Appalachian State already had proved it could fly up and down the field and score plenty of points.
Wednesday night, the Mountaineers showed they can win when the game isn’t so pretty.
The Apps laid down the defense, smothering the powerful rushing attack of the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns in a 17-7 Sun Belt Conference victory.
The nationally televised game was a far cry from what people might have expected from a meeting of two of college football’s highest-scoring teams.
The outcome may have been decided by ASU’s 97-yard scoring drive in the closing minutes, but Mountaineers’ quarterback Zac Thomas, who scored both of his team’s touchdowns, gave credit to the defense.
“That drive said a lot about our offense, but we owe it all to our defense,” Thomas said. “They played lights out, and we owed it to them for keeping us in the game.”
In a rematch of last year’s Sun Belt championship game, the Mountaineers held the Ragin Cajuns (4-2, 1-1) to a fraction of their average scoring, 45 points per game.
Appalachian State (5-0, 2-0) had a goal line stand, blocked a field goal, and made several other outstanding defensive plays.
“They played their butts off, stopping that goal-line drive,” coach Eli Drinkwitz said.
That happened early in the second quarter. On fourth down at the 1, Louisiana running back Elijah Mitchell was bear-hugged by ASU defensive end Demetrius Taylor for no gain.
The offense’s brightest moment was in the fourth quarter. Put in a hole at their 3 after a Louisiana punt, the Mountaineers drove the length of the field, eating up more than 10 minutes, and scoring the game’s final points on Thomas’ 7-yard run.
“That was our payback to them for the great job they did,” Thomas said of the defense.
THE GAME CHANGED WHEN ...
The Mountaineers converted two fourth-down plays in the lengthy drive that resulted in a final touchdown. On fourth-and-4 at the Louisiana 38, Thomas completed a 4-yard pass to Thomas Hennigan. And on fourth-and-5 at the 25, ASU’s Corey Thomas drew a pass interference call for another first down.
Akeem Davis-Gaither: Appalachian State’s senior linebacker had 10 tackles, two for losses.
Demetrius Taylor: The Mountaineers’ standout defensive end, a hero in the victory over North Carolina last month, had a sack, a touchdown-saving fourth-down tackle, and a quarterback hurry that forced the Ragin’ Cajuns to punt.
Rhys Byrns: Louisiana’s punter was a big reason why ASU’s offense struggled much of the night. He punted six times for a 49.6-yard average and placed three punts inside the Mountaineer 5.
MAKING SENSE OF THE NUMBERS
191: Yards below average gained by Louisiana on the ground. The Ragin’ Cajuns entered the game averaging 314 rushing yards per contest. They got 123 yards Wednesday night.
9: Number of tackles for loss (six) and sacks (three) registered by the Mountaineers against the powerful Louisiana offense,
0: Victories by Louisiana against Appalachian State, in seven tries.
Appalachian State resumes play Oct. 19 with a home game against UL Monroe.
Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle