App State falls to Louisiana for first time in 24-21 senior night loss


Max Correa

App State fell to 7-3 overall and 5-2 in Sun Belt play on Friday night at Kidd Brewer, falling to Louisiana 24-21 on senior night. Three turnovers and two missed field goals were key factors in the loss.

Silas Albright and Connor Davidson

On a rainy, chilly senior night at Kidd Brewer Stadium, App State fell to No. 20 Louisiana-Lafayette 24-21 in a game that came down the wire. 

“It was a great game, tough conditions out there, but (I’m) proud of our players,” head coach Shawn Clark said. “Wish we would have won on their senior day, they’re hurting in the locker room right now like we all are. But we’re going to bounce back and get ready for Georgia Southern.”

To start the game, App State elected to kick to Louisiana. On the first drive, the Mountaineers forced a punt and the snap sailed over Louisiana punter Rhys Burns’ head. After Burn picked it up, the Mountaineers forced a fumble, scooped the ball up and took it into the end zone, but an unnecessary-roughness penalty brought the ball back to App State’s own 35 yard line. The Mountaineers marched 65 yards down the field and scored on a 33-yard touchdown rush from freshman running back Nate Noel to take an early 7-0 lead.

On Louisiana’s next drive, App State forced another punt and the ball once again sailed over Burns’ head, giving the Mountaineers the ball at the 22-yard line. Despite the great starting field position, the Mountaineers could not put points on the board after a missed 37-yard field goal from senior Chandler Staton.

With 9:39 left in the second quarter, the Mountaineers were moving down the field before sophomore running back Camerun Peoples fumbled at the Louisiana 44-yard line. Defensive lineman Zi’Yon Hill recovered the ball for the Ragin’ Cajuns at the 49-yard line. Six plays later, Louisiana quarterback Levi Lewis connected with running back Trey Ragas for an eight-yard touchdown pass. The Ragin’ Cajuns elected to go for two, but the attempt failed, keeping the score 7-6. 

With 26 seconds left before halftime, App State sent Staton out for a 43-yard field goal try. Staton made the kick, extending the Mountaineer lead to 10-6. The field goal also made Staton the all-time leading scorer in Sun Belt history with 328 points.

Twenty-six seconds was all the Ragin’ Cajuns needed to march down the field and get in position to kick a field goal of their own before halftime. Louisiana kicker Kenneth Almendares chipped one in from 26 yards out as time expired, narrowing the Mountaineer lead to 10-9 at halftime.

App State’s first drive of the second half ended when senior quarterback Zac Thomas threw his second interception of the night on third and long. Louisiana cornerback Mekhi Garner came down with it to set up the Ragin’ Cajun drive at their own 48-yard line.

Louisiana made its way inside the 20 before Ragas found the end zone from 17 yards out. After a successful two-point conversion, the Ragin’ Cajuns took a 17-10 lead with 7:52 left in the third.

After a quick three and out from the Mountaineers, Louisiana once again marched down the field to the 1-yard line where Ragas found the endzone for the third time in the game. This gave the Ragin’ Cajuns a 24-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter, but App State didn’t go down without a fight.

“We were just talking about how the game’s not over until it’s over, and we had a full 15 minutes left in the fourth quarter to go out there and make some plays,” senior wide receiver Jalen Virgil said. 

On the Mountaineers’ first drive of the fourth with 12:37 to play, Thomas converted on fourth down on a 15-yard pass to Virgil. This set up the Mountaineers to score on a drive that ended with a 1-yard rushing touchdown from Peoples, bringing App State within a score of Louisiana at 24-17.

On the next drive, the Mountaineers made a big stop on third down to send out the punt team for Louisiana. For the third time in the game, the snap went over Burns’ head, but this time the ball rolled into the end zone where Burns kicked it out of bounds, resulting in a safety. This put App State within five points at 24-19 with 6:32 left to play.

On the Mountaineers’ next drive, they drove down to the 27 yard line, but couldn’t convert on fourth down, which gave the ball back to the Ragin’ Cajuns with 2:09 left. The App State defense held strong and forced a fourth down, but instead of punting the ball, the Louisiana offense stayed on the field. Lewis then ran the ball to his own end zone and stepped out of bounds, resulting in another safety, making the score 24-21.

On the ensuing possession, the offense drove to the Louisiana 13-yard line and took two shots at the end zone, leaving five seconds left to play. 

“It worked, really, how we wanted it,” Clark said. “We had two shots at the end zone and a chance to tie it there at the end, but we were going for the win.”

Staton came on to the field to attempt the 30-yard field goal but the kick sailed wide left and the game ended with Louisiana defeating the Mountaineers for the first time ever by a score of 24-21.

Thomas finished 10 for 21, passing for 92 yards and two interceptions. Peoples rushed 21 times for 99 yards and a touchdown, while Noel took 12 carries for 72 yards and a touchdown. 

Junior linebacker Trey Cobb led the Mountaineers with nine total tackles, six solo and one for loss. Senior cornerback Shemar Jean-Charles had two pass breakups. 

“Mistakes will kill you,” Jean-Charles said. “I feel like that’s been prevalent with us in a lot of these big games that we’ve been playing: we make too many mistakes.”

The Ragin’ Cajuns scored 14 points off App State’s three turnovers and didn’t allow the Mountaineer defense to make a takeaway. 

“We knew that if we could win the turnover battle, we had a chance to win the football game,” Clark said. “You’re not going to win big-time football games when you have three turnovers, especially versus a very good football team.”

The Mountaineer offense scored on just one of three red-zone trips. 

The loss makes it only the second time App State has lost two Sun Belt games in a season since joining the conference in 2014. The only other time was in 2014. 

“Of course it’s tough, nobody likes losing, especially being here at App State,” Jean-Charles said. “We hold ourself to a high standard regardless of whatever’s going on.”

The Mountaineers’ final regular season game will be Dec. 12 at Georgia Southern. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. on ESPN3.