App State wins Sun Belt title, become first FBS team from N.C. to have 12-win season


Max Correa

App State came away victorious in the 2019 Sun Belt Championship game against the University of Louisiana 45-38. This is the Mountaineers fourth consecutive Sun Belt championship. Junior running back Darryton Evans has three total touchdowns and junior quarterback Zac Thomas threw for 149 yards and two touchdowns.

Silas Albright and Connor Davidson

The App State Mountaineers (12-1, 7-1) locked up their fourth-straight Sun Belt Conference championship with a 45-38 win over Louisiana (10-3, 6-2) on Saturday afternoon at Kidd Brewer Stadium.

“It just shows you what kind of leadership we have,” junior quarterback Zac Thomas said. “We’re a really good football team. You can see that, so it’s very rewarding to go out there and win another one, back-to-back. You can’t ask for anything better than that.”

In their sixth year of FBS play, the Mountaineers became the first school from the state of North Carolina to ever have a 12-win season at the FBS level. With the win, App State also improved to 8-0 all-time against the Ragin’ Cajuns. 

The Mountaineers seized control of the game early on, jumping out to a 21-0 lead on their first three offensive possessions. Junior running back and Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year Darrynton Evans opened the scoring with a 58-yard touchdown pass from Thomas. Evans caught the short pass and carved up the UL defense en route to the end zone. 

The first Ragin’ Cajun possession of the game lasted just three plays before senior defensive lineman E.J. Scott hit Louisiana quarterback Levi Lewis in the backfield. The hit jarred the ball loose and Scott recovered it, giving possession back to the Mountaineers. 

App State put together a drive that ended with an 8-yard touchdown run from Evans to make the score 14-0 with 9:38 left in the first quarter.

The Mountaineers forced a three-and-out and then Evans scored his third touchdown of the first quarter on a 5-yard pass from Thomas to make it 21-0 in favor of App State with 1:43 left in the quarter. 

“I’ve had it happen in high school a little bit, but to do it at the collegiate level is special,” Evans said. “It goes back to this team with everybody buying in and everybody doing their job where it makes my job easier.”

Louisiana put together a quick drive to get on the board on a 37-yard touchdown pass with 25 seconds to go in the first quarter. 

Junior running backs Marcus Williams and Daetrich Harrington both ran for touchdowns of at least 25-yards in the second quarter and Louisiana managed to score another touchdown and a field goal before halftime, making it 35-17 Mountaineers going into the break. App State’s run game dominated in the first half, accounting for three touchdowns, 12 first downs and 224 yards. 

To start the second half, both teams struggled to get points on the board. App State relied heavily on the offense to get points in the first half, but it was the defense that came up big in the second half. With six minutes left to play in the third quarter, senior safety Josh Thomas picked off a pass from Louisiana quarterback Levi Lewis and ran it 16 yards for a touchdown to put the Mountaineers up 42-17. 

“It was huge,” Drinkwitz said. “Offensively, we didn’t do much in the second half, so for us to get those seven points on the board with Josh was awesome. He’s been a great player all year long, and for him to get that pick six was awesome for him and special for our football team.”

Despite a sizable deficit, the Cajuns weren’t going down without a fight. On the very next drive, they marched 63 yards down the field to score a touchdown and cut the App State lead down to 18. The Mountaineers would only see one more score for the rest of the day, which came from a 35-yard field goal from junior kicker Chandler Staton. 

The Ragin’ Cajuns scored two touchdowns in the final 4:18 of the game, but the final push wasn’t quite enough. With 1:12 left in the game, App State ran out the clock to seal the deal and win the Sun Belt championship game for the second straight year.

The Most Valuable Player award went to Darrynton Evans, who took home the same award last season. Evans finished the day with 162 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns.

The run game for the Mountaineers was unstoppable, with three players rushing for over 70 yards. Evans finished with 73 yards, Williams ran for 78 yards and a touchdown, and Harrington added 89 yards and a score. 

“We feel like we’re the best running back group in the country,” Evans said. “We work, we compete with each other and we push each other to be in that group.”

Although the bowl game that the Mountaineers will end up in is not yet determined, App State can now check off their goal of winning the Sun Belt for the fourth consecutive year. Drinkwitz can also check off winning his first conference championship as a head coach.

“I couldn’t be any prouder of our football team,” Drinkwitz said. “I knew before the game that it was probably the shortest and best pregame speech I’ve ever given. These guys were raring to go and they knew what it was going to take.”