Mountaineers seek to keep title hopes alive against No. 14 Chanticleers


Courtesy of Brady McBride, App State Athletics

Head coach Shawn Clark leads the Mountaineers onto the field in their conference matchup against Louisiana Oct. 12, 2021. Clark enters his fourth full season as head coach.

Dan Davidson, Former Sports Editor

App State takes on No. 14 Coastal Carolina Wednesday night in a matchup that will likely decide the fate of the Sun Belt East Division. 

“All of our goals are in front of us,” head coach Shawn Clark said. “Whoever wins this game will be in the driver’s seat.”

The Mountaineers take on the Chanticleers after enduring their worst beating in conference play since 2014, losing 41-13 to Louisiana. The Ragin’ Cajuns outgained App State by 244 yards, running for 246 on the ground and adding 209 through the air. Four turnovers and zero third down conversions on 11 attempts added to the extensive list of blunders committed by the Mountaineers. 

“You have to let this game go. You can’t sit there and keep talking about Louisiana,” Clark said. “That game is gone, and you can’t get it back. It starts with the head football coach.” 

App State’s next opponent is headlined by a high-powered offense, posting 48.8 points per game and racking up 554.2 yards per game. Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall has completed 79.8% of his 109 pass attempts, good for 1,478 yards, 14 touchdowns and one interception. 

McCall’s favorite target between the 20’s is Jaivon Heiligh, a receiver in his fourth year with the Chanticleers. Heiligh has a team-high 29 receptions and 573 receiving yards, resulting in four touchdowns. In the red zone, McCall tends to look for his 6-4, 250-pound tight end Isaiah Likely. Likely has caught eight touchdowns on 27 receptions. Nearly 30% of his catches result in six points. 

The Chanticleers’ offense also features a trio of backs that average over seven yards per carry. Reese White leads the backfield with 455 yards and seven touchdowns, while Shermari Jones averages 8.9 yards per rush off the bench, totaling 405 yards and four touchdowns with 45 attempts. Braydon Bennett is the third back in head coach Jamey Chadwell’s deep stall of running backs, turning 37 carries into 268 yards and four touchdowns. 

“We’ve got a great opponent coming in here in Coastal Carolina, and Coach has done a great job with their program, but we’re focused on us,” Clark said. “We’re getting ready to play on Wednesday evening.”

Coastal Carolina seldom turns the ball over, giving possession away only three times through six games. However, the team also rarely forces turnovers, stealing two this season. The Mountaineers are polar opposites, committing 11 turnovers and forcing eight. At the rate the Chanticleers score, possessions will be extremely valuable. App State quarterback Chase Brice can’t afford to throw multiple interceptions against the Chanticleers, as he did in Louisiana. Whichever team can win the turnover battle Wednesday night will have a major advantage in the overall game. 

“You can’t turn the football over four times and win any game in college football,” Clark said. “We went to study this past week, and if you did not win the turnover battle, you lost 82% of your games this past weekend in college football.” 

The Mountaineers left Lafayette with numerous injuries. Junior Cam Peoples has missed the past two games with an ankle injury he suffered against Marshall. Senior defensive back Shaun Jolly and super senior receiver Jalen Virgil also got banged up in the loss, according to Clark. 

“Cam practiced yesterday. Jolly’s back practicing again,” Clark said. “Jalen Virgil was back yesterday at practice. I think we’ll be fine when game time starts.”

With the injury to Peoples still lingering, senior running back Daetrich Harrington’s return from injury could be vital to the Black and Gold. Harrington only saw two rushes in his season debut against the Ragin’ Cajuns, taking the field for nine plays due to a snap count enforced by the coaching staff. Harrington will likely see more volume Wednesday night, especially with transfer back Jahmir Smith fumbling on one of his three rushing attempts against Louisiana. 

“I’m happy with where he is right now. He had another good week of practice, and that gives us that added depth in that room we have to have to be successful,” Clark said. “He’ll get more reps this week.”

If the Mountaineers are to remain undefeated at home and knock off a ranked opponent for the first time since defeating No. 5 Michigan in 2007, they will need to put together long possessions on offense, limit Coastal Carolina’s big play ability, and win the turnover battle. 

The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 20 in Kidd Brewer Stadium and can be viewed live on ESPN2.