Evans in 2018

Appalachian State’s Darrynton Evans, running the ball against Louisiana in the 2018 Sun Belt Conference championship game, returns for the 2019 showdown with the Ragin Cajuns.

Appalachian State and Louisiana are starting to become familiar opponents on the football field.

The two teams face each other in the Sun Belt Conference Championship game at noon on Dec. 7 at Kidd Brewer Stadium. It will be the second straight time the pair have played each other in the conference championship game.

Overall, Appalachian State will play Louisiana for the fourth time in two seasons. App State is 3-0 in previous meetings, including a 17-7 victory over the Ragin Cajuns during the 2019 regular season.

App State head coach Eliah Drinkwitz could sense that the Louisiana game could mean more than just a football game. Drinkwitz said he received a Twitter message suggesting an annual trophy be the prize of the team that wins the regular-season game played between the teams.

This week, the teams are playing for the league championship trophy, which has the attention of Drinkwitz and Louisiana coach Billy Napier.

“I responded yes, the Sun Belt championship trophy,” Drinkwitz said of the tweet. “That’s what it’s come down to. I think everybody knows what the game is about. It’s about winning the Sun Belt Conference championship and it’s been a team we’ve played (three) times, so there’s going to be a natural want-to-get-it-done (feel).”

Appalachian State has dominated the overall series 7-0 since joining the Sun Belt Conference in 2014. The Mountaineers cruised to a 63-14 win over the Cajuns in 2017, which was the last time the teams played a single game in a season.

The Mountaineers added a 27-17 win during the 2018 regular season and a 30-19 win over the Cajuns in the first conference championship game ever played.

Napier, who faced App State as a Furman quarterback in the Southern Conference, said the Cajuns are a different team than the one the Mountaineers faced in 2018.

“We’ve added some pieces, but we’re really just much more familiar with what we’re doing in all three phases,” Napier said. “We communicate better, we process quicker, therefore we play faster. We execute better, and I think a lot of it has to do with having a better and more thorough understanding of what’s going on out there.”

Appalachian State reeled off two drives that were longer than 90 yards to beat the Cajuns during this season. App State quarterback Zac Thomas scored on a 7-yard run that capped a 95-yard, seven-play drive in the first quarter that gave the Mountaineers a 7-0 lead.

The Mountaineers added another 7-yard Thomas touchdown run with 1:55 left in the fourth quarter that capped a 19-play, 97-yard drive that clinched the Appalachian State win.

Drinkwitz did not know if the Mountaineers would need two long drives to beat the Cajuns again and would let the game dictate how the Mountaineers would find a way to win.

Both teams have been able to put the ball into the end zone. App State finished the regular season averaging 38.9 points per game, which leads the Sun Belt Conference. Louisiana is just behind them by scoring 38.8 points per game, but averages a league-leading 500.3 yards per game.

“Every game takes on a nature of its own,” Drinkwitz said. “I’m trying not to have any preconceived idea on what style of game this is going to be. Obviously, you never know what the weather’s going to be. You never know what the score will indicate. It may predicate that we may have to score more, if it’s based on us being ahead or us being behind. I’m not going to try to dictate the style of play. The game is going to play itself out.”

The Cajuns are on a collision course with the Mountaineers when it comes to running the football. Louisiana led the conference by rushing 274.2 yards per game, while Appalachian State led the conference in rushing defense by limiting teams to 134.3 ground yards per game.

App State also led the Sun Belt in total defense by allowing a league low 321.2 yards per game. Louisiana is second in the conference in total defense by allowing 369.8 yard each game.

“Maybe you took some things away from them last time, there’s always a little bit of a chess match relative to what you had success with and what you didn’t have success with, the right mix of those things,” Napier said. “I think both teams have got a good identity, I think that’s one of the reasons we’re in the championship game.”

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