UPDATED: App State Wins First Sun Belt Title Game (2018-12-01 20:39:45)


BOONE, N.C. — The trophy presentation included a stormed field, colorful beads and even a custom-made MVP 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 face a Conference USA team in 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, award-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 after senior Zeb Speir, a former walk-on, took a final knee and embraced classmate Brad Absher. Senior captain MyQuon Stout lifted the championship trophy to cheers from teammates and App State fans.

"We faced adversity just like any good football team does throughout a season, but these guys just continued to rally each and every week," said App State head coach Scott Satterfield, who improved to 44-7 against Group of Five opponents and 35-6 against Sun Belt opponents. "I told them in the locker room that winning is hard. It's hard to win, it's hard to win championships. These guys right here, they fight each and every day to try to make it happen. I told them that all that hard work paid off today with the Sun Belt Championship. They can't say that we shared this one. This one is outright, and so we are very excited about that."

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.

"Me and Coach (Frank) Ponce, on the headset, we talked about, in the beginning, I wasn't playing good football," said Thomas, who rushed for 59 yards and threw for 75. "He said, 'You're going to have to make some plays on your feet.' A lot of credit to the O-line. They were blocking, and I was making reads and pulling (the ball) and getting upfield as much as I could."

Louisiana responded to Thomas' second touchdown by marching 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 kick of the season to cap that series. He also set a career high with his three field goals.

"Our special teams, we've really leaned on them this season," Satterfield said. "That's probably one of the big bright spots that we've had this year."

The title game ended with confetti falling. It began with fireworks.

After the Ragin' Cajuns kicked a 37-yard field goal to close the game's opening possession, going down the right sideline, Evans set up Williams' 1-yard touchdown with his return from the App State 2 to the Louisiana 1. It was similar to how the season opener at Penn State began, as Evans scored on a 100-yard kickoff return before App State's offense had taken the field.

"I had a flashback, honestly," Evans said. "I really was waiting for the ball to go out of bounds, but it just took a weird bounce, and I was like, 'All right, I've got to field it.' The guys up front did a good job blocking, and I saw a hole."

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.

Coming after Evans ran for 48 yards on the second play of the third quarter, Staton's first field goal pushed the lead to 17-6, and Louisiana quarterback Andre Nunez scored on an 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 his second field goal.

Hayes' eighth career interception, one of two App State interceptions thanks to Josh Thomas' second-quarter pick, ended a fourth-quarter series that had approached midfield with the Ragin' Cajuns trailing by only four points. Hayes finished with a career-high nine tackles in his final home game, and Flory's pressure was part of an 11-tackle performance for another senior.

That group has been part of 40 victories over the last four years, as App State reached double-digit wins for the third time in five FBS seasons.

"I couldn't be more blessed to go to this university, and everybody here just puts their best foot forward," Hayes said. "We've always thought that we deserved a championship, so I'm just happy for everybody."

Postgame Notes From App State's Win vs. Louisiana

Appalachian State has posted double-digit wins for the third time in five FCS seasons, and it improved to 40-11 over the last four seasons.

App State head coach Scott Satterfield improved to 44-7 against Group of Five conference opponents and 35-6 against Sun Belt Conference opponents.

App State won its third straight Sun Belt title. The only other FBS programs with at least three straight conference titles are Oklahoma and Clemson.

App State has allowed less than 20 points in all 10 of its wins this season. Discarding a non-offensive touchdown by Coastal Carolina, App State's defense has allowed 10.2 points per game in the 10 wins.

App State improved to 92-17 in its last 109 home games since 2003. It went 6-0 at home this season to post the first unbeaten home record since a 9-0 mark in 2006.

Darrynton Evans, who became App State's primary running back during the team's fifth game, went over 1,000 yards on a 21-yard run in the second quarter and ran for more than 100 yards for the sixth time in the last eight games.

