Appalachian State beats Louisiana Lafayette in inaugural Sun Belt Football Championship Game, heads to R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
BOONE, N.C. – In a game that featured seven field goals, Appalachian State pulled out a 30-19 victory over Louisiana to win the inaugural Sun Belt Conference Football Championship Game at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
Appalachian sophomore running back Darrynton Evans surpassed 1,000 rushing yards on the season during a belt-hoisting, Most Valuable Player-winning performance – 218 all-purpose yards that included 111 rushing yards and a 97-yard kickoff return. Sophomore quarterback Zac Thomas scored twice on rushing touchdowns of at least 25 yards.
The Mountaineers (10-2, 7-1 Sun Belt) allowed just one touchdown while forcing Louisiana (7-6, 5-3 Sun Belt) to kick four field goals. All three second-half field goals by Appalachian State sophomore placekicker Chandler Staton exceeded 40 yards, including a 43-yarder that pushed the lead to 11 points with 2:09 remaining. The Mountaineers could begin celebrating when junior defensive back Clifton Duck broke up a fourth-down pass with 1:23 remaining in the game.
Louisiana senior quarterback Andre Nunez accounted for the Ragin’ Cajuns lone touchdown, an eight-yard scamper in the third quarter. Nunez had 85 yards passing and 18 yards rushing. Sophomore running back Trey Ragas ran for 101 yards on 16 carries.
#SUNBELTFB CHAMPIONSHIP GAME NOTES
• As the winner of the inaugural Sun Belt Football Championship Game, Appalachian State is headed to the 2018 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 15 at 9:00 p.m. ET/8:00 p.m. CT on ESPN. The Mountaineers are set to face a team from Conference USA at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
• As the game’s runner-up, Louisiana is headed to play in the 2018 AutoNation Cure Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 15 at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. CT on CBS Sports Network.
• Appalachian State sophomore running back Darrynton Evans was named the inaugural Sun Belt Football Championship Game Most Valuable Player. Evans was presented a custom-made, Sun Belt-branded belt during the postgame ceremony on the field.
• Appalachian State wore all black as the home team and Louisiana wore all vermilion (red) as the visiting team.
• Appalachian State is now 6-0 all-time vs. Louisiana. The Mountaineers have won all four meetings played at Kidd Brewer Stadium – 28-7 on Nov. 28, 2015, 63-14 on Dec. 2, 2017, 27-17 on Oct. 20, 2018 and 30-19 on Dec. 1, 2018.
• On a 21-yard run in the second quarter, Appalachian sophomore running back Darrynton Evans went over 1,000 rushing yards for the season. This marked the seventh-straight season a Mountaineer rusher has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark. Evans finished the game with 1,079 rushing yards on the season.
• Appalachian State sophomore placekicker Chandler Staton was a career-high 3-for-3 on field goals in the game. Staton was 5-for-5 on field goals against Louisiana this season, connecting on two field goals in the Oct. 20 matchup earlier this season.
• Appalachian State senior linebacker Anthony Flory recorded double-digit tackles for the third time this season. Previously, Flory had 10 stops at Penn State (Sept. 1) and at Georgia Southern (Oct. 25).
• Louisiana senior placekicker Ryan Pfau connected on a career-high four field goals (37, 45, 23 and 24 yards). Pfau entered the game with 10 field goals made in 12 games this season.
Sun Belt Football Championship Game Firsts
• The game kicked off at 12:03 p.m. ET and ended at 3:07 p.m. ET.
• Louisiana won the coin toss and elected to receive. Appalachian opened the game defending the north end zone. The opening kickoff was a touchback.
• The first offensive play was a pass from Louisiana senior quarterback Andre Nunez to senior wide receiver Ryheem Malone (12:04 p.m. ET). The play went for a loss of three yards with Appalachian State junior defensive back Josh Thomas making the solo tackle.
• The first score came at the 10:13 mark in the first quarter (12:13 p.m. ET) when Louisiana senior placekicker Kyle Pfau connected on a 37-yard field goal. The scoring drive was nine plays, 55 yards and lasted 4:47.
• The first offensive touchdown came at the 9:56 mark in the first quarter (12:15 p.m. ET) when Appalachian State sophomore running back Marcus Williams Jr. scored on a one-yard run. The scoring drive was just that one play and took only four seconds. The touchdown set up by the 97-yard kickoff return by Mountaineer sophomore running back Darrynton Evans.
• Appalachian State junior defensive back Josh Thomas recorded the first interception at the 1:42 mark in the second quarter (1:17 p.m. ET).
• The Sun Belt Conference is the final of the 10 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision conferences to stage a football championship game. The Sun Belt is the first FBS conference to hold an inaugural football championship game since the American Athletic Conference conducted its first title game in 2015. The Sun Belt is the 12th NCAA Division I football-playing conference (FBS or Football Championship Subdivision) to stage a football championship game:
Southeastern – 1992 to present
Western Athletic – 1996-98
Big 12 – 1996-2010, 2017 to present
Mid-American – 1997 to present
Southwestern Athletic (FCS) – 1999 to present
Atlantic Coast – 2005 to present
Conference USA – 2005 to present
Big Ten – 2011 to present
Pac-12 – 2011 to present
Mountain West – 2013 to present
American Athletic – 2015 to present
Sun Belt – 2018 to present
About the Sun Belt Conference
Entering the second decade of the new millennium, the Sun Belt Conference continues to challenge itself, and its competitors, in all aspects of intercollegiate athletics. Not content with being simply the youngest football conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the conference has shown that it can rise each and every season that comes along. And since the birth of the league as an FBS member in 2001, the evidence is clear that the conference is indeed rising above competitors and peer conferences.
The Sun Belt finished second in bowl winning percentage among all 10 FBS conferences the last two seasons. Reaching back to the 2014 season, no conference has a better total bowl winning percentage (.611) than the Sun Belt. All that success comes as the 2018 season will see the conference split into East and West divisions for the first time and stage its first-ever championship game at the end of the regular season on December 1, 2018.
Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Louisiana, ULM, South Alabama, Texas State and Troy give the league 10 football members. Little Rock and UTA compete as Sun Belt members in sports other than football.
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