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App State set for Sun Belt Championship against Troy

Aldo Sarabia
Wide receiver Christan Horn reaches out for the pass against Troy Sept. 17, 2022. Horn scored the game-winning touchdown off a hail mary throw from former quarterback Chase Brice.

A season that looked to be lost for App State after a 3-4 start has turned around as the Mountaineers find themselves 8-4 and with an opportunity to be crowned Sun Belt Conference Champions for the fifth time in program history.

“I’m proud of our football team,” said head coach Shawn Clark. “The way they’ve competed all season, we have a very resilient, tight-knit group that never quits.” 

Standing in their way are the reigning Sun Belt champions, the 10-2 Troy Trojans. Troy began the year similarly to App State, as the Trojans were 1-2 and have not lost since Sept. 16, winning nine straight. 

The last time these two teams faced off was in 2022 at Kidd Brewer Stadium, where Mountaineer fans witnessed Miracle on the Mountain Part II

The Black and Gold defeated Troy on a game-winning hail mary pass from former quarterback Chase Brice that was tipped and caught by junior wide receiver Christan Horn, stunning the Trojans in a 32-28 defeat. 

This year’s championship showdown will feature a different cast of characters as Troy’s No. 1 Sun Belt-ranked defense will take on App State’s No. 2 Sun Belt-ranked offense. 

Throughout the Mountaineers’ win streak, they’ve relied on the arm of junior quarterback Joey Aguilar, who ranks third in the nation with 33 passing touchdowns. Aguilar also now leads the App State single-season record books in passing touchdowns as he broke Taylor Lamb’s record against Georgia Southern

“The game is slowing down for him right now,” Clark said.

The California native’s No. 1 target has been junior wide receiver Kaedin Robinson, as his 10 receiving touchdowns lead the Sun Belt and ranks 14th in the nation. 

The Black and Gold passing attack will face the best-passing defense in the Sun Belt, as Troy has given up 198 passing yards per game. The Trojans also rank second in the Sun Belt in run defense, allowing 102.08 rushing yards per game. On paper, this will be the Mountaineers’ toughest defensive test this season, with Troy ranking 12th in the nation in total defense and sixth in sacks.

“We watched tape last night and early this morning, there aren’t any holes in it,” Clark said. “They are not going to get beat, they’re not going to beat themselves, they don’t make stupid penalties to continue drives.” 

On the opposite side of the ball, the Trojans offense ranks 41st in total offense, as quarterback Gunnar Watson leads them. Watson has limited turnovers, throwing 26 touchdowns, 3,147 passing yards and five interceptions. 

Their rushing attack is led by running back Kimani Vidal, who has totaled 1,349 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. 

App State’s star defensive scheme, implemented Oct. 28 against Southern Miss, has limited opposing offenses to 15.3 points per game the last four weeks. The new scheme has brought success and turnovers, with the Mountaineers forcing 12 total turnovers since Oct. 28.

“We started playing faster and more confident,” Clark said. “I think you can see that through the latter part of the season, our kids are having fun playing football again.”

Those turnovers have been rewarded as redshirt senior cornerback Tyrek Funderburk earned Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Week for his two-interception performance against Georgia Southern. 

On Oct. 29, after the Mountaineers’ victory over the Golden Eagles, the Black and Gold held a projected 3.3% by ESPN to win the Sun Belt East division. Since then, App State has taken full advantage of their opportunity and ran the table, with a chance to become Sun Belt Champions for the first time since 2019.

The Sun Belt Championship Game will kick off Saturday at 4 p.m. in Troy, Alabama. The game will be televised on ESPN. 

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About the Contributors
Chance Chamberlain, Associate Sports Editor
Chance Chamberlain (he/him) is a senior journalism major, media studies minor. This is his second year writing for The Appalachian.
Aldo Sarabia, Photojournalist
Aldo Sarabia (he/him) is a transfer Eletronic Media and Broadcasting senior from East Bend, NC. This is his second year with The Appalachian.
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