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Mountaineers look to cook Eagles for Thanksgiving weekend

Landon Williams
Junior tight end Eli Wilson goes up for a ball against JMU Nov. 18.

After defeating the formerly undefeated James Madison Dukes, the 7-4 App State Mountaineers close out their season at home against rival 6-5 Georgia Southern Eagles Saturday.

“This game versus Georgia Southern, it’s a rivalry game,” said head coach Shawn Clark. “It’s one of the best in all of college football.” 

In the last week of regular season play, conference games bring higher stakes. The Mountaineers need help from other Sun Belt competitors, but they’ve got a chance to clinch a spot in the Sun Belt Championship game. 

Before they worry about a potential championship run, they’ll focus on the rivalry game, called “Deeper Than Hate,” against the Eagles.

Georgia Southern comes off a game-winning field goal loss against Old Dominion as time expired. The defeat extended their losing streak to three games, after also falling to Texas State and Marshall. Another loss would make them 0-4 in the month of November.  

The Mountaineers are trending in the opposite direction, going into Saturday’s game on a four game winning streak. The most recent win came at the expense of James Madison, where they visited the undefeated Dukes and College GameDay hosts. The Black and Gold won in overtime on a walk-off touchdown pass from junior quarterback Joey Aguilar to junior wide receiver Kaedin Robinson. 

Georgia Southern features the fourth-best Sun Belt offense in total yards and points per game, led by their heavy passing attack. They lead the conference in passing yards per game, but have the second-worst rushing yards per game. 

The one-dimensional offense is led by quarterback Davis Brin who ranks top-15 in passing yards in the country, fueled by the second-most passing attempts of all FBS quarterbacks. With so many attempts, comes more opportunity for mistakes, and Brin has shown he isn’t immune to mistakes. He’s thrown the third-most interceptions in the NCAA this season at 13.

“You start with the offense, they throw the ball all around the yard,” Clark said.    

App State boasts not only one of the best offenses in the Sun Belt, but one of the best offenses in the nation. With 449 yards and 34 points per game, the Black and Gold are top-20 and top-25 nationwide in the respective categories. The Mountaineers feature a more balanced attack, holding a position in the top-four for passing and rushing yards per game in the Sun Belt. 

The balanced offense is led by Aguilar, Robinson and junior running back Nate Noel. The star quarterback for the Mountaineers has thrown for 29 touchdowns, the fifth most in the country, behind four Heisman contenders. 

Aguilar has a chance to pass Taylor Lamb for the most single-season passing touchdowns in App State football history if he throws three more touchdowns. He also stands 362 yards away from passing Chase Brice for the most single-season passing yards in App State history, though he’s only thrown for that many yards once this season, making it more likely he beats the record in postseason play.    

Both offenses are dangerous, but both defenses have been average. For the Sun Belt, App State has a more dominant pass defense, struggling to stop the run while Georgia Southern has a more dominant rush defense with an average pass defense. The two teams balance their strengths and weaknesses with two middle-of-the-pack defenses in total yards and points per game. The Black and Gold hold a slight edge in both categories, holding the edge over the Eagles by one total yard and 0.7 points per game.   

The rivalry has had even results thus far, with the Mountaineers holding a 12-12 record against the Eagles. Of those 12 wins, nine have been home games for the Black and Gold. Last year’s matchup ended in a double-overtime loss for App State in Statesboro, Georgia.

“Our players have to be prepared to give their all for App State this weekend,” Clark said.   

A win for the Mountaineers in rivalry week is necessary for their Sun Belt title hopes to remain afloat. A loss would potentially either put them with a worse record or the same record as Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers hold the tiebreaker as a result of the head-to-head matchup from App State’s loss 27-24 Oct. 10.

After preying on the downfall of James Madison last week, App State fans will be cheering on the Dukes this week. Visiting Conway, South Carolina, the home of the Chanticleers, JMU has a chance to aid the Black and Gold. 

If James Madison beats Coastal Carolina and App State beats Georgia Southern, the Mountaineers will clinch the Sun Belt East and appear in the Sun Belt championship in a game against the Sun Belt West winner, the Troy Trojans.

Saturday will hold even more importance to the Mountaineers as they honor one of the most important players in App State football history. Armanti Edwards, quarterback from 2006-2009, will have his No. 14 jersey retired by the team at halftime. 

Edwards is the all-time leader in career passing yards, second all-time in career passing touchdowns, fourth all-time in career rushing yards and second all-time in career rushing touchdowns. He’s a two-time conference offensive player of the year, three-time all-conference first team and took all-conference second team honors once.

Outside of personal accolades, Edwards led the Mountaineers to two consecutive FCS national championships at the end of the App State three-peat. Edwards was drafted in 2010 by the Carolina Panthers in the third round.

App State hosts Georgia Southern in the last regular season game of the season in a rivalry that runs deeper than hate. In a home game against the rival Eagles with Sun Belt championship game implications, there is no bigger game for the Mountaineers so far this season. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. and can be watched on ESPNU.  

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About the Contributors
Kolby Shea
Kolby Shea, Reporter
Kolby Shea (he/him) is a senior journalism major, photography minor, from Statesville, NC. This is his second year writing for The Appalachian.
Landon Williams, Photographer
Landon Williams (he/him) is a Junior majoring in Commercial Photography from Winston Salem, NC. This is his second year with The Appalachian. 
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