App State to host Sun Belt Championship after 48-13 win at Troy

Silas Albright and Moss Brennan

In the final regular season game of the season, App State bowled over Troy 48-13 to clinch home field advantage in the Sun Belt Championship game against Louisiana. The game is Saturday, Dec. 7 at Kidd Brewer Stadium at noon on ESPN. 

The win over Troy also caps a perfect record on the road this season for the Mountaineers. 

“I’m proud of our guys. We came out and just played really fast and started fast,” head coach Eliah Drinkwitz said after the game. “Getting home field advantage was something we felt strongly about wanting, and I’m proud of our guys. I’m especially proud of Zac Thomas with the way he played.”

The Mountaineers had a strong overall outing on both sides of the ball in the win over the Trojans, but redshirt junior quarterback Zac Thomas led App State on 28-for-34 passing for 326 yards and four total touchdowns. The 326 yards is a new career high for Thomas. 

“Any time you can get a big-time game like that in front of your home crowd, it does measures, not only for you as a player, but for your fans. What we’ve done this year, we’ve done some great things, and getting it back in Boone for our fans, it’s a credit to them for showing out whenever it’s been bad weather,” Thomas said after the game. “We’re just ready to get back to The Rock for this championship game.”

Troy won the toss and elected to take possession first. The Trojans marched up the field to the App State 9-yard line before the Mountaineer defense came up with three straight stops to force them to settle for a field goal. The Trojans went up 3-0 with 12:01 left in the first quarter.

It took less than two minutes for App State to put its first points on the board. Junior quarterback Zac Thomas connected with junior wide receiver Jalen Virgil for a 44-yard touchdown on the fifth play of the drive. The extra point attempt from junior kicker Chandler Staton was no good and the Mountaineers held a 6-3 lead. 

Virgil finished the game with five receptions for 95 yards and one touchdown.

Junior running back Darrynton Evans scored the next points of the game on a 52-yard breakaway touchdown run. 

Troy got the ball back and on their second play of the drive, sophomore cornerback Shaun Jolly lit up a Trojan receiver, forcing the ball into the air where senior safety Desmond Franklin caught it for his first interception of the season. Franklin returned it twenty yards to the Troy 8-yard line. 

Thomas punched it in from five yards out to make the score 20-3 in favor of App State with 5:37 left in the first quarter. 

In the second quarter, Thomas threw an 8-yard touchdown to junior wide receiver Malik Williams and Evans rushed in his second score of the game from nine yards out. 

The Mountaineers were able to find the end zone twice on their last possession of the half but both scores were negated due to penalties. With 13 seconds left in the first half, Thomas was picked off and App State took a commanding 34-13 lead into the halftime break. 

The Mountaineers accounted for 343 yards of total offense in the first half and were a perfect 7-for-7 on third downs.  They finished the game 10-12 on third down conversions.

Junior wide receiver Thomas Hennigan set new career highs in the first half by catching nine passes for 116 yards. He went on to finish the game with 140 yards on 11 receptions to lead all receivers. 

“Any time as a receiver you get that many targets, you’re always going to be happy for the opportunity,” Hennigan said after the game. “I’ve had a couple big games in my career, but I think I proved to a lot of people tonight that I can be that every-down receiver and be that guy you can always go to in the offense.”

The Mountaineers continued the second half much as the first as they drove down 75 yards for a 6-yard touchdown throw to Williams, who ended the game with six receptions for 42 yards and two touchdowns. 

The rest of the third quarter resulted in punts from both teams and a Troy turnover on downs.

App State scored its final touchdown of the game on the first play of the fourth quarter. Thomas hit Evans for a 25-yard touchdown which was his third touchdown of the game. He finished with 27 receiving yards 82 rushing yards and three total touchdowns. 

The receivers finished the game with 328 yards and four touchdowns one week after star wide receiver Corey Sutton tore his ACL against Texas State. 

“I hate having Corey not out there. He’s a tremendous player, but when he went down last week, I immediately thought that someone has to step up in our room,” Hennigan said. “I kind of put that on myself and also challenged guys like Malik, Keishawn and (Virgil) to step up as well. I think everyone in the receiving room played to their potential.”

Junior quarterback Jacob Huesman replaced Thomas in the fourth quarter and went 1-for-1 for 2 yards. 

The Mountaineers finished the game with 522 total yards to Troy’s 339. App State also had two interceptions, including an interception late in the fourth by graduate transfer defensive back Willie Edwards — the first of his career. 

This will be the Mountaineers second straight year hosting the Sun Belt Championship game at home.

“”It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work and what we’ve worked for,” Drinkwitz said. “It’s why you put in the blood, sweat and tears, so that you can have something special at your home place.”