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Mountaineers torch Eagles, win Sun Belt East

Ashton Woodruff
Redshirt sophomore safety Jordan Favors makes the tackle on a Georgia Southern player Nov. 25. Favors tallied one interception during the game.

After starting 3-4, App State finishes the regular season at 8-4, winning the Sun Belt East division and securing a spot in the Sun Belt championship.

“No one gave us a chance to win except us,” said head coach Shawn Clark. “No one believed in us and we kept fighting, and that’s the Mountaineer way.” 

To open the game, Georgia Southern scored the game’s first touchdown to end a six play drive. 

The Mountaineers’ first drive ended with one first down conversion and a punt. The short, unproductive drive featured a bottled-up run game and multiple incomplete passes.

Redshirt senior defensive back Tyrek Funderburk celebrates with teammates Nov. 25. Funderburk came down with two interceptions against the Eagles. (Ashton Woodruff)

Though the offense struggled, the defense was quick to give them a second chance. On second-and-long, Georgia Southern quarterback Davis Brin’s pass was intercepted by redshirt senior cornerback Tyrek Funderburk for the game’s first turnover. 

App State responded with a field goal, aided by a 26-yard pass from junior quarterback Joey Aguilar to redshirt junior wide receiver Kaedin Robinson. The Eagles’ defense helped after getting called for pass interference, setting the Mountaineers up closer to the goal line. 

A mistake with the snap saw Aguilar get downed without running a play. The drive stopped when a reverse handoff to redshirt junior wide receiver Milan Tucker was stopped behind the line of scrimmage. Junior kicker Michael Hughes put the Mountaineers on the board with a 24-yard field goal.

Georgia Southern responded to the score on their next drive. On the kickoff, Hughes kicked the ball out of bounds, setting the Eagles up at the 35. After a combination of short passes and runs, backup quarterback JC French came in on third down and tossed a 25-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 14-3.

App State’s next possession ended in a three-and-out on a mistimed pass between Aguilar and Tucker. 

On the next Eagle drive, they ran for one first down before the defense stood strong. Helped by an offensive penalty and big tackles from redshirt freshman defensive end Santana Hopper and redshirt freshman linebacker Brodrick Gooch, the Mountaineers forced a punt. 

Starting at their own 21-yard line, the Black and Gold began a scoring frenzy. After a negative play on first down, Aguilar found redshirt junior wide receiver Dashaun Davis for a 23-yard gain. The Mountaineers soon found themselves with a fourth-and-one they went for. It wasn’t a struggle as they were rewarded a first down by a defensive encroachment penalty. The offense capitalized, ending the drive with a 27-yard touchdown from Aguilar to Robinson.

Within seconds, App State scored another touchdown, set up by a special teams fumble recovery. Redshirt sophomore safety Andre Hamilton forced the fumble on the kickoff and redshirt sophomore linebacker Trevor Moffitt recovered. The offense needed one play as redshirt freshman running back Kanye Roberts hurried into the endzone for a 13-yard touchdown, giving the Mountaineers their first lead of the game, 17-14.

Georgia Southern’s next drive included a string of successful pass plays, but were put behind the chains by an offensive holding penalty. First down with 20 yards to go was too much as they were unable to gain it all back, forcing a 38-yard game-tying field goal.

The Mountaineer offense continued their success with only 2 minutes and 33 seconds left in the half, taking their next drive 75 yards in seven plays. More than half of those yards came on the scoring play that saw Aguilar complete a pass to junior wide receiver Christian Horn, who broke a tackle and weaved his way into the endzone. 

With less than a minute left, Hughes kicked off and in just two plays, the defense got the ball back for Aguilar and the offense. Brin’s pass found the hands of Funderburk yet again and returned the interception 17 yards to put the Mountaineers in Eagles territory. 

Starting on the opponents 39-yard line, Aguilar found Roberts for a 14-yard gain and then called his own number for another 14 yards. The attempt to get into the endzone failed, unable to complete a pass, but Hughes kicked a 28-yard field goal to put App State on top 27-17 going into halftime. 

During the halftime at App State’s game against Georgia Southern, Graduated App Football quarterback, Armanti Edwards was honored with a number retirement ceremony on Nov. 25. (Ashton Woodruff)

At halftime, legendary Mountaineer quarterback Armanti Edwards was honored by having his No. 14 jersey retired. The crowd erupted at both the mention of his name and a reference to the 2007 Michigan upset Edwards led. His No. 14 is now a permanent fixture at the Rock as it sits high on the North Endzone.

“A very special day here at App to be able to honor Armanti Edwards and what he stands for, what he did for our program,” Clark said.

