App State Looks to Complete Another "First" (2018-12-01 04:51:21)

BOONE, N.C. — Scott Satterfield has said he likes accomplishing "firsts" at Appalachian State, and hosting the first Sun Belt Conference Championship Game accounts for one, but Friday also allowed the App State head coach to briefly stroll down memory lane.

Exiting the Mountaineers' pregame press conference in Owens Field House, Satterfield headed to an ESPN interview that took place only a few feet from the office he occupied until 2008 as a longtime App State assistant.

In those days, quarterbacks like Richie Williams and Armanti Edwards would visit their position coach and learn about country music because Satterfield's television was always turned to CMT.

A decade later, with a bigger office in the Mark E. Ricks Athletics Complex, Satterfield has overseen perhaps the best FCS-to-FBS transition in college football history. After sharing Sun Belt titles in 2016 and 2017, Appalachian (9-2, 7-1) will attempt to win a third straight championship when it faces Louisiana (7-5, 5-3) on Saturday in Kidd Brewer Stadium.

The game will begin at noon and be available on both ESPN and SiriusXM Radio.

"When we set off in our camp in August, one of our goals was to win the Sun Belt Conference, and we wanted to host it," Satterfield said. "We're a program that has done a lot of firsts, and we like doing that in a positive manner. For us to be able to host this game is a great honor for us."

The Mountaineers join Clemson of the ACC and Oklahoma of the Big 12 as the three FBS programs with a chance to claim a third straight conference title this weekend.

The inaugural Sun Belt title game will be a rematch of the Oct. 20 game that App State won 27-17 in Boone, and Saturday's winner will automatically earn an invitation to play a Conference USA team in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 15. The Sun Belt runner-up will receive an invitation to play in the AutoNation Cure Bowl in Orlando, Fla., earlier on Dec. 15.

"I think it's safe to say, regardless of the outcome tomorrow, you look back on the 2018 season, it really couldn't have been scripted any better to get these two teams to the championship game," Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson said.

Appalachian led 27-10 with just over a minute left in Billy Napier's first trip to Boone as the Ragin' Cajuns' head coach, and the 17 points by Louisiana tied for the highest total allowed by the Mountaineers in their nine victories. Their defense allowed an average of just 9.2 points in those nine wins, as App State leads the Sun Belt with top-10 national rankings in scoring defense (No. 5 at 15.4 points), yards allowed per game (No. 4 at 277.4 yards), passing yards allowed per game (No. 4 at 153.8), defensive three-and-outs per game (No. 2 at 5.64) and third-down conversion percentage allowed (No. 8 at 30.4).

App State also ranks as the Sun Belt's top scoring offense, leading the league at 37.3 points per game, and Louisiana is No. 2 at 33.7 points per game. The running games for both teams are highly productive, with the Mountaineers ranking 10th nationally at 5.773 yards per carry and the Ragin' Cajuns ranking 11th at 5.766.

Sophomore quarterback Zac Thomas, the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year, directs an App State offense that has an All-Sun Belt first-team selection in running back Darrynton Evans. He rushed for 183 yards against Louisiana in the first game after senior back Jalin Moore suffered a season-ending injury.

"We expect that it's going to be a physical game," Evans said. "They are going to come back in here, and it's the championship game, so both teams are going to play their best."

Louisiana's offense, with all-league selections in right tackle Robert Hunt and right guard Kevin Dotson, has three backs with more than 700 rushing yards this season: Trey Ragas (1,040), Elijah Mitchell (874) and Raymond Calais (711). Even though he's second on the team for the season, Mitchell has rushed for 301 yards in the last three games.

The Ragin' Cajuns also have multiple threats at quarterback, as senior Andre Nunez has started every game and left-handed sophomore Levi Lewis is 7-for-7 with two passing touchdowns in the last two games. His scrambling set up a 38-yard touchdown pass to Mitchell in Boone on Oct. 20.

Defensively, from the 3-4 scheme with four linebackers, App State outside linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither had 15 tackles in the first Louisiana game. Inside linebacker Jordan Fehr made the All-Sun Belt first team, followed by Davis-Gaither on the second team, inside linebacker Anthony Flory on the third team and honorable mention recognition for outside linebacker Noel Cook.

Part of that success for the group as a whole can be credited to senior nose tackle MyQuon Stout, who had earned enough respect from the league's coaches and media to make All-Sun Belt first team. Along with 12 other seniors, it'll be his final game in Kidd Brewer Stadium.

"For this senior class, this is pretty much everything that we've dreamed of," Stout said. "We were committed to the program when we were 4-8. Then, our redshirt year, we end up being 1-5 and then just watching them boys finish off 7-5 by winning six games straight, you know, that's big. To just get a chance to compete for the conference championship and holding it here at our home stadium, this is the place that I worked so hard for.

"Some of these redshirt seniors that have just put so much into this program to become Top 25, it's just a happy ending at this point right here. Now, it's just time to finish."