BOONE — Appalachian State head football coach Scott Satterfield has said before that the Mountaineers have seen plenty of “firsts” during the past four years.
Appalachian State picked up another first Dec. 1 on a drizzly day at Kidd Brewer Stadium. This time, the Mountaineers captured a 30-19 victory over visiting Louisiana in the inaugural Sun Belt Conference Championship game.
The Mountaineers improved to 10-2 overall this season and earned a bid into the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, which is given to the Sun Belt champion. Louisiana (7-6) will play in the AutoNation Cure Bowl in Orlando, Fla. Both games are Dec. 15.
App State won a share of the 2017 and 2016 Sun Belt championships, but having a championship game allowed the Mountaineers to claim the 2018 title alone.
“They can’t say we shared this one,” Satterfield said. “This one is outright, so we’re very excited about that.”
Satterfield acknowledged that not the entire win was beautiful, but the Mountaineers never trailed after taking a 7-3 lead on a Marcus Williams 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
Yet, the Mountaineers had just 10 yards rushing, and minus five yards passing, giving them five total yards after one quarter of play. Things started to pick up for the Mountaineers, who were outgained by Louisiana 301-300 in total yardage.
App State running back Darrynton Evans, who finished with 111 yards rushing on 17 carries, was named the Most Valuable Player of the game, but did not make his mark on the game until after Louisiana’s first possession, which ended in a 37-yard Kyle Pfau field goal.
Evans returned the ensuing kickoff to the Ragin Cajuns’ 1-yard line. Williams did the rest by scoring a 1-yard touchdown, but Evans’ impact was made.
“I really was waiting for the ball to go out of bounds, but it took a weird bounce, so I’ve got to field it,” Evans said. “The guys up front did a good job blocking. I saw a hole and I just hit it.”
Appalachian State was forced to run the ball a lot since its passing game struggled. App State quarterback Zac Thomas completed just 6-of-13 passes for 75 yards, but ran for 59 yards on nine carries and scored touchdown runs of 25 yards in the second quarter and 35 yards in the fourth.
Thomas scored his 35-yarder with Appalachian State facing a fourth-and-one situation. In the third quarter, App State faced fourth-and-one at its own 34-yard line, but Evans was stopped for no gain.
Louisiana converted with a 23-yard field goal, which closed App State’s lead to 17-16. It was the third of four Pfau field goals.
“It was not pretty at times today,” Satterfield said. “My hat is off to Louisiana-Lafayette the way they played. They’re coached well and they’ve gotten better throughout the season. They’re a tough team to play, so what our guys did was kept fighting. We knew it was going to be a 60-minute game, so we kept fighting all the way until the end and we pulled it off at the end.”
Louisiana’s running game showed signs of life when the Ragin Cajuns were driving the ball, but Louisiana struggled turning drives into touchdowns. Louisiana got an 8-yard touchdown from quarterback Andre Nunez with 10:34 left in the third quarter, but had to settle for four field goals with only one being longer than 40 yards.
Trey Ragas finished with 101 yards on 16 carries and Elijah Mitchell gained 85 yards on the ground on 17 carries. Neither scored a touchdown.
“Today, basically what kept us in the game was great plays and some great stops,” Louisiana coach Billy Napier said. “We were able to get them off the field quite a bit. They gave the ball back to us numerous times, but ultimately we were unable to take advantage of those opportunities on offense.”
Nunez completed 10-of-21 passes for 85 yards and two interceptions, including a Tae Hayes pick that stopped a Louisiana drive and set up Thomas’ 35-yard TD run.
“It was big time, but I can’t even take the credit for it,” Hayes said. “Coach (Bryan) Brown made a good call on it. He knew what they were about to do. It was my job to go out and execute it.”
Appalachian State 30, Louisiana 19
Louisiana 3 3 10 3 — 19
Appalachian State 7 7 6 10 — 30
LA. Pfau FG 37
App—Williams 1 run (Staton kick)
LA—Pfau FG 45
App—Thomas 25 run (Staton kick)
App—Staton FG 42
LA—Nunez 8 run (Pfau kick)
LA Pfau FG 23
App—Staton FG 42
App—Thomas 35 run
LA—Pfau FG 24
App—Staton FG 43
Louisiana App State
First downs 16 13
By rushing 10 8
By passing 5 4
By penalty 1 1
Rushes-yards 44-216 44-225
Avg. per rush 4.9 5.1
Passing yards 85 75
Passes 10-22-2 6-13-0
Avg. per att. 3.9 5.8
Avg. per comp. 8.5 12.5
Total plays-yards 66-301 57-300
Avg. per play 4.6 5.3
Penalties-yards 5-35 4-35
Punts-avg. 3-47.3 4-46.2
Net avg. 46.3 44.8
Fumbles-lost 0-0 0-0
Third down conv. 6-15 3-12
Fourth down conv. 1-2 1-2
Time of poss, 31:24 28:30
Rushing: Louisiana—Ragas 16-101, Mitchell 17-85, Nunez 4-18, Lewis 3-15, Calais 2-2, TEAM 1-(-2), Malone 1-(-3); App State—Evans 17-111, Thomas 9-73, Williams 15-54, Heath 1-5, TEAM 2-(-4).
Passing: Louisiana—Nunez 10-21-2 85, Lewis 0-1-0 0; App State—Thomas 6-13-0 75.
Receiving: Louisiana—Bradley 4-41, Ragas 2-26, Malone 2-7, Barnes 1-6, Jackson 1-5; App State—Sutton 2-23, Reed 2-23, Williams 1-34, Heath 1-(-5).