachian State assistant in 1997, a year before Satterfield. Elliott left after the 2009 season, when Satterfield was completing his first year as a Toledo assistant.

Satterfield and Elliott helped lead the Mountaineers to three NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) titles (2005-07).

Appalachian State assistants Mark Ivey (assistant head coach/defensive line) and Shawn Clark (co-offensive coordinator/offensive line) played alongside Satterfield and Elliott from 1994-95.

Elliott will return to his alma mater as a head coach for the first time with a three-year head coaching record of 10-18, including a 9-13 mark with the Panthers.

Satterfield is 48-24 in six years as a head coach–all at Appalachian State. He has led the Mountaineers to a 32-4 mark in their last 36 Sun Belt games, including a 16-1 home record at Kidd Brewer Stadium.

The Mountaineers lead the conference in many categories, including scoring defense (15.8 points), scoring offense (38.2), total defense (277.7 yards), passing defense (154.4), rushing defense (123.2) rushing offense (248.7), sacks allowed (1.22), blocked kicks (six) and kick returns (28.76).

Sophomore Zac Thomas, who returned to the lineup last weekend, leads the Sun Belt in Quarterback Rating (83.7, No. 7 FBS), passing efficiency (152.6, No. 20 FBS) and yards per pass attempt (8.24, No. 24 FBS). His season statistics include: 106-of-169 pass completions for 1,392 yards with 13 touchdowns and only four interceptions.

Leading receiver, sophomore Corey Sutton, is eighth nationally at 19.96 yards per catch. He has 25 catches this season for 499 yards and five touchdowns.

Appalachian State ranks No. 9 nationally at 5.92 yards per rush, No. 13 in rushing yards per game (248.7) and tied for No. 12 in fewest sacks allowed (11).

The sacks allowed statistic as well as its potent rushing game is a direct reflection of solid offensive line play provided by left tackle Victor Johnson, center Noah Hannon, left guard Ryan Neuzil, right tackle Chandler Greer and right guards Baer Hunter and Cole Garrison. Collin Reed also has provided good support from his tight end position.

In conference games, sophomore running back Darrynton Evans is No. 1 in the Sun Belt with 153.3 all-purpose yards per game and No. 2 with 111.2 rushing yards per game (just behind the 111.3 from Troy’s B.J. Smith). Evans became Appalachian State’s primary back during the second league game, after Jalin Moore suffered a season-ending injury, and has 100-yard rushing games against Arkansas State (115), Louisiana-Lafayette (183) and Coastal Carolina (159). He rushed for a 79-yard touchdown at Texas State.

With Moore and Evans, five Appalachian State running backs have a 100-yard game in their careers: Marcus Williams Jr. (twice last year, plus 103 at Coastal), D’Andre Hicks (150 this year) and Daetrich Harrington (118 last year). Appalachian State and Clemson have an FBS-high four backs with 100-yard games this year.

The Mountaineers also have performed well in special teams. Appalachian State and Utah State lead the nation with four special teams’ touchdowns apiece this season. They came on: Darrynton Evans’ 100-yard kick return at Penn State, Thomas Hennigan’s 59-yard punt return versus Charlotte, Steven Jones’ end-zone recovery of his own blocked punt against Gardner-Webb and Clifton Duck’s 62-yard punt return also versus Gardner-Webb.

With Evans and Hennigan back deep, Appalachian State is No. 2 nationally at 28.76 yards per kickoff return.

The Mountaineers also are No. 2 nationally with six blocked kicks (one behind Toledo’s seven) thanks to the work of Jones (two punt blocks), Tae Hayes (two blocked field goals), Demetrius Taylor (one punt block) and Caleb Spurlin (one punt block).

Chandler Staton has booted all 43 extra points and seven-of-nine field goal attempts with a long of 40 this season for the Mountaineers.

Appalachian State’s defense has allowed just single-digit points in six of its last eight games and has given up just 14 second-half points in its seven wins. Those came on single touchdowns by Louisiana-Lafayette and Texas State. The Mountaineers had second-half shutouts of Charlotte, Gardner-Webb, South Alabama, Arkansas State and Coastal Carolina, which scored its first-half touchdown on an interception return.

Appalachian State ranks No. 4 nationally by forcing a three-and-out on 42.7 percent of its defensive possessions. The Mountaineers are seventh with 5.56 three-and-outs forced per game.

With its “Legion of Boone” secondary, Appalachian State is tied for No. 3 nationally with 65 interceptions since the 2015season began. The cornerbacks had an FBS-high 30 picks from 2015-17, and junior Clifton Duck is tied for second with 11 picks since the start of 2016.

Junior outside linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither leads the Apps in tackles with 68, including 5.5 for loss and one sack. He also has made five pass break-ups.

Georgia State also has some big playmakers despite its losing record.

Junior Penny Hart is the Panthers’ leading receiver with 45 catches for 610 yards and two touchdowns, along with 101.7 all-purpose yards per game. He is averaging 21.7 yards per punt return with one touchdown. Hart ranks fourth in Sun Belt history with 2,891 yards receiving and seventh with 199 receptions. With Hart at No. 4, Georgia State has two of the top four all-time receivers in Sun Belt history. Former Panther Robert Davis (2013-16) ranks No. 2 with 3,391 receiving yards.

Georgia State is on pace for the best rushing season in school history, averaging 176.6 yards per game. The Panthers’ 20 rushing touchdowns are already a school record. They are averaging 216.7 rushing yards in conference games.

Over the last three games, the Panthers have rushed for a total of 753 yards, easily the best three-game stretch in school history. Georgia State has averaged 253.0 yards per game and 6.2 yards per carry for the three games.

During the Panthers’ last six games, junior running back Tra Barnett has averaged 76.2 yards per game and 6.3 yards per carry while scoring seven touchdowns.

Playing without starting quarterback Dan Ellington (concussion protocol), Georgia State was within 14-13 after three quarters at Louisiana-Lafayette before the Ragin’ Cajuns scored 20 straight points en route to the 36-22 victory. The Panthers rushed for 252 yards in the game. Georgia State back-up quarterback Aaron Winchester put up numbers that included 121 yards, one touchdown and one pick. Barnett logged 82 yards on 15 carries. Cornelius McCoy was the top Panthers receiver with 60 yards from two grabs.

Ellington is third in the Sun Belt in passing (201.9 yards per game) and total offense (254.2 ypg) while accounting for 14 touchdowns with just two interceptions. His completion rate is 60.5 percent, and he has 1,817 yards passing and 471 net rushing yards.

Brandon Wright is third in the nation with an average of 48.6 yards per punt, which helps Georgia State stand third nationally in net punting at 43.12. His career punting average of 43.3 ranks eighth among active FBS punters.

The Panthers have put up at least 20 points in their last six games and are averaging 25.6 per game this year. But they’ve not consistently stopped opponents, surrendering 36.9 points per outing.

Redshirt junior linebacker Ed Curney anchors Georgia State’s defense. He has made a team-high 69 tackles, including 4.5 for loss and one sack. He also has made a fumble recovery.

Another redshirt junior, safety Remy Lazarus, has added 63 tackles.

Despite their struggles, the Panthers have much offensive firepower and an improving defense. They also showed they can beat good teams, upsetting West Division-leading Louisiana-Monroe in a rout (46-14). However, the Mountaineers are far better than Georgia State. They still should beat the Panthers even if they are looking ahead to next week’s titanic clash with East Division-leading Troy and not play as well as their talent dictates. Prediction: Appalachian State 50, Georgia State 14.