To begin the second half, Roberts started off with two explosive run plays, the first going for 37 yards and the second going for 25 yards setting the Mountaineers up in the red zone. However, the drive ended with no points as Aguilar threw an interception near the goal line. 

Brin took the first snap after the App State turnover and threw his third interception, this time to redshirt sophomore safety Jordan Favors, who returned it 14 yards to the 2-yard line. 

One play later, Aguilar passed to wide-open junior tight end Eli Wilson for the touchdown, extending the lead to 34-17. Aguilar cemented himself into the App State record books as he passed for touchdown No. 32, surpassing Taylor Lamb for the most passing touchdowns in a single-season by a Mountaineer quarterback.   

The Eagles benched Brin for their next possession, but only to end their drive in a punt. French converted two first downs, but his attempt to convert a third was met with heavy pressure from the Black and Gold defense. Redshirt junior defensive end Michael Fletcher sacked French on first down, and combined with junior defensive end Kevon Haigler to hurry him again on second down, forcing a throw-away. Third down was much of the same, French threw the ball away as he faced pressure from redshirt sophomore linebacker Thomas Davis and junior defensive end Montez Kelley.

App State got the ball back and had more success in the ground game. Junior running back Anderson Castle took the drive’s second play 29 yards into Georgia Southern territory. After a few pass plays and a defensive pass interference, Castle found himself in the endzone after a 15-yard rush. The Mountaineers put themselves up 41-17.

Georgia Southern returned Brin to the field, but to no avail. An uninspiring drive left the Eagles to punt once more after gaining 24 yards in six plays.

Junior quarterback Joey Aguilar signs an autograph for a fan following the game Nov. 25. Aguilar broke former Mountaineer, Taylor Lamb’s record for single season passing touchdowns with his 33rd during the fourth quarter. (Ashton Woodruff)

Starting on their own 20-yard line, App State began to drive once again. Aguilar found Robinson twice for gains of nine and 14, then found Wilson for a gain of 30 yards. Set up at the 10-yard line, Aguilar once again connected with a wide-open Robinson to put the Black and Gold ahead 48-17. Robinson himself found a spot in the record book with his second touchdown of the day. This catch increased his total touchdowns on the season to 10, tying Corey Sutton for the fifth-most single-season receiving touchdowns in school history.

It didn’t take the Eagles long to respond, the ensuing kickoff was returned 100 yards for a touchdown, making the score 48-24. 

After App State punted for only the second time of the night, Georgia Southern methodically drove down the field, but got stopped short into a 34-yard field goal. The Mountaineers found themselves up 48-27.

In yet another display of ground-and-pound football, App State had another running back lead a scoring drive. Junior running back Maquel Haywood ran for 20 yards on his first carry of the drive and ended the drive on a 27-yard touchdown that he improvised by bouncing the run in the opposite direction of his blockers.

With the Black and Gold ahead 55-27, Georgia Southern got the ball back, but got stopped on a fourth down, allowing App State to regain possession and kneel until time expired.

“When you believe in the Black and Gold and you bleed it every day, good things will happen,” Clark said.

On a special day not only for the recognition of Armanti Edwards, but also the recognition of 25 seniors. Among the recognized were Robinson who finished with eight receptions for 108 yards and two touchdowns, Funderburk who collected two crucial interceptions, senior safety Nick Ross who led the team with seven tackles and senior offensive lineman Isaiah Helms and redshirt senior offensive lineman Bucky Williams, who anchored a line that paved the way for 236 total rushing yards and only one quarterback sack. 

As the No. 14 was retired Saturday, current No. 14 Kanye Roberts made the number proud. Still allowed to wear 14 for the rest of the season, he rushed 14 times for 109 yards and a touchdown.

In a season that started off grim, the Mountaineers kept digging and found a way to continue to compete and win football games.

“To accomplish our goals we just stick together as a team and trust one another, when you’re out there and you know I can trust the guy on both sides of me, people will die for each other out there,” Aguilar said. “Knowing everyone next to you will go as hard as they can for you just makes it easier.”

In all the excitement, the night only got better for the Mountaineers. With the win against the Eagles and a James Madison win over Coastal Carolina, App State was crowned the Sun Belt East Division Champions. They’ll get a shot for the Sun Belt Championship against Troy Dec. 2 at 4 p.m.

“When it’s all said and done, we have the pen last,” Clark said. “We’re going to write our story.”

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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.
Ashton Woodruff
Ashton Woodruff, Photo Editor
Ashton Woodruff (she/her) is a junior IDS Criminal Justice/Photojournalism major, and a Social Work minor. This is her second year with The Appalachian.
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