Budding Rivalry Between App State, Arkansas State Should Settle First Place In Sun Belt

Published Thursday, November 5, 2015 at 9:08 am
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Another raucous Thursday night crowd is expected at The Rock on Thursday night when Appalachian State hosts one of the biggest games in Sun Belt Conference history versus Arkansas State. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. Courtesy: Will Phillips (Appalachian State Football Video)

By David Coulson

Appalachian State and Arkansas State will be meeting for only the second time on Thursday night when the Red Wolves come to Kidd Brewer Stadium for a 7:30 p.m. game that should decide the Sun Belt Conference football championship and will be televised nationally on ESPNU.

Despite the team’s short rivalry history, the animosity between the sides is already starting to run deeper than the fact that the two programs share the same abbreviation, ASU.

Arkansas State players and fans are still feeling the sting of last year’s 37-32 home loss to the Mountaineers last season and have issued a series of bulletin-board material in the run-up to Thursday’s game that has been less than respectful to Appalachian.

And the stakes for the game can only add to the tension.

Appalachian (7-1 overall, 4-0 in league) and Arkansas State (5-3, 4-0) are the last two teams standing undefeated in conference play and Thursday’s contest will mark only the second time that two undefeated clubs have met this late in the season to settle the Sun Belt race.

On Nov. 16, 2002, North Texas held off New Mexico State 38-27 on its way to the Sun Belt title and a 24-19 win over Cincinnati in the New Orleans Bowl.

Should the Mountaineers win on Thursday, they have a manageable schedule with Idaho on the road, Louisiana-Lafayette at home and a game at South Alabama the rest of the way — three middle-of-the-pack conference opponents.

But App State must rebound after nearly stubbing its toe to Troy last Saturday, the Mountaineers recovering in time for a 44-41 triple-overtime victory at Kidd Brewer Stadium. It was the longest game in the facility’s history and was the first home overtime victory ever for Appalachian.

The Mountaineers gave up a season-high 450 yards of total offense to the 2-6 Trojans and their injury-battered offensive line — missing sophomore tackle Beau Nunn due to an ankle injury believed to be season-ending — was riddled by three sacks and numerous penalties.

“Everyone in the country is dealing with injuries when you get to this point in the season,” said Appalachian coach Scott Satterfield. “Whoever is healthy enough to play, they’d better be ready to play.”

On top of that, both Appalachian and Arkansas State are dealing with a short week of preparation.

“We don’t have a choice,” Satterfield added. “We’ve got to to roll, we’ve got to go. We’re playing for a championship. That’s our mindset.”

Appalachian still ranks eighth nationally in points allowed per game (15.6) and is 12th in total defense (298.6 yards per contest), but Arkansas State supporters were bragging that they can exploit the Sun Belt’s top defense in the same way that Troy did.

Arkansas State has grown accustom to Sun Belt titles and bowl appearances, winning, or sharing in three conference championships from 2011-13 and making four straight bowl appearances.

But last year’s loss to the Mountaineers — where the Red Wolves blew a 20-6 first-half lead — knocked Arkansas State out of contention for the league crown and Appalachian State has the chance to duplicate that feat again this season.

Arkansas State is also coming off a scare, rallying at home from a 34-27 deficit to Georgia State before winning 48-34.

The Red Wolves return the All-Sun Belt first-team quarterback in Fredi Knighten and the dual-threat signal-caller has led his team to an average of 35.8 points per game (30th nationally), with J.J. McKissic as his favorite target at wide receiver.

McKissic entered the season as the leader in the nation in career receptions, with 237 — the most in Arkansas State history. But the Red Wolves have struggled in the passing game this season with only an average of 185 passing yards per game (104th nationally).

Arkansas State is 16th best in rushing (224 yards per contest), but is averaging nearly 50 yards per game less than the time-consuming Appalachian run attack.

The Red Wolves haven’t been helped statistically by losing non-conference games to USC, Missouri and Toledo. The lone non-conference win for Arkansas State was a 70-7 blowout of a poor Football Championship Subdivision squad, Missouri State.

Balance has been the key for the Mountaineers on offense as they attempt to win their seventh consecutive game and their 13th of the past 14 dating back to the middle of last season. The only loss during that time was a 41-10 defeat to No. 1 Clemson.

Appalachian is one of only four teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision to be ranked in the top 25 nationally on both total offense (23rd at 475.8 yards per game) and total defense (12th, allowing 298.6 yards a contest).

Throwing the statistics aside, the Mountaineers know what is at stake in this game.

“It doesn’t matter who the hero is as long as you get the victory,” said running back Marcus Cox. “We know our season comes down to this. There is a lot on our plate.”

GAME INFO

THURSDAY GAMEDAY INFORMATION
For the second time in three weeks, Appalachian State is excited to welcome App Nation to our campus for another nationally televised Sun Belt Conference football showdown versus Arkansas State. One of the biggest games in Sun Belt history kicks off Thursday at 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU.

