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Apps Beat Ragin’ Cajuns 30-19 to Win Inaugural Sun Belt Conference Championship

By Tim Gardner

Most Valuable Player Darrynton Evans had 218 all-purpose yards, including 111 rushing and a 97-yard kickoff return, and quarterback Zac Thomas made up for an off day throwing the ball, by running for two touchdowns as the Appalachian State Mountaineers defeated Louisiana-Lafayette 30-19 Saturday in Boone’s Kidd Brewer Stadium to claim their first outright Sun Belt Conference Championship.

Thomas completed only 6-of-13 passes for 75 yards and was sacked three times, but scored on runs of 25 and 35 yards.

Appalachian State (10-2) gave another gritty defensive performance, surrendering only one touchdown while forcing the Ragin’ Cajuns (7-6) to kick four field goals.

The victory gives the Mountaineers at least 10 wins for the third time in the last four seasons. They finished 11-2 in 2015 and 10-3 the next year (2016). They also earned a share of the Sun Belt title in both 2016 (with Arkansas State) and 2017 (with Troy).

In this battle of the league’s East Division champions (Appalachian State) and the West Division champions (Louisiana-Lafayette), Appalachian State kept its record against Louisiana-Lafayette perfect. The Mountaineers also defeated the Ragin’ Cajuns 27-17 in Boone on Oct. 20, and own a 6-0 lead in the series.

As conference champions, the Mountaineers will receive a berth in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Dec. 15. That game will be played against a Conference USA team and will have a 9:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST) kickoff. It will be nationally televised on ESPN.

After Kyle Pfau kicked a 37-yard field goal to give the Ragin’ Cajuns a 3-0 lead with 10:13 left in the opening quarter, Evans set up Marcus Williams’ 1-yard touchdown run just 17 seconds later with his return from the Appalachian State 2 to the Louisiana-Lafayette 1-yard line.

Chandler Staton kicked the extra point after Williams, Jr.’s score as the Mountaineers led 7-3.

Pfau kicked a 45-yard field goal with 8:17 remaining in the second quarter to pull Louisiana-Lafayette within a point at 7-6.

The Mountaineers then drove 75 yards for a touchdown exactly five minutes later. Taking advantage of a block by Evans that opened a running lane, Thomas darted 25 yards for the score with 3:17 left in the half. Staton added the conversion kick to put Appalachian State up 14-6.

Raymond Calais returned the ensuing kickoff 45 yards for Louisiana-Lafayette. But Appalachian State safety Josh Thomas intercepted quarterback Andre Nunez’s pass at the Mountaineers’ 33-yard line to stop the scoring threat by the Ragin’ Cajuns.

Appalachian State then increased its lead to 17-6 with 12:19 left in the third quarter on a 42-yard field goal by Staton.

But the Ragin’ Cajuns quickly answered the score on their next possession. Calais returned the kickoff 61 yards and Nunez then ran eight yards for a touchdown with 10:34 left in the period. Pfau kicked the point-after as the Mountaineers’ lead shrunk to 17-13.

A fourth-and-1 stop by Louisiana-Lafayette’s defense at the Mountaineers’ 34 led to a 23-yard field goal by Pfau with five minutes remaining in the quarter that pulled the Ragin’ Cajuns to within a point at 17-16.

Staton then kicked his second 42-yard field goal on the last play of the quarter to push Appalachian State’s lead to 20-16.

Appalachian State linebacker Anthony Flory’s pressure keyed cornerback Tae Hayes’ interception of a deep throw by Nunez, and Hayes returned the ball 32 yards to the Louisiana-Lafayette 44 to set up another score.

Stopped on an earlier fourth-and-short play, the Mountaineers were fourth-and-inches at the Louisiana 35 when Thomas faked a handoff to Evans and then dashed for his second touchdown with 11:43 left to play. Staton added the point-after as the Mountaineers increased their cushion to 27-16.

But the Ragin’ Cajuns then drove 60 yards and, after Appalachian State safety Austin Exford stopped a third-and-goal run from the 3 for a four-yard loss, Pfau nailed a 24-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 27-19 with 6:01 remaining.

Thomas started the next series by spinning away from pressure and hitting a wide-open Williams Jr. in the left flat with a pass that gained 34 yards. Williams, Jr. then carried the ball three consecutive times for 17 yards to put Appalachian State in field goal range. Staton then kicked his longest field goal of the season–43 yards–with 2:09 left to make the score 30-19 and seal the win.

Appalachian State cornerback Clifton Duck broke up a fourth-down pass with 1:23 left as the Mountaineer team and all their enthusiasts present, watching on ESPN television, listening via radio airways or finding out through other means, began their championship celebration.

Flory finished with a game-high 11 tackles, while his fellow-Appalachian State linebacker Jordan Fehr had 10 tackles. Hayes made nine tackles.

Complete game statistics may be obtained online by logging onto the following link: https://appstatesports.com/boxscore.aspx?path=football&id=5915