App State football ends regular season on top with 34-26 win at Georgia Southern


Andy McLean

Senior wide receiver Thomas Hennigan (right), started the 50th game of his App State career on Saturday against Georgia Southern. He caught eight passes for 64 yards and a touchdown in the win over the Eagles.

Ben Brady, Reporter

App State football beat Georgia Southern on the road on Saturday, 34-26. The Mountaineers snap Georgia Southern’s streak of 10 straight home victories, including six this season. 

“We had two years of losing, which is way too long,”  head coach Shawn Clark said. “It was a great win for our program, for our fans and for all our football players out there.”

Though the teams traded possession for the majority of the opening quarter, the Eagles capitalized on a pick-six and a 14-yard run by quarterback Justin Tomlin to take a commanding 14-0 lead with over 9 minutes left in the second quarter. App State struck back with a touchdown reception by Jalen Virgil, his third of the season. As time expired in the first half, a field goal increased the Georgia Southern lead to 17-7.

Heading into halftime, Clark emphasized to his locker room their “keys of victory:” scoring touchdowns, filling defensive gaps and having clean eyes in the secondary. 

 “I told them they have 30 minutes to set the world right,” said Clark. “If we’re gonna do it, we do it together.”

The Mountaineers answered in the third quarter with 10 unanswered points to even the score, 17-17. Georgia Southern opened the fourth quarter by reclaiming their lead with a field goal, but Virgil answered right back with a 100-yard kickoff return to give App State their first lead of the game.

The 100-yard return was only the third of that distance in program history, and the first since Darrynton Evans’ return at Penn State in the 2018 opener. 

Before I even ran on the field, I knew I was going to take it to the house.

— Jalen Virgil


“Before I even ran on the field, I knew I was going to take it to the house.” Virgil said. “I just saw the hole and hit it.”

After the App State defense forced a three-and-out and regained possession, freshman running back Nate Noel broke free for a 70-yard score, the longest run by a Mountaineer this season, to give App State a 31-20 lead with 12:51 left in the fourth quarter. 

Though the Eagles scored another touchdown, a 37-yard field goal from App State’s Chandler Staton with less than three minutes remaining and two timely interceptions from senior safety Kaiden Smith and sophomore linebacker Brendan Harrington allowed the Mountaineers to hold on.

“We put together the best second half we’ve played all year long,” said offensive lineman and senior captain Noah Hannon. “We kept pushing, we kept believing and we stayed together, I think that’s the biggest thing.”

Zac Thomas finished with 208 yards and two touchdowns thrown on 18 completions. He finishes the season with 2,075 passing yards and 19 touchdown passes, while also racking up 445 rushing yards and two touchdowns. 

Senior Thomas Hennigan led the Mountaineers in receiving, with eight catches for 64 yards and a touchdown. Junior tight end Henry Pearson grabbed three catches for 62 yards, and Jalen Virgil caught three passes for 45 yards, including his touchdown grab.

App State improves their all-time record to 20-15-1 against Georgia Southern, including 4-3 since the teams joined the Sun Belt in 2014. For seniors like Kaiden Smith, who have been involved in the past two losses to the Eagles, winning this game meant a chance for the group to redeem themselves.

To come back here and get some redemption meant a lot.

— Kaiden Smith

“The last two years haven’t sat well with any of us,”  Smith said. “We’ve been feeling not good about it for 700 days, so to come back here and get some redemption meant a lot.” Smith, who writes for The Appalachian sports desk, has been a staple at the safety position for the past four years.

The Mountaineers’ 28 road wins since 2014 are tied for second place nationally to only Clemson. App State finishes the regular season 8-3, with a 6-2 record in the Sun Belt Conference good for second place in the East Division.