Appalachian State made a cross-country trip for its Sun Belt Conference finale, and the championship race changed greatly by what happened more than 1,000 miles from where the Mountaineers played.
Appalachian State clinched at least a share of its first league title as a Football Bowl Subdivision member thanks to a 37-7 victory at New Mexico State on Saturday. As the Mountaineers warmed up before their game in a scenic but relatively empty setting, they were energized by the mid-afternoon revelation that La.-Lafayette had upset rival Arkansas State 24-19 at Cajun Field to hand the Red Wolves their first league loss.
“I've been here four years, and the guys I've been grinding with in the summer, the winter, to see that our work didn't go in vain, that's the most special thing,” senior linebacker Kennan Gilchrist said. “Seeing the coaches’ wives here, we didn't play in front of 30,000, but we got the job done, and that really touched home. That's a beautiful thing.”
Appalachian State (9-3, 7-1) gained 604 yards as quarterback Taylor Lamb accounted for three touchdowns and both standout backs eclipsed 100 yards for the fourth time in five games. Marcus Cox rushed for 140 yards, and Jalin Moore added 111.
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A title, even a share of one, looked unlikely after Appalachian State (9-3, 7-1) suffered a Nov. 12 loss at Troy, which lost to Arkansas State five days later. If the Red Wolves (6-5, 6-1) beat last-place Texas State and the Trojans (9-2, 6-1) defeat struggling Georgia Southern next weekend, the idle Mountaineers will be part of a three-way tie atop the final standings.
That called for an on-field dousing of Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield.
"I told myself I wouldn't run - I'd take it like a man because it's too hard to win championships," said Satterfield, who received the game ball from senior John Law.
With the Organ Mountains visible beyond the top level of Aggie Memorial Stadium, Appalachian State completed the first quarter with a 17-0 lead and 234-0 advantage in total yards. Moore's 63-yard run on the first series set up a 20-yard field goal by Michael Rubino, and the Mountaineers opted against kicking again when Moore scored from the 1 on a fourth-and-goal carry.
Lamb threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Shaedon Meadors on the first play of the next possession, and sloppy play hurt the Mountaineers for the remaining 21 minutes of the opening half.
New Mexico State, which played without starting quarterback Tyler Rogers and several offensive linemen because of injuries, benched backup quarterback Nick Jeanty in favor of third-string option Conner Cramer after its unproductive first quarter. The Aggies (3-8, 2-5) trailed only 17-7 when Cramer threw a 54-yard touchdown pass to Tyrian Taylor immediately after Appalachian State lost a second-quarter fumble.
The Mountaineers accounted for the next four scores, as Rubino kicked two more field goals and Lamb scored on two runs, including a 48-yard option keeper. The celebration of an improbable championship started shortly thereafter.
“A couple weeks ago, you’re down, kind of out of it, feeling like it's not in your hands anymore,” Lamb said, “but that’s why they play all the games. College football is college football, and you have to play all the games out.”