BOONE, N.C. — Another second-half statement from Appalachian State’s defense. Another strong rushing performance from Darrynton Evans.
It added up to another Sun Belt Conference victory for the Mountaineers.
Evans rushed for a career-high 183 yards on 26 carries and scored two touchdowns, including a tiebreaking one on a 20-yard reception late in the first half, as App State remained unbeaten in league play with a 27-17 home win against Louisiana on Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
The Mountaineers (5-1, 3-0) were close to pitching a second-half shutout for the fifth straight game, but the Ragin‘ Cajuns (3-4, 1-2) cut into a 27-10 deficit by scoring with 1:03 remaining. Akeem Davis-Gaither recorded a career-high 15 tackles while contributing to a pair of sacks, Noel Cook had a sack in his 13-tackle performance and App State limited the productive rushing attack from Louisiana (3-4, 1-2) to 140 yards on 41 attempts.
The victory sets the stage for a first-place showdown Thursday at rival Georgia Southern, which is 3-0 in the Sun Belt as an East Division co-leader.
“When you’re teaching off of this kind of film and kind of game, you love for it to be a win, and that’s what it was,” App State head coach Scott Satterfield said. “We’re setting ourselves up there at 3-0 in the league, right where we need to be in Sun Belt league play with a short week coming up. We’re already gearing up for Georgia Southern (on Thursday), and that’s on everybody’s mind right now as we head toward this week.”
Offensively, quarterback Zac Thomas threw for 106 yards and rushed for 43 more, contributing to the 266 yards on the ground from the Mountaineers. They forced defensive three-and-outs on six of the first nine drives by Louisiana, with Caleb Spurlin, Demetrius Taylor and Okon Godwin also contributing in the sack category, and Jordan Fehr’s fumble recovery set up App State’s first touchdown.
Evans broke a 10-10 tie with 2:11 remaining in the first half on his catch of a perfectly thrown pass from Thomas, who absorbed a hit on the throw, and Evans’ 65-yard run to the Louisiana 6 on the second play of the third quarter set up another touchdown for a 24-10 lead.
On those two possessions, Evans had touches on nine of App State’s 13 plays.
“The O-line was opening it up,” Evans said. “I’m saying, ‘If it’s going to be like this, we might as well just keep running it and keep running the same plays.’ The coaches, they had a good beat on the defense and were making great calls, and the O-line was moving people around.”
Marcus Williams Jr. powered his way into the end zone from the 6 immediately after the career-long run from Evans, who cut between blocks from left guard Ryan Neuzil and center Noah Hannon in the middle of the field.
Evans rushed for his previous high of 115 yards on his 16 carries in App State’s previous game at Arkansas State, where star running back Jalin Moore suffered a season-ending ankle injury. Evans made just his second career start Saturday.
“It’s always nice knowing if you do your job, the person behind you is going to do theirs. That’s kind of our motto on offense. We’re DYJ – we do our job. Especially as an offensive line, you can’t really control anything else. We just try to do our best at doing our job, and we’ve got some special backs in the backfield.”
Evans said Moore’s appearance and words on the pregame intro video that played on the Kidd Brewer Stadium videoboard had an inspirational effect, and Moore interacted with his teammates in a jubilant postgame locker room only a few days removed from surgery.
“Seeing him today just made us glow up,” Evans said. “Even our motivational video, they had his voice on there, and everybody just got pumped.”
The Mountaineers maintained a two-touchdown lead thanks to a defensive stand after Louisiana started a drive at the App State 32 late in the third quarter. Facing a third-and-2 situation from the App State 12 to open the fourth quarter, Desmond Franklin and Fehr stopped 221-pound back Elijah Mitchell for no gain.
When Mitchell took a handoff on the fourth-down play, true freshman linebacker Trey Cobb and Franklin again tackled him for no gain.
“I always call Trey my son,” senior linebacker Anthony Flory said with a laugh about his much-younger teammate, “and whenever I see him, I say, ‘Son!’ Just to see him make that play felt good. It was just fun and good to see.”
App State flipped the field by advancing to its 46-yard line before Clayton Howell drilled a 53-yard punt that rolled to a stop in Steven Jones’ hands at the 1. Demetrius Taylor batted down a third-down throw to force a punt that enabled the Mountaineers to drive for a 29-yard, game-clinching field goal from Chandler Staton with 2:46 left.
“The defensive line did their part today,” Davis-Gaither said. “They played extremely hard like they always do. They cleared the way for us to play fast and read our keys and make the plays we’re supposed to.”
App State took a first-quarter lead on a 2-yard touchdown run from Evans, whose score came five plays after Fehr’s fumble recovery at the Louisiana 25, and the Ragin‘ Cajuns responded with an eight-play scoring drive that ended with Levi Lewis’ 38-yard touchdown pass to Mitchell.
There was another tie early in the second quarter as a 40-yard field goal from Staton preceded a 43-yard field goal by Louisiana’s Kyle Pfau. Evans put the Mountaineers ahead for good on the first touchdown catch of his young career.
Next up is the trip to Statesboro, Ga., for the ESPNU game with Georgia Southern on Thursday night.
“You have to put this one to bed really quickly and move forward because on Wednesday we’ll be heading to Georgia,” Satterfield said. “I’m proud of our guys and the way they fought and the way they continued to play and come up with enough plays to get the win.”