LAFAYETTE, La. — Appalachian State brought its high-octane offense to Louisiana to face the Ragin Cajuns’ high-octane running game, which went into the Oct. 9 Sun Belt Conference showdown leading the nation in average yards per game.
Instead of an offensive showcase, the game took a surprising defensive turn. App State grinded out a 17-7 victory by scoring an insurance touchdown late in the fourth quarter with a drive that went 97 yards, took 19 plays to complete and milked 10:11 off the fourth-quarter clock.
Capping the drive was App State quarterback Zac Thomas, who ran a 7-yard bootleg into the end zone one play after showing the same look, but giving the ball to Darrynton Evans. After Evans gained three yards down to the 7-yard line, the Louisiana defense followed the fake to Evans to the right side of the field on the next play.
That made the left side of the field virtually empty. Thomas ran to his left and scored the touchdown untouched.
Appalachian State converted two fourth-down plays on the drive to set up the score. The first conversion was a 4-yard Thomas run on a fourth-and-four from the Louisiana 34-yard line.
The second was a pass interference penalty called against Louisiana that left the Mountaineers with a first-and-goal at the Cajuns’ 10-yard line.
App State coach Eliah Drinkwitz said on ESPN2, the network that broadcast the game, that Thomas gave him a hint that he was going to keep the ball on the bootleg and called the same play that Evans carried the previous play.
“On that play right before, he came out and looked at me and gave me a wink to call it again because (he was) going to keep it,” Drinkwitz said. “When you have a great player like Zac, you trust him and I trust my players.”
Appalachian State (5-0, 2-0 Sun Belt Conference) is 7-0 against Louisiana (4-1, 1-1 Sun Belt) since joining the Sun Belt Conference in 2014. The Mountaineers beat the Cajuns twice in 2018, first during the regular season and again in the Sun Belt Conference championship game. Both games were played at App State’s Kidd Brewer Stadium.
Appalachian State finished with 343 yards of total offense, including 196 yards rushing. Evans finished with 69 yards rushing and didn’t have a run that was longer than 11 yards. Thomas added 63 yards and turned in the Mountaineers’ longest run of 27 yards.
Thomas completed 11-of-17 passes for 147 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He was sacked twice.
Appalachian State’s other touchdown was the result of a 95-yard touchdown drive scored again by a 7-yard touchdown Thomas run with 5:05 left in the first quarter. A 47-yard pass Thomas-to-Corey Sutton helped set up the drive, which lasted seven plays.
The pass play and a 28-yard Thomas run gave the Mountaineers a first-and-10 at the Louisiana 17.
Appalachian State’s defense, which has taken some heat from Mountaineers’ fans, was able to keep the Louisiana offense in check. The Cajuns were limited to just 123 rushing yards, a big difference from the 314.0 yards per game they averaged in their first five games this season.
Louisiana also was third in the nation with 1,570 rushing yards and was second to Oklahoma with 7.3 yards per carry. The 22 rushing touchdowns the Cajuns scored was tied with SMU for the most in the nation this season.
The Cajuns settled for 123 yards on the ground and 254 yards of total offense against the App State defense. Elijah Mitchell led the Cajuns in rushing with 68 yards on 13 carries, while Raymond Calais was held to 47 yards on nine carries. Trey Ragas added 24 yards on seven totes.
All three runners have turned in at least one 100-yard rushing performance this season.
“It’s a total team win,” Drinkwitz said. “I couldn’t be more proud of this group.”
Louisiana was forced to punt six times, which turned into a weapon since four of the punts were inside the 10-yard line. The Cajuns’ first punt was downed inches outside of the end zone.
The Cajuns scored their lone touchdown late in the third quarter when Mitchell scored from 16 yards out. The touchdown tied the game going into halftime 7-7, but App State kept the Cajuns out of the end zone on several key occasions.
One drive before the Cajuns scored their touchdown, they drove from their own 35-yard line down to the App State 1-yard line. But, the Appalachian State defense kept the Cajuns out of the end zone on three straight plays and then made it a fourth when Mitchell was stopped just short of the end zone by Noel Cook and Akeem Davis-Gaither.
App State also blocked a 42-yard Louisiana field goal, which set up a Chandler Staton field goal from 40 yards, which gave the Mountaineers a 10-7 lead.
“We had a goal line stand, we had a blocked field goal, those guys were unbelievable,” Drinkwitz said. “We had a sack that pushed them out of field goal range. Those guys played their (rear ends) off. Coach (Ted) Roof did an outstanding job along with the rest of his staff.”
Appalachian State 17, Louisiana 7
Appalachian State 7 0 3 7 — 17
Louisiana 0 7 0 0 — 7
App—Thomas 7 run (Staton kick)
La—Ralston 14 pass from Lewis (Artigue kick)
App—Staton FG 40
App—Thomas 7 run (Staton kick)
App State Louisiana
First downs 21 16
By rushing 12 6
By passing 8 8
By penalty 1 2
Rushes-yards 53-196 33-123
Avg. per rush 3.7 3.7
Passing yards 229 154
Passes 11-17-0 13-24-0
Avg. per att. 8.6 5.5
Avg. per comp 13.4 10.1
Total plays-yards 70-343 57-254
Avg. per play 4.9 4.5
Fumbles-lost 0-0 0-0
Penalties-yards 3-42 4-30
Punts-avg. 6-41.0 6-49.3
Net avg. 36.7 46.2
Time of poss. 34:38 25:22
Third-down conv. 7-16 4-13
Fourth-down conv. 1-1 0-2
Rushing: App State—Evans 22-69, Thomas 15-63, Anderson 3-30, Harrington 5-18, Williams 7-17, TEAM 1-(-1); Louisiana—Mitchell 13-68, Calais 9-47, Ragas 7-24, Lewis 4 (-16).
Passing: App State—Thomas 11-17-0 147; Louisiana—Lewis 13-24-0 131.
Receiving: App State—Williams 4-45, Hennigan 4-30, Sutton 2-58, Pearson 1-14; Louisiana—Jackson 5-68, Mitchell 2-10, Bradley 1-15, Ralston 1-14, Ragas 1-12, Bell 1-11, LeBlanc 1-3, Gossett 1-(-2).