Sun Belt champions

From left, App State’s Darrynton Evans, Akeem Davis-Gaither, Elijah Diarrossouba and Jordan Fehr celebrate their 2019 Sun Belt Championship win over Louisiana.

BOONE — A record-breaking season marked by firsts ends with more history — Top 25 rankings in both major polls for App State football.

The Mountaineers (13-1) are No. 18 in the final Amway Coaches Poll of the 2019 college football season and No. 19 in the final AP Top 25. They finished with the best record among the nation’s Group of Five conference teams — and tied for the third-best record nationally — while winning a fourth straight Sun Belt Conference title and improving their bowl record to 5-0.

After totaling the 26th-most voting points in the final AP poll of the 2018 season, App State becomes the first Sun Belt team to conclude a season in the Top 25, and it has claimed the top spot among FBS teams from North Carolina for the second straight year. The Mountaineers’ first-ever appearances in the season-ending Top 25 polls double as their highest FBS rankings and the highest final rankings by a North Carolina team since UNC closed the 2015 season at No. 15 in both polls.

Whether it was securing a breakthrough win on a block of a game-ending field goal at UNC, the Black and Gold masses cheering the Mountaineers on to a dramatic victory against South Carolina in a lively SEC venue or another December coronation transpiring with a pair of postseason triumphs, 2019 served as a year to remember for everyone associated with App State.

Drawing big crowds to Kidd Brewer Stadium and attention from college football followers across the country, the Mountaineers led the league in home attendance and set a program record by playing seven games on national television.

App State led the nation in road wins en route to the only 6-0 road record among FBS teams in 2019, and it was the only G5 team with four victories against teams in the top 45 of the ESPN Football Power Index. In addition to the road victories at North Carolina and South Carolina, the Mountaineers beat an 11-win Louisiana team on the road and then again at home in the Sun Belt title game.

The ranking of No. 18 in the Coaches poll put App State one spot ahead of Michigan and one spot behind No. 17 Memphis, the top-ranked G5 team in both polls. There were seven G5 teams in each final poll, with App State finishing ahead of Navy, Cincinnati, Air Force, Boise State and UCF.

Even with two Power Five conference teams on the schedule, App State still ranked No. 7 nationally and No. 1 among G5 programs with an average scoring margin of plus-17.5 points per game against FBS competition. The Mountaineers enjoyed many one-sided wins with a balanced team that ranked No. 9 nationally in scoring offense (38.8 points), No. 21 in scoring defense (20.0 points) and tied for No. 2 with five blocked kicks by their special teams.

App State became just the fifth program in major college football history to send its fifth-year seniors out with five bowl wins and four conference titles, joining Nebraska (1969-73), Alabama (1975-79), Florida State (1991-95) and Marshall (1998-2002). The 54-12 overall record accomplished in the last five seasons is the fifth-best mark in the country during that span, trailing just Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma.

What an ending for fifth-year players Akeem Davis-Gaither, Desmond Franklin, Victor Johnson, Collin Reed and Josh Thomas, as well as fourth-year seniors such as Jordan Fehr and Noel Cook, who won a Sun Belt title every year they were in Boone.

They were all part of the first FBS team from the state of North Carolina to win more than 11 games in a season. With 13 victories in 2019, App State had five more than the second-best total in the state.

The Mountaineers’ 7-0 start included the rare visit to Chapel Hill, where App State built a 27-10 lead in its 34-31 win, and a 17-7 road victory against a Louisiana team that finished the season with the nation’s sixth-best rushing attack.

The six-game winning streak to close the year began with the 20-15 victory at South Carolina, highlighted by yet another defensive touchdown against a P5 opponent. Playing host to the Sun Belt Championship Game for the second straight year, App State established a 42-17 lead in a 45-38 win against Louisiana before scoring 31 of the final 34 points in a 31-17 victory against UAB in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. That win doubled as the head coaching debut for App State alum Shawn Clark.

The 2019 team from App State made history as the first Sun Belt team to:

  • Start a season with a 7-0 record
  • Beat two Power Five teams in one season
  • Receive a College Football Playoff in-season ranking
  • Win 11 games in a regular season
  • Win more than 11 games in a full season
  • Be ranked in the Top 25 on multiple occasions
  • Win a game as a Top 25 team
  • Be ranked in the Top 25 in consecutive weeks
  • Be ranked in the Top 20
  • Finish a season with a 6-0 road record
  • End a season with a Top 25 ranking

App State played eight games in 2019 with a Top 25 ranking in either the AP or Coaches poll, and it has received votes in 20 straight weeks of the AP poll.

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