Championship Preview: App State at Troy - App State Athletics (2024)

Championship Preview: App State at Troy - App State Athletics (1)

Palmer Noyes

Football

TROY, Ala. — App State beat long odds to reach the title game. Now, they have to beat West Division champion Troy to secure another conference championship ring.

Closing the regular season with a five-game winning streak, the Mountaineers (8-4, 6-2) will look to extend their hot streak Saturday when they face the host Trojans (10-2, 7-1) at 4 p.m. in a Sun Belt Championship Game televised by ESPN. Weather forecasts call for rain throughout the day and temperatures in the low 70s.

App State is seeking its fifth overall Sun Belt title and its third victory in a Sun Belt Championship Game, which was held for the first time in 2018. The only other FBS programs in the country with four conference championship game appearances in the last six seasons are Alabama, Boise State, Clemson, Georgia, Oregon and Utah.

"This is going to be a great football game," App State head coach Shawn Clark said. "It's going to be a challenge for us to go down there in a hostile environment. We've played there before, and they have a great fan base with great support from their students. It's one of those games, when you play at this level, you want to play for a conference championship and play in those types of environments."

Troy is 21-2 since its well-documented visit to Boone on Sept. 17, 2022, when App State hosted ESPN's College GameDay for the first time and then won 32-28 on a 53-yard Hail Mary to Christan Horn. The Trojans went on a tear from there, winning the 2022 Sun Belt title, and their only losses this season have come against Kansas State (42-13 in Week 2) and James Madison (16-14 in Week 3).

Troy's current nine-game winning streak included seven straight Sun Belt wins, with only a 31-24 victory against Louisiana being decided by less than 18 points. The Trojans have a balanced offense and, like JMU, a dominant defense, given that they allow just 16.7 points per game (10th nationally) and 300.1 yards per game (12th nationally) under the direction of former App State assistant Greg Gasparato.

"They have both things — great players and great coaches," Clark said.

JMU's run-stuffing defense was as good as advertised in slowing down App State's ball carriers, but the Mountaineers moved the ball effectively and won in overtime with Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year Joey Aguilar throwing for 318 yards and three touchdowns. The offensive line offered stellar protection for Aguilar in the JMU win, and it will be another challenging test with the likes of Javon Solomon (14 sacks this season) rushing the quarterback for Troy.

The Trojans allow just 102.1 yards per game on the ground (or 3.1 yards per carry), and there's a better chance of Nate Noel rejoining the mix with Kanye Roberts, Anderson Castle and company after Noel sat out the regular-season finale.

App State's defense has been responsible for allowing just 15.3 points per 60 minutes during the last four games — all wins against bowl-bound teams — and Troy quarterback Gunnar Watson averages 261.8 passing yards per game to go along with the work-horse production of Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year Kimani Vidal (112.4 rushing yards per game).

Watson has thrown only five interceptions during his 26-touchdown regular season, while the Mountaineers are tied for ninth place nationally with 15 interceptions, including eight in the last four games.

"We started playing faster and more confident," Clark said. "I think you could see that through the latter part of the season that our kids were having fun playing football again."

Jabre Barber (5-foot-10, 174 pounds) leads the team with 60 catches (21 more than the second-highest total on the team) for 855 yards (327 more than the second-highest total on the team), while 6-foot-4, 204-pound Chris Lewis has scored touchdowns on nine of his 29 receptions. The only Sun Belt player with more touchdown receptions than Lewis this season is App State's Kaedin Robinson.

A fast start could be important, considering the first quarter has been the lowest-scoring quarter this season for both App State (64 points, with at least 107 in every other quarter) and Troy (outscored its opponents a combined 48-41 in the first quarter). The Mountaineers have ended their first drive with a punt in seven straight games.

"Coach Sumrall is a great football coach, and if you know Jon on a personal level, I think his team has taken on that persona," Clark said. "They're tough, they're disciplined, they play the game the right way and they don't beat themselves."

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Players Mentioned

#1 Anderson Castle

RB
6' 0"
Junior
Fourth-Year Junior

#13 Christan Horn

WR
6' 2"
Junior
Fourth-Year Junior

#5 Nate Noel

RB
5' 10"
Junior
Fourth-Year Junior

#14 Kanye Roberts

RB
5' 11"
Redshirt Freshman
Redshirt Freshman

#2 Kaedin Robinson

WR
6' 2"
Redshirt Junior
Fifth-Year Redshirt Junior

#4 Joey Aguilar

QB
6' 3"
Junior
Junior

Players Mentioned

#1 Anderson Castle

6' 0"
Junior
Fourth-Year Junior
RB

#13 Christan Horn

6' 2"
Junior
Fourth-Year Junior
WR

#5 Nate Noel

5' 10"
Junior
Fourth-Year Junior
RB

#14 Kanye Roberts

5' 11"
Redshirt Freshman
Redshirt Freshman
RB

#2 Kaedin Robinson

6' 2"
Redshirt Junior
Fifth-Year Redshirt Junior
WR

#4 Joey Aguilar

6' 3"
Junior
Junior
QB
Championship Preview: App State at Troy - App State Athletics (2024)
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