BOONE, N.C. — The trophy presentation included a stormed field, colorful beads and even a championship belt.
Appalachian State’s post-title celebration in rainy Kidd Brewer Stadium had a touch of Mardi Gras — mountain style.
Hosting the first Sun Belt Conference Championship Game, App State won 30-19 against Louisiana to claim its third straight league title and earn an automatic bid to the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 15.
Appalachian sophomore Darrynton Evans surpassed 1,000 rushing yards on the season during a belt-hoisting, MVP-winning performance in which his 218 all-purpose yards included 111 rushing yards and a 97-yard kickoff return.
Sophomore quarterback Zac Thomas had two rushing touchdowns of at least 25 yards, and the Mountaineers (10-2) allowed just one touchdown while forcing the Ragin’ Cajuns (7-6) to kick four field goals. All three of Chandler Staton’s second-half field goals for App State exceeded 40 yards, including a 43-yarder that pushed the lead to 11 points with 2:09 remaining, and the Mountaineers could begin to celebrate when Clifton Duck broke up a fourth-down pass with 1:23 left.
Students rushed the field in Kidd Brewer Stadium after senior Zeb Speir, who arrived as a walk-on, took the final snap and embraced classmate Brad Absher.
“Our guys play for each other, maybe better than anybody in the country,” App State head coach Scott Satterfield said.
App State was clinging to a 20-16 lead early in the fourth quarter when linebacker Anthony Flory’s pressure set up Tae Hayes’ interception on a deep throw, and Hayes returned the ball 32 yards to the Louisiana 44. Stopped on an earlier fourth-and-short play, the Mountaineers faced fourth-and-inches from the Louisiana 35 when Thomas faked a handoff to Evans and scored his 10th rushing touchdown of the season.
Louisiana marched 60 yards and, after safety Austin Exford stopped a third-and-goal run from the 3 for a loss of 4 yards, Kyle Pfau made a 24-yard field goal with 6:01 remaining. Holding an eight-point lead, Thomas started the next series by spinning away from pressure and hitting a wide-open back Marcus Williams Jr. in the left flat with a pass that ultimately gained 34 yards.
Williams gained 17 yards on three straight carries to put App State in field goal range, and Staton made his longest field goal of the season to cap the series.
After the Ragin’ Cajuns kicked a 37-yard field goal to close the game’s opening possession, Evans set up Williams’ 1-yard touchdown with his return from the App State 2 to the Louisiana 1.
Evans’ block created a running lane for Thomas on his 25-yard touchdown run that gave App State a 14-6 lead late in the second quarter, and Staton converted a pair of 42-yard field goals in the third quarter.
Staton’s first kick pushed the lead to 17-6, and Louisiana quarterback Andre Nunez scored on 8-yard run not long after Raymond Calais returned the kickoff 61 yards. A fourth-and-1 stop by Louisiana’s defense at the App State 34 set up another short field, leading to a 23-yard field goal that cut the Mountaineers’ lead to 17-16, and Staton ended the third quarter with a field goal.
App State, which has posted double-digit wins for the third time in five FBS seasons, will face a team from Conference USA on Dec. 15 in New Orleans.
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