By David Rogers. November 17, 2018. BOONE, NC — Hollywood writers could hardly have crafted a better script: two Sun Belt gridiron titans will meet next week in a final regular season game to decide not only who wins the East Division title, but also the right to host the first ever Sun Belt Football Championship game.
COVER IMAGE: Freshman tight end Henry Pearson completes his hurdle over a Georgia State defensive back to high step it into the end zone. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
While Troy edged Texas State in Alabama on Saturday, 12-7, Appalachian State dismantled Georgia State, 45-17, in front of 22,315 mostly Mountaineer fans at Kidd-Brewer Stadium.
It was a balanced Mountaineer offense and stifling defensive performance that did in the Panthers of Georgia State. Sophomore quarterback Zac Thomas completed 20-of-24 passes for 282 yards and three touchdowns (a 223.3 rating) to lead App State’s highly efficient offense, while a quartet of Mountaineers rushed for a combined 228 net yards and two more TDs.
For App State, sophomore wide receiver Corey Sutton is proving to be Thomas’ go-to guy on the other end of his “big play” aerials. Sutton finished the game with just four receptions, but good enough for 101 yards of gridiron real estate, including one TD. But no fewer than nine Mountaineer receivers caught passes — a reflection of the depth and breadth of App State’s passing attack even in a run-first offensive scheme.
And run they did. Sophomore running back Darrynton Evans carried the ball 15 times for 127 yards and a touchdown, his longest a 56-yard sprint through much of the Panthers’ defense early in the fourth quarter to expand the Mountaineer lead to 45-10.
An emerging star in Appalachian’s offensive attack is freshman tight end Henry Pearson, who caught three timely passes but none more memorable than a 10-yard catch-and-run late in the first quarter. After bringing in the Thomas pass outside of the right hashmarks, the big 6-3, 243-pound Pearson turned upfield and hurdled clear of a would-be Georgia State tackler near the 5-yard line before high-stepping into the end zone. Pearson finished with three receptions for 36 yards, including the TD.
Appalachian’s “turn out the lights, the party’s over” moment came with just over eight minutes remaining in the third quarter. Georgia State’s junior dual-threat quarterback, Dan Ellington, was under pressure a host of Mountaineer pass rushers as he let go of what turned out to be an under thrown flare toward a receiver along the right sideline. It hung in the air long enough for App State junior defensive back Desmond Franklin to cut underneath the route and pluck the ball from in front of the outstretched hands of the receiver, then sprint the remaining 26-yards for a “pick 6” TD.
While the Mountaineers’ offense racked up 524 yards of total offense, the defense limited Georgia State to just 329.
The App State victory sets up what is arguably the biggest game thus far of the 2018 season for the High Country’s finest, vs. Troy in the final regular season contest. The Trojans (9-2 overall, 7-0 in Sun Belt) survived a scare from the now 3-8 Texas State Bobcats on Saturday, in Troy, by a score of 12-7 at The Vet in Troy, Alabama. The Trojans used a suffocating defense to produce six Bobcat turnovers while placekicker Tyler Sumpter booted a school record four field goals to advance to the East Division title game in the regular season finale at Appalachian State.
Troy head coach Neal Brown summed up the scenario succinctly after the win on Saturday as the Trojans prepare to visit Kidd-Brewer Stadium next Saturday. “We (have) a one game season.”
Appalachian State (8-2 overall, 6-1 Sun Belt) compares favorably, its mid-season Sun Belt loss to Georgia Southern in Statesboro a glaring reminder that things can go wrong even with the best laid plans and that accolades don’t win football games. The week before playing the Eagles on October 25th, Appalachian State had seen the program’s highest ranking in FBS-level college football polls at #25, then lost 34-14 to Georgia Southern. It was a game where virtually nothing went right for the Mountaineers and saw QB Zac Thomas leave early due to concussion concerns and star linebacker Jordan Fehr was flagged and ejected for targeting.
Troy also played in Statesboro, on November 10th, and came away with a 35-21 victory.
SELECTED TEAM STATS
- Total Offense — APP 524, GSU 329
- Passing Yards — APP 296, GSU 132
- Rushing Yards — APP 228, GSU 197
- Penalties — APP 0-0, GSU 6-61
- Total Plays — APP 65, GSU 55
- Red Zone — APP 3-4, GSU 2-2
- Turnovers — APP 0, GSU 2
- Points Gained off Turnovers — APP 14, GSU 0
SELECTED INDIVIDUAL STATS
- APP — Zac Thomas, 20-24, 282 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs
- GSU — Dan Ellington, 10-21, 132 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs
- APP — Jacob Huesman, 2-2, 14 yards
- APP — Darrynton Evans, 15 carries, 127 yards, 1 TD
- GSU — Dan Ellington, 19 carries, 113 yards
- APP — Marcus Williams, Jr., 13 carries, 58 yards
- GSU — Tucker Gregg, 4 carries, 43 yards
- APP — Zac Thomas, 7 carries, 27 yards, 1 TD
- GSU — Tra Barnett, 6 carries, 25 yards
- APP — Daetrich Harrington, 4 carries, 16 yards
- GSU — Demarcus Kirk, 2 carries, 3 yards, 1 TD
- APP — Corey Sutton, 4 catches, 101 yards, 1 TD
- APP — Thomas Hennigan, 4 catches, 60 yards
- GSU — Penny Hart, 2 catches, 50 yards
- GSU — Cornelius McCoy, 2 catches, 45 yards
- APP — Henry Pearson, 3 catches, 36 yards, 1 TD
- APP — Jalen Virgil, 3 catches, 32 yards
- APP — Malik Williams, 3 catches, 22 yards
- APP — Darrynton Evans, 2 catches, 10 yards
- GSU — Devin Gentry, 2 catches, 10 yards
- APP — Dominique Heath, 1 catch, 21 yards, 1 TD
- GSU — Darius Stubbs, 1 catch, 21 yards
- APP — Brad Absher, 1 catch, 10 yards
- APP — Collin Reed, 1 catch, 4 yards
- GSU — Tamir Jones, 2 cathces, 3 yards, 1 TD
- GSU — Roger Carter, 1 catch, 3 yards
- Georgia State
- Chris Bacon, 7 tackles (3 solo)
- Michael Shaw, 7 tackles (1 solo), 1 pass breakup
- Ed Curney, 6 tackles (3 solo)
- DeAndre Applin, 5 tackles (3 solo), 1 tackle for loss
- Appalachian State
- Clifton Duck, 7 tackles (4 solo), 1 tackle for loss, 1 pass breakup
- Akeem Davis-Gaither, 7 tackles, (2 solo), 0.5 tackle for loss, 1 QB hurry
- Anthony Flory, 7 tackles (1 solo), 1 tackle for loss, 2 QB hurries
- Desmond Franklin, 3 tackles (1 solo), 2 INTs, 1 pass breakup