It's the seventh straight season App State has had a 1,000-yard rusher. Boise State has increased its streak to 10 this season, while Auburn and San Diego State both had nine entering this season. App State and Ohio State were tied for fourth at six apiece entering 2018.

Zac Thomas posted his ninth and 10th rushing touchdowns of the season. It's the most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback on App State's roster since DeAndre Presley had 13 in 2010. Armanti Edwards had 18 in 2009, 11 in 2008, 21 in 2007 and 15 in 2006.

Cole Garrison made his second career start overall and his first start at left tackle. Victor Johnson had started 37 straight games at left tackle dating back to the start of the 2016 season, but he didn't play Saturday.

Senior cornerback Tae Hayes had a career-high nine tackles, eclipsing his previous high of eight from a 2017 game against Texas State.

Sophomore running back Marcus Williams Jr. made his fourth career start. App State's first offensive play followed a 97-yard kickoff return from Darrynton Evans, the normal starting running back.

Clayton Howell averaged 49.7 yards on three punts with two inside the 20 and a long of 55. He had a net average of 47.7 yards.

App State improved to 6-0 against Louisiana with three home wins in the last calendar year (27-17 on Oct. 20 and 63-14 on Dec. 2, 2017.)

Postgame Quotes From App State's Win vs. Louisiana

Appalachian State

Head coach Scott Satterfield

(Opening Statement)
"First of all, it's an unbelievable day for us and our program. I'm extremely proud of these players and our seniors in particular in the way that they've led our football team this year. We faced adversity just like another good football team does throughout a season, but these guys just continued to rally each and every week. I told them in the locker room that winning is hard. It's hard to win, it's hard to win championships. These guys right here, they fight each and every day to try to make it happen. I told them that all that hard work paid off today with the Sun Belt Championship. They can't say that we shared this one. This one is outright and so we are very excited about that. We were thrilled to be able to play it right here in Boone, North Carolina today in front of our fans. We had incredible fans here today and they did a great job today in some bad weather. They were here, they were loud, they were into it and our guys feed off that. It was not pretty at times today. Hats off to Louisiana and the way they played. They are coached well and have gotten better throughout the season. They are a tough team to play. Our guys kept fighting and we knew that it was going to be a 60-minute game. We pulled it off there in the end. You just can't say enough about these guys and the way they fight and what they have inside of them. We have a great group of guys that fight for each other and that's why that we've been able to have so much success over the last four seasons. It's hard to beat a team that plays for each other like we do."

(On the on-field championship stage)
"We've had a lot of firsts here and I've been a part of lot of firsts here over the last 23 years. I've never seen anything like that or had anything like that. They put a stage up on our field and when you look out on top of there and it was just App State all the way around. They way they stayed here (the fans) to the very end help us celebrate hoisting the trophy up. That's what it's all about. I'm so glad that these guys got to experience it right here. These seniors, it's the third time to win championships, three bowls and heading to the fourth. So, it's just really a surreal feeling."

(On the difference in the game)
"The first half, it was pretty ugly in the stat category. I think that the difference in the game probably was the fact that we held them to field goals instead of touchdowns. I think that that is the huge difference in the game. Obviously the four turnovers, you have to win the turnover margin if you want to win close games like this and championships. Tae Hayes,' that was big, that was huge, and we end up going down and scoring on that."

(On special teams and Evan's opening return)
"Our special teams, we've really leaned on them this season. That's probably one of the big bright spots that we've had this year. We've blocked a bunch of kicks, we've scored touchdowns. That was big, but we scored a touchdown on the next play. In a game where both defenses are playing great, that's a huge play because I don't think we did anything offensively in the first half."

(On the Zac's fourth-down touchdown run)
"Right there, if you kick it back to them, who knows what their offense is going to do? So, we went for it. I have confidence in our guys to make a play. This time, I just wanted to put the ball in the hands of Zac. Let's let him make a play. So, it was a zone read type of play that we really have been successful on the last half of the season. He can pull it or he can throw it to a receiver. He did a great job turning up and scoring."

Running back Darrynton Evans

(On his kickoff return)
"I really was waiting for the ball to go out of bounds but then it just took a weird bounce and I decided 'Alright, I got to field it.' The guys up front did a good job blocking, I saw a hole, and I just hit it."

(On his great statistical game)
"I was just trying to put our team in a good position to get a victory."

Cornerback Tae Hayes
(On his interception)
"I can't even take the credit for it. Coach Brown made a good call. He knew what [Louisiana] was about to do. It was my job to go out and execute it."

(On the big win)
"I couldn't be more blessed to go to this University and everybody here just puts their best foot forward. We've always thought that we deserved a championship so I'm just happy for everybody. We have one of the best fan bases in the world."

(On the defensive performance)
"We've got a tough defense, we've got some bulls that are always ready to play."

Quarterback Zac Thomas
(On his 35-yard rushing TD)
"I thought I could beat the guy that was covering the tight end. So, I pulled it and ran and in my head, I was thinking to myself that I wasn't gonna get tackled. I was gonna get in that end zone."

(On opening up the run game)
"I think it was big when we picked up the passing game in the third quarter. That's when they started breaking open the big runs. Darrynton is a phenomenal running back and that helps me in the run game."


Head coach Billy Napier

(Opening Statement)
"First of all, I'd like to congratulate coach Satterfield and his staff on winning the championship. Today was a very competitive game, and you have to give those guys respect for the execution. They found a way to win. But, I'm extremely proud of our football team and our staff for how they competed in the game. This is a football team that showed tremendous growth, not only as a football team but as individual people. We've learned a lot about life, and this game can teach you a lot about life. I hope that our players will learn a lot from this experience. We're exciting about the opportunity to go play one more football game two weeks from today in the AutoNation Cure Bowl. It's certainly a unique bowl for a unique cause, and it'll be a tremendous experience for our players. It's one that they've earned, and our staff has earned through a lot of hard work and discipline. Today was a great experience for our players, and we're pleased with the progress we've made as a football team. Today was a good old fashion football game, and it came down to what most football games come down to – turnovers, explosive plays and execution. There's a lot we can learn from as a staff and as football players individually and collectively."

(On how costly the turnovers and penalties were in the game)
"We've got to do a better job of preparing the quarterback. I know that a couple of the decisions there are very correctable. That's my job. I coach the quarterbacks, and those were decisions that Andre would love to have back. He's proved to be a very effective quarterback for our team and a great leader for our team, but today was evidence that owning the football and attacking the football is the key to the game. We also need to coach better and be more prepared and try to prevent those decisions from being made."

(On how well the defense preformed in the game)
"There's no question there's been a lot of days where they were getting criticized, but we have a tremendous staff and we've seen great growth in terms of the ownership and work ethic and how to prepare. That's one of the reasons we've made progress. That's a group that's steadily continued to improve. Today, basically, they kept us in the game with some great plays throughout today. We had some great stops and were able to get them off the field quite a bit. They gave the ball back to us numerous times, but ultimately we were not able to take advantage of those opportunities on offense."

(On how his team has improved and made it to the championship game)
"The big thing for our football team is that mid-season I was very hopeful we would accomplish something of significance and have success, so that these young men could realize the value of hard work, the value of committing to something bigger than yourself. We saw great character and great ownership. This is group of players and a team that's really grown as people throughout the season, so I think we've accomplished that goal. Even though we didn't win today, our players saw the significance of their work, and they know the value of hard work and it pays off. That's one of the most important things to me as a coach, and I get a lot of gratification from that. This is a great first step as a first-year staff, and now we have the opportunity to play another game in two weeks. We look forward to that opportunity to put the ball down again and compete."

Running back Raymond Calais

(On success on kickoff returns)
"Our special teams coordinator, coach Powledge, saw some weaknesses in their kickoff unit, so we wanted to take advantage of that, and that's what we did."

(On what it meant to play in this game)
"To play in the first Sun Belt Championship game, it's a huge honor not only for our coaches, but also for us. At the beginning of the season, it was kind of rocky for us, but we kept on fighting, kept on hitting and kept on working. We got here today, but we didn't come up with the victory. But, we do have another game for our seniors and have the chance to play in the Cure Bowl in Orlando. That's a huge honor and we have to prepare these next two weeks to take advantage and get the W."

Running back Trey Ragas

(On penalties and key missed opportunities)
"It came down to the little things. We didn't execute when it was needed. We didn't lock in and focus in on our assignments. We let the noise get to us."

(On settling for field goals in the red zone)
"It made it harder for us to come back and gain the lead. We just got to get to the red zone and score points."

(On what it meant to play in this game)
"We came a long way from a new coaching staff and putting our trust in them and for them to put their trust in us. We had a lot of setbacks this season, but we overcame them. We still made it to the championship, even though it didn't work out the way we thought. For the seniors, it allows for them to have another game and get another chance to get a ring."


Louisiana 7-6 3 3 10 3 19
App. St. 10-2 7 7 6 10 30

Scoring Summary
LA 10:13 - LA - Pfau,Kyle 37 yd field goal 9 plays, 55 yards, TOP 4:47 3 0
APP 09:56 - APP - Williams, Marc. 1 yd run (Staton, C. kick), 1 plays, 1 yards, TOP 0:04 3 7

LA 08:17 - LA - Pfau,Kyle 45 yd field goal 11 plays, 41 yards, TOP 5:19 6 7
APP 03:17 - APP - Thomas, Zac 25 yd run (Staton, C. kick), 9 plays, 75 yards, TOP 5:00 6 14

APP 12:19 - APP - Staton, C. 42 yd field goal 6 plays, 51 yards, TOP 2:41 6 17
LA 10:34 - LA - Nunez,Andre 8 yd run (Pfau,Kyle kick), 4 plays, 36 yards, TOP 1:35 13 17
LA 05:00 - LA - Pfau,Kyle 23 yd field goal 7 plays, 28 yards, TOP 3:24 16 17
APP 00:00 - APP - Staton, C. 42 yd field goal 10 plays, 52 yards, TOP 4:56 16 20

APP 11:43 - APP - Thomas, Zac 35 yd run (Staton, C. kick), 4 plays, 44 yards, TOP 1:32 6 27
LA 06:01 - LA - Pfau,Kyle 24 yd field goal 12 plays, 60 yards, TOP 5:36 19 27
APP 02:09 - APP - Staton, C. 43 yd field goal 7 plays, 50 yards, TOP 3:52 19 - 30


Team Statistics

                           LA APP
Total Yards          301 300
Pass Yards            85 75
Rushing Yards      216 225
Penalty Yards     5-35 4-35
1st Downs            16 13
3rd Downs        6-15 3-12
4th Downs         1-2 1-2
TOP               31:24 28:30

Individual Statistics

A. Nunez 10/21 85 0 2
L. Lewis 0/1 0 0 0

T. Ragas 16 101 0 21
E. Mitchell 17 85 0 19
A. Nunez 4 18 1 8
L. Lewis 3 15 0 8
R. Calais 2 2 0 2
R. Malone 1 -3 0 -3

J. Bradley 4 41 0 20
T. Ragas 2 26 0 20
R. Malone 2 7 0 10
M. Barnes 1 6 0 6
J. Jackson 1 5 0 5

App. St.
Z. Thomas 6/13 75 0 0

D. Evans 17 111 0 48
Z. Thomas 9 59 2 35
M. Williams Jr. 15 54 1 9

M. Williams Jr. 1 34 0 34
C. Reed 2 23 0 13
C. Sutton 2 23 0 15
D. Heath 1 -5 0 -5