App State slips past Troy, 21-10, earns right to host Sun Belt championship game

App State slips past Troy, 21-10, earns right to host Sun Belt championship game
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There were some happy fans in Kidd Brewer Stadium with the App State victory over Troy.

By David Rogers. November 24, 2018. BOONE, NC — It was Appalachian State’s second least productive offensive effort of the season on Saturday, but it may well have been the defensive unit’s finest hour.  In front of 20,410 enthusiastic High Country football fans, the Mountaineers jumped past Troy at Kidd-Brewer Stadium, 21-10.

COVER IMAGE: Running back Darrynton Evans breaks free for a big first half gain vs. Troy. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News

The victory propels App State (9-2 overall, 7-1 in Sun Belt) into the first ever Sun Belt Conference championship game next Saturday, December 1st, as the East Division champion.  With a better overall conference record than the West Division winner, Louisiana (6-5, 4-3), the Mountaineers also earn the right to host the championship game at Kidd-Brewer, so will have home field advantage in terms of venue, as well as weather if next weekend welcomes a repeat of Saturday’s wintry mix.

Mountaineer QB Zac Thomas didn’t have a big day, but still good enough for two TDs

Early touchdown passes of 16 and 15 yards to sophomore wide receiver Corey Sutton were all the Mountaineers needed, as it turns out, because while the offense struggled in the second half, the defense sparkled throughout the game, limiting the Trojans to just 232 total yards of offense over the course of the four quarters.  Appalachian rolled up 213 yards of total offense in the first half, but managed only 100 yards in the second half to finish with 313.

It’s not as if the regular tenants of Kidd Brewer were lacking in a few big plays after the halftime intermission, but when they happened the offensive unit was frequently set back by penalties. Appalachian was flagged 13 times during the game for a total of 104 yards.

When it comes to penalties, call it a “bookend” season for App State. The last time the Mountaineers were penalized for 100+ yards was in the first game of the season, at Penn State (10 penalties, 105 yards).

Evans looks for a gap…

Critical to the positive outcome of this game for App State, however, were Troy’s four lost turnovers. The Trojans coughed up two of three fumbles and had two passes intercepted. One of those INTs was unusual in that the “poacher” was wide receiver Thomas Hennigan, inserted into the defensive unit to protect against a prospective “Hail Mary” pass by Troy quarterback Sawyer Smith with just four seconds remaining in the first half. The sure-handed sophomore WR out of  Greensboro, NC  lived up to his billing.

The second INT was by a more usual Mountaineer suspect: all-Sun Belt Conference cornerback Clifton Duck, late in the third quarter.  Appalachian took a 21-3 lead into intermission and Troy had just tightened the deficit to 21-10.  After the the Trojan defense squelched any hopes App State had for an early second half score by forcing a pair of three-and-outs, the Trojans had good field position in taking over possession at midfield with 4:12 remaining in the third quarter. Smith’s pass sailed behind the intended receiver and into the awaiting arms of Duck as he dove for the interception. It had become a two-possession game at that point and the Mountaineers were doing very little on offense, so Duck’s INT disrupted Troy’s aspirations for resurrecting momentum.

Mountaineer head coach Scott Satterfield had a firm grip on the significance of Saturday’s victory over Troy in pointing out to reporters later, “That (Troy) team had won 13 straight Sun Belt games, so for them to come in here and for us to beat them like that, that was special.”

Troy came into the game as the Sun Belt’s #1-ranked rushing defense, allowing an average of just over 124 yards rushing per game. Appalachian State was #2.

The Mountaineers’ sophomore running back Darrynton Evans almost matched Troy’s average allowed on his own, carrying the ball 20 times for 108 yards. When combined with running back Marcus Williams, Jr.’s 61 yards on 11 carries and quarterback Zac Thomas’ 44 yards on 11 carries — as well as redshirt freshman linebacker D’Marco Jackson’s 5-yard run on a fake punt — Appalachian State almost doubled Troy’s season average in rushing yardage allowed.

On the other hand, the Mountaineers’ #2-ranked rushing defense in the Sun Belt had given up an average of 130.6 yards rushing per game coming into the matchup with Troy, which had been averaging almost 191 yards of offensive yards rushing. On Saturday, the App State defenders limited the Trojans to just 62 yards — or less than a third of their average rushing production.

Thomas (12) coasts to a late first half TD.

“Our defense is one of best run defenses out there,” Satterfield observed to reporters in his post-game press conference. “We do a great job stopping the run, and that is our No. 1 goal. We knew if we could make them one-dimensional today that we would have a chance. If you’ve looked at what they’ve done the last three weeks, they’ve tried to run the football and take some short throws here and there. We wanted to cut that run out, and our guys did a great job with that. Just fitting the gaps, that’s really what it comes down to. We have a very aggressive D-line, and our four linebackers were fitting those gaps correctly to shut that run down and make them one-dimensional. It’s hard to throw the football when you’re one-dimensional like that. Our goal offensively was to try to get over 200 yards, and I see that we finished at 201 against a really good run-stopping defense. They may have been No. 1 in run defense, so for us to come in here and outrush them 201-62, it’s a big difference in that football game. That’s one of the reasons we were able to win the game.”

Next Saturday’s game vs. the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns at Kidd-Brewer Stadium for the Sun Belt Championship game is scheduled for a 12:00 noon kickoff. With students back from the Thanksgiving holiday and the significance of the inaugural Sun Belt event, an electric Kidd-Brewer atmosphere can be expected. The game is slated for broadcast on ESPN.

SELECTED TEAM STATS

  • Total Offense — APP 314, TROY 232
    • Net Yards Rushing — APP 201, TROY 62
    • Net Yards Passing — APP 113, TROY 170
  • Turnovers
    • Fumbles (No.-Lost) — APP 1-1, TROY 3-2
    • Interceptions Thrown — APP 0, TROY 2
  • Penalties (No.-Yds) — APP 13-104, TROY 8-59
  • Time of Possession — APP 35:30, TROY 24:30
  • 3rd Down Conversions — APP 7 of 18, TROY 3 of 15
  • 4th Down Conversions — APP 1 of 2, TROY 0 of 3
  • Sacks By (No.-Yds) — APP 3-15, TROY 1-9
  • Points off Turnovers — APP 14, TROY 0

SELECTED INDIVIDUAL STATS

Passing

  • APP — Zac Thomas: 12-of-24, 113 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs
  • TROY — Sawyer Smith: 17-of-34, 160 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs
  • TROY — Tyler Sumpter: 1-of-1, 10 yards

Rushing

  • APP — Darrynton Evans: 20 carries, 108 net yards
  • APP — Marcus Williams, Jr.: 11 carries, 58 net yards
  • TROY — B J Smith: 15 carries, 53 net yards
  • APP — Zac Thomas: 11 carries, 33 net yards
  • TROY — DK Billingsley: 4 carries, 12 net yards
  • TROY — Sawyer Smith: 7 carries, 1 net yard

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