By Tim Gardner
Another season and another conference championship for the Appalachian State University Football Mountaineers. After Saturday’s dramatic 45-38 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette, the Mountaineers have now won at least a share of the last four Sun Belt championships. That includes the past two conference’s two championship games, which were both held at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone.
This season, Appalachian State used a three-touchdown performance from game Most Valuable Player Darrynton Evans, a running game that that powered for 267 yards and a defense that forced three turnovers to produce the win.
The Mountaineers (12-1) have won at least nine games in every season since 2015, and that includes at least 10 wins in four of the last five seasons.
Appalachian State, which also secured the first 12-win season ever for the Sun Belt and for a major college football bowl-subdivision school from the state of North Carolina, jumped to a 21-7 lead by the end of the first period.
On the Mountaineers’ first drive, they scored a 58-yard touchdown on a screen pass from quarterback Zac Thomas to Evans. Chandler Staton added the PAT kick.
Appalachian State’s first defensive series ended with a forced fumble and recovery by nose tackle E.J. Scott, setting up a second touchdown by Evans–this one on an 8-yard run. Staton added the point-after. Evans then scored his third touchdown of the quarter (and game) soon after, catching a 5-yard pass from Thomas. Staton again made the point-after kick.
The Mountaineers converted on two fourth-down attempts during that possession.
Louisiana-LaFayette’s first score was a 37-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Levi Lewis to Peter LeBlanc. Stevie Artigue made the extra-point kick.
Marcus Williams dashed for a 29-yard touchdown and Staton followed with the PAT to boost the Mountaineers to a 28-7 lead.
Then, a goal-line run fake gave Lewis an easy 1-yard touchdown pass to Elijah Mitchell for the Ragin’ Cajuns. Artigue added the conversion kick to pull the Ragin’ Cajuns to within 28-14.
Appalachian State pushed its cushion to 35-14 on a Daetrich Harrington 25-yard touchdown run and Staton’s point-after kick.
The Ragin’ Cajuns (10-3) got a 53-yard field goal from Artigue with three seconds remaining in the half to close the deficit to 35-17.
Artigue also missed a 39-yard field goal in the second quarter.
By halftime, Appalachian State had rushed for 224 on 31 carries, a 7.2 yard-per-carry average.
In the third quarter, the Mountaineers forced turnovers on consecutive Louisiana-LaFayette drives. Outside linebacker Noel Cook forced a fumble at the Appalachian State-29 and safety Desmond Franklin scooped up the loose ball. Then on a second-and-8 at the Ragin’ Cajuns 11-yard line, Appalachian State safety Josh Thomas intercepted Lewis and returned the ball 16-yards for a touchdown. Staton followed with the point-after, providing a 42-17 lead.
Louisiana-LaFayette scored out of another play-action set on a 2-yard pass from Lewis to Ja’Mar Bradley. Artigue made the extra point kick as the score closed to 42-24.
Staton kicked a 35-yard field goal with 8:16 remaining to push the Mountaineers to a 45-24 cushion.
Thomas, the Mountaineers starting quarterback, was sacked late in the third quarter, fumbling the ball to give Louisiana-LaFayette the ball at the Appalachian State 12. But the Mountaineers did not surrender any points off the turnover, finishing with a Demetrius Taylor sack and an intentional grounding penalty against Lewis on the play.
Louisiana-LaFayette then rallied, scoring two touchdowns in the final five minutes. Mitchell made a 1-yard touchdown run and Peter LeBlanc caught a 38-yard touchdown pass from Lewis. Artigue made both point-after’s.
Ken Almendares then tried an onside kickoff for the Ragin’ Cajuns, with the ball going 17 yards and out-of-bounds at the Appalachian State 47. An offsides penalty against Louisiana-LaFayette was declined by the Mountaineers, who then ran out the game clock.
The Mountaineers will next play their last game of this season in a bowl game. The program has won four straight bowl games — the Camellia Bowl in 2015 and 2016, the Dollar General Bowl in 2017 and the New Orleans Bowl in 2018.