By Brett Wiseman
App State was scheduled to play a top 15 team this season, until the Big Ten’s original decision not to play took the Mountaineer’s opportunity to play the Badgers away. As it turns out, this week App State will be playing a ranked team after all. But it’s just about the most unexpected ranked team possible.
The Mountaineers will head southeast to Conway, SC Saturday for a high noon Sun Belt showdown with America’s darlings, the 15th ranked Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina. The road to the Sun Belt title game next month, which normally runs through Boone, now runs through Conway, as the up and coming Chants are looking to knock the kings of the FunBelt off of their throne.
Since the Mountaineers road loss to Marshall and their 19 day stretch in between games, App State came back swinging against Arkansas state three weeks ago, and mowed through the Red Wolves, then through lowly Louisiana Monroe and Texas State. Last week at home against Georgia State was a different story. A sluggish offensive performance through three quarters, reminiscent of the Marshall game, had the 2,100 fans allowed into The Rock sitting on their hands. And then, as soon as the Mountaineers got their most concerted and most important drive of the game, disaster struck.
Senior quarterback Zac Thomas was plastered into the App State sideline on what appeared to be a late hit after a scramble. Time was dwindling down, and as Zac Thomas was being loaded onto a backboard and transported to nearby Watauga Medical Center as a precaution, there was still a game to play, and a game to win, and backup Jacob Heusamn led the drive of his life. Heusman finished the march to the endzone to take the lead and the win, a true testament to the great coaching and tremendous preparation everyone in the program, regardless of their spot on the depth chart, has. And after the injury, an energy on the App State sideline that had not been seen not only that day, but for quite some time, quickly emerged. Rallying around their fallen leader, an explosion of energy and passion from the gold shirted Mountaineers finished off a close win, an ugly win, but a win nonetheless.
An energy that App State must encapsulate and carry forward into their showdown with the Chaunts on Saturday. The great news is, Zac Thomas is day-to-day, and according to head coach Shawn Clark on Tuesday night’s “Mountaineer Talk”, said that “all things were pointing in the right direction” for Thomas to play Saturday in Conway, and the late hit that sent him the hospital appeared to be nothing more than a severe case of whiplash. Huge for the Mountaineers, who will need all they can get out of their senior captain if they want to not only take control of the Sun Belt, but break a streak of eight straight losses against ranked programs since moving up to FBS in 2014. The Chants have one of the most prolific offenses in the country, thus App will need its stellar defense, 13th in the nation in points per game, to step up more than they have all year, and will need another huge game out of linebacker D’Marco Jackson.
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