Three Sun Belt teams are Cheez-It Bowl National Teams of the Week

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Cheez-It Bowl National Team of the Week logo

DALLAS (FWAA) – The App State Mountaineers and Marshall Thundering Herd set the table with historic afternoon upsets at Texas A&M and Notre Dame, respectively, before the Georgia Southern Eagles added a win at Nebraska to close a memorable Saturday for the Sun Belt Conference. After those three epic upsets – and for the first time in 21 seasons – the Football Writers Association of America has awarded all three schools the Cheez-It Bowl National Team of the Week honor for games of the weekend of Sept. 10.

This is the second App State team to earn team of the week honors and the first since the program’s legendary 2007 upset at Michigan. Georgia Southern is a first-time winner, and Marshall now has three national team of the week awards, including previous wins in 2003 and ’20. All Division I FBS and FCS schools are eligible to be selected.

The recognition puts a bow on an incredible weekend for the Sun Belt and its East Division, where all three programs are divisional foes. Marshall’s 26-21 win at No. 5 Notre Dame – as the first Sun Belt team to ever play in South Bend – was the first final score to post. The Herd (2-0) grabbed three interceptions on the day, including a fourth-quarter snag by cornerback Steven Gilmore that he returned 37 yards for a touchdown to seal the win. Cornerback Micah Abraham (two interceptions on the season) and defensive lineman Owen Porter had the others.

On offense, Khalan Laborn, a 2022 transfer from Florida State, pounded 31 carries for 163 yards and a touchdown to pace the offense. It was Marshall’s first win over an AP Top 10 team in its last eight tries and first since toppling then-No. 6 Kansas State on the road, 27-20, on Sept. 20, 2003.

“We talked about the difference in this game was our collective best was better than their individual best,” second-year head coach Charles Huff said. “We talked about the difference was going to be Marshall can’t beat Marshall. … In-house, no disrespect to Notre Dame, we expected it because we talked about this summer this team being expected to win.”

Shortly after Marshall clinched its win, App State (1-1) sealed a 17-14 win in College Station as Michael Hughes kicked a tiebreaking field goal with 8:05 left to give the Mountaineers their first win over an AP Top 10 opponent since that 34-32 win at the Big House. App State’s defense held the No. 6 Aggies on their side of the field for the first 52 minutes and forced two fumbles to keep A&M at bay. Overall, App State allowed just nine first downs and 186 yards of offense one week after taking North Carolina down to the wire a week earlier.

“The key was belief,” App State head coach Shawn Clark said. “You have to believe in yourself and believe in this program. I told them, ‘Take the logo off of the helmet, take the logo off the field and let’s go play football.'”

Georgia Southern (2-0) then capped the day with the most dramatic finish. Eagles quarterback Kyle Vantrease lunged across the goal line with the go-ahead eight-yard score with 36 seconds left to give his team a 45-42 win in Lincoln. It was the program’s second over a Power-5 program in school history, matching the Eagles’ 26-20 win at Florida in 2013. Vantrease completed 37-of-56 passes for 409 yards and a touchdown, with wide receiver Derwin Burgess Jr. grabbing a school-single-game-record 12 catches for 119 yards. Gerald Green rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries. Georgia Southern converted 9-of-13 third downs.

“What a special night. So proud of our kids,” head coach Clay Helton said. “Especially coming off a season where you just win three games and you got a new collection of people. I have always thought great teams support each other. Last week our offense was supported a lot by our defense, and then this week, our offense supported our defense early and got us to a fourth-quarter game.”

This is the 21st season the FWAA will select a national team of the week. Each honored team will receive a custom Cheez-It “care package” along with a hand-crafted game ball made in America by Dallas-based Big Game USA, the nation’s leading manufacturer of custom footballs.

All three schools are back in action Saturday. App State will host ESPN’s College Gameday before the Mountaineers open Sun Belt Conference play against Troy at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN+. Georgia Southern heads back on the road at UAB at 2:30 p.m. ET, with the game broadcast on Stadium. Marshall non-conference schedule continues at Bowling Green at 5 p.m. ET on the NFL Network.

The other National Team of the Week nominee for the weekend of Sept. 10 was:

• Kentucky (2-0): Mark Stoops became UK’s all-time winningest coach as No. 20 Kentucky beat No. 12 Florida 26-16 in The Swamp. Kentucky has defeated Florida in consecutive seasons for the first time in 45 years, since 1976-77 and has won two of the last three meetings in Gainesville (2018, 2022). The game-winning score for Kentucky each of the past two seasons came on a non-offensive score (blocked field goal in 2021, interception in 2022).

Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of America consists of journalists, broadcasters, publicists, photographers and key executives in all areas of college football. The FWAA works to govern media access and gameday operations while presenting awards and honors, including an annual All-America team. For more information about the FWAA and its programs and initiatives, contact Executive Director Steve Richardson at 214-870-6516 or tiger@fwaa.com.

About the Cheez-It Bowl
The 2022 Cheez-It Bowl takes place Thursday, Dec. 29 at 5:30 p.m. ET at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla. The postseason contest is hosted by Florida Citrus Sports, a Central Florida-based nonprofit, and annually features top teams from the Atlantic Coast and Big 12 Conferences. Cheez-It®, the best-selling cracker brand in the United States, signed on as the game’s title sponsor in 2020 as part of its season-long support of college football. Last bowl season, No. 19 Clemson beat Iowa State 20-13 in front of an announced crowd of 39,051, with cornerback Mario Goodrich taking home the Cheez-It Bowl MVP belt.

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