The faculty, staff and students who comprise the parking committee thank the campus community, fans and the Town of Boone for partnering with us to navigate the first Thursday night football game held on our campus on Oct. 22 versus Georgia Southern. The committee met last week to review and discuss opportunities for improvement. We thank everyone for following the parking plan and offering solutions for improvement.

Fully updated Thursday gameday information can be found HERE.

We’re looking forward to putting App Nation and Gameday at The Rock on display once again for college football fans across the country on Thursday night! See you at The Rock!

TICKETS 
Tickets still remain available for Thursday’s showdown. Tickets can be purchased in one of four ways:

  • ONLINE by clicking HERE;
  • BY PHONE at (828) 262-2079 (Thursday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.);
  • IN PERSON at the Appalachian State athletics ticket office, located at the Holmes Center (Thursday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.);
  • IN PERSON at the Kidd Brewer Stadium ticket plaza, located near the Welcome to The Rock monument at the corner of Stadium Drive and Jack Branch Drive on the northeast side of the stadium (beginning Thursday at 4:30 p.m.).

PROMOTIONSHEROES DAY
Appalachian State will honor our Heroes (military personnel, first responders and veterans) with special events and promotions before and during Thursday night’s game. Click HERE for a full list of Heroes Day promotions and special events.

Ticket Specials for Heroes
• All Heroes (military personnel, first responders and veterans) will receive FREE admission with valid ID.
• Heroes’ family members will be admitted for the special rate of just $17.
• Free and discounted Heroes tickets are available by phone and in person.

Under The Lights Family Four Pack
All fans can purchase four prime reserved tickets for just $99 (a savings of up to $49). The Under The Lights Family Four Pack is available online, by phone and in person.

Student Group Challenge
The top student organizations with the highest percent attendance in designated categories at the Arkansas State game on Thursday, November 5, will receive an exclusive locker room tour and a facility tour with a chalk talk by the Appalachian State coaching staff.

TV
Thursday’s game will be televised nationally on ESPNU (play-by-play: Roy Philpott, analyst: Jay Walker). ESPNU is available in 73,594,000 homes across the nation. Check your local listings for channel in your area.

The game can also be seen online at WatchESPN.com or on the WatchESPN app. WatchESPN is available is available in over 100 million homes nationwide. WatchESPN is also available through Xbox LIVE and on smartphones, tablets and Apple TV via the WatchESPN app. Check with your internet or mobile service provider to see if you receive WatchESPN programming.

RADIO
Saturday’s game can be heard across North Carolina on the 17-station Appalachian IMG Sports Network (click HERE for a list of network affiliates).

Coverage begins on the Appalachian IMG Sports Network with Pigskin Prelude at 5:30 p.m.

PREVIEWING THURSDAY’S MATCHUP
• Thursday’s game marks only the second time in Sun Belt history that two teams with undefeated records in conference play are meeting this late in the calendar year. 

• The only other time that two teams with unblemished Sun Belt records met this late in a season came on Nov. 16, 2002 when North Texas (5-5, 4-0 Sun Belt) played New Mexico State (6-4, 4-0 Sun Belt). The Mean Green defeated the Aggies, 38-27.

• The Mountaineers and Red Wolves are the last two remaining teams that are undefeated in Sun Belt play this season.

• Appalachian State has won 10-straight Sun Belt games, good for the fourth-longest conference winning streak in Sun Belt history.

• Appalachian’s 10-game Sun Belt winning streak includes an impressive 37-32 triumph at Arkansas State on Nov. 15 of last season. The Mountaineers dominated the action for much of the afternoon, jumping out to a 37-20 lead before withstanding a late A-State run to hold on for the victory.

• The Mountaineers have also won six-straight games overall and 13 of their last 14 contests, dating back to the midpoint of last season.

• Appalachian State’s’ 7-1 start this season is the best record ever for a Sun Belt Conference team through eight games.

• App State moved to 7-1 with last Saturday’s 44-41 triple-overtime victory over Troy.

• Despite surrendering 41 points and a season-high 450 yards in the win over Troy, Appalachian State is the only NCAA Division I FBS team that ranks among the nation’s top 15 in both scoring defense (8th – 15.6 ppg) and total offense (15th – 38.8 ppg).

• The Mountaineers are one of only four FBS teams that rank among the top 25 nationally in both total defense (12th – 298.6 ypg) and total offense (23rd – 475.8 ypg).

• Appalachian State continues to lead the Sun Belt Conference in scoring and total defense and scoring and total offense.

• Arkansas State also survived an upset-minded opponent last Saturday when it came back from a 34-27 fourth-quarter deficit to defeat Georgia State, 48-34.

• This week’s game is Appalachian State’s second Thursday home game in three weeks against an undefeated Sun Belt foe. The Mountaineers ended Georgia Southern’s 11-game conference winning streak when it belted the Eagles, 31-13, on ESPNU on Thursday, Oct. 22.

For all of the information on Saturday’s matchup, including links to live video, audio and stats, both teams’ rosters, depth charts, game notes and much more, click HERE to visit appstatesports.com’s official Gameday Central page.a

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