Mountaineers surge past Trojans 45-7, clinch Sun Belt Championship berth


Courtesy of App State Athletics

Redshirt freshman tight end Eli Wilson runs toward the end zone as a defender attempts to knock him out of bounds. Wilson scored his first career touchdown on a 10-yard pass from graduate transfer quarterback Chase Brice against Troy.

Drew Bailey, Reporter

App State defeated the Troy Trojans 45-7 Saturday after dominating all three phases of the game. With the win, the Mountaineers clinched a spot in the Sun Belt Championship game and earned their third Sun Belt East division title in four seasons. 

“Very proud of our program to come down to Troy to get a big win and to seal the East. Our goal all year long is to win our division and have a chance to play for a championship,” head coach Shawn Clark said.

Although App State claimed a decisive victory, the game was far from it in the first half. The Trojans nearly scored the first points of the game on their opening drive. Troy’s Kimani Vidal took a 36-yard run to the 12-yard line but fumbled, and senior linebacker Trey Cobb recovered. This marked Cobb’s second straight game with a turnover. 

When the Mountaineers took over, a 35-yard reception by super senior wide receiver Corey Sutton and 40 rushing yards from sophomore running back Nate Noel led to a 24-yard field goal by super senior kicker Chandler Staton. 

The Trojans were able to answer with an explosive four-play, 75-yard drive, capped off by a 37-yard touchdown pass from Gunnar Watson to Deshon Stoudemire. 

After super senior wide receiver Malik Williams rattled off a 41-yard kickoff return, and App State drove down to the Troy 13-yard line, it seemed like they were going to respond. But Staton missed a 30-yard field goal, his first miss of the season, marking only the third time this season that the Mountaineers made it into the red zone and did not score. 

Sophomore running back Nate Noel lines up in the backfield, awaiting the snap. Noel surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark on the season against Troy, giving App State its 10th consecutive season with a 1,000-yard rusher. (Courtesy of App State Athletics)

This 7-3 score would hold until the closing minutes of the second quarter. Both defenses traded blows as Troy’s Kyle Nixon and K.J. Roberston picked off graduate transfer quarterback Chase Brice for the Trojan defense. App State’s defense notched four three-and-outs, holding Troy to three yards from their touchdown drive to the end of the first half. This defensive success was showcased on Troy’s last drive of the half, when senior linebacker T.D. Roof came up with a sack, and Troy recorded negative six yards.

Following the defense’s fourth third-and-out, a 24-yard rush from Noel would prove to be the spark igniting a scoring drive for the Mountaineers, ending in a 21-yard touchdown reception by Sutton. This gave App State a 10-7 lead going into halftime. Roof said he felt like the big plays from both the offense and defense led to the Mountaineers’ halftime lead.

“We complement each other very well. When one is down a little bit, the other one picks them up,” Roof said.

App State kept its foot on the gas heading into the third quarter. On the first drive of the second half, Noel reached 1,000 yards on the season, marking the 10th straight season App State has produced a 1,000-yard rusher. Noel believes the running backs were not the only people responsible for App State’s rushing success.

“The whole offense, they really take a part. The receivers, they block for touchdowns. The tight ends, they block great. The O-line bully people up front. It’s just poetry in motion,” Noel said.

Not all the accomplishments came on the ground for the Mountaineers during this drive. In the air, super senior wide receiver Thomas Hennigan was busy making a 42-yard reception and catching a six-yard touchdown pass from Brice.

Roof would intercept a pass from Watson on the first play of the Trojan’s next drive, adding to App State’s mark of the most interceptions by an NCAA Division I team since 2015. It took one play for the Mountaineers to capitalize off the pick when Brice found redshirt freshman tight end Eli Wilson in the end zone for a 10-yard score, Wilson’s first career touchdown. 

Junior running back Cam Peoples breaks free from two Troy defenders. Peoples finished with 40 yards on 10 rushes in the 38-point victory. (Courtesy of App State Athletics)

Troy tried to swing momentum back in its favor when it put together a 20-yard drive. On this drive, the Trojans converted their only first down in the last 51 minutes of the game. An incomplete pass on fourth down gave the ball back to the Mountaineers. 

“In the 51 minutes, we played really well. It was more settling down and doing our job. Not overthinking. Just do your own job, and if everyone does that, then you will be successful,” Roof said.

Noel continued to stand out on a Mountaineer eight-play, 45-yard drive. Noel punched in a five-yard touchdown to put him over 100 yards on the day. This was App State’s third touchdown of the quarter, giving them more points in the third quarter than yards Troy gained. 

“We won the middleweight. That’s the first four of the second half. We scored 21 unanswered points, and we broke the will of the opposing team,” Clark said.

App State continued adding to its lead for the rest of the game. Senior running back Daetrich Harrington ran for a two-yard score as the fourth quarter started, and graduate student running back Jahmir Smith recorded his first rushing touchdown as a Mountaineer, which was a one-yard score with 5:06 left in the fourth quarter. 

“Huge win for us. We get to be in the game that we strive all year and train all year to be in. That’s the championship,” Roof said. “We also got hate week coming up, so we can’t overlook that. We gotta focus and execute on next week. It’s an exciting time to be around Appalachian State.”

This win helped the Mountaineers improve to a 9-2 record and a 6-1 Sun Belt record. They will play their final game of the season in Boone Nov. 27 against Georgia Southern at 2:30 p.m. Then, they will travel to Louisiana to have a rematch against the Ragin’ Cajuns in the Sun Belt Championship Dec. 4 at 3:30 p.m.