BOONE, N.C. — November has arrived with familiar sights and stakes.
The first snowfall of the season fell Thursday in Boone, and the Mountaineers enter the final month of their schedule in control of their championship aspirations.
While a cold front hit the High Country, division-leading App State (6-2, 3-1) has been preparing for a warmer trip west to face Sun Belt foe Arkansas State (1-7, 0-4). The game will be shown on ESPN+ with a kickoff time of 2 p.m. ET (1 p.m. in Jonesboro, Ark.).
“We understand the magnitude of this game,” App State head coach Shawn Clark said. “It’s another championship game for us, and we have to play our football. We have to execute and not turn the football over.”
It’s the second of three straight App State games against West Division teams with a new head coach. The Mountaineers led 49-7 at halftime of a 59-28 victory last weekend against ULM, which is led this season by Terry Bowden, and Butch Jones is in his first season coaching the Red Wolves.
Jones was in charge of the Tennessee team that edged App State in a 2016 overtime opener, and Arkansas State has lost seven straight games since beginning this year with a 40-21 home victory against Central Arkansas.
It has shown its potential with close losses against Memphis (55-50 in Jonesboro), Tulsa (41-34 on the road) and division-leading Louisiana (28-27 in Jonesboro on Oct. 21), and the Red Wolves are back at home after losing 31-13 at South Alabama last weekend.
Facing an Arkansas State offense that averages 27.5 points a game, with quarterback Layne Hatcher’s season including a 300-yard, three-TD passing game against Louisiana, App State will look to create havoc like it did while forcing five turnovers in the ULM win.
The Mountaineers got first-half interceptions from a cornerback (pick-six TD for Steven Jones Jr.), safety (Ryan Huff) and linebacker (Trey Cobb). T.D. Roof, Tyler Bird and Donte Small all forced fumbles in the victory.
“Offensively, they have a lot of great playmakers on their football team,” Clark said. “Their quarterback throws an excellent ball, and they have great receivers.”
Arkansas State is allowing 42.4 points per game, with four losses in which its opponent scored 50-plus, and App State’s 59-point outburst against ULM tied for the program’s second-most points against a Sun Belt foe since the Mountaineers joined the league in 2014.
They’ve exhibited balance with the Sun Belt’s leading rusher by yards (Nate Noel at 95.9 per game), the Sun Belt’s leading rusher by touchdowns (Camerun Peoples at 12) and the Sun Belt’s leading passer (Chase Brice at 262.0 per game).
Only two programs have more than one active receiver with at least 2,000 receiving yards in FBS games. Texas Tech has a pair, and App State goes a step further with three: Thomas Hennigan (2,704), Malik Williams (2,183) and Corey Sutton (2,056 for the Mountaineers).
Tennessee transfer Kivon Bennett ranks second nationally with 13.0 tackles for loss, including 6.0 sacks, but Brice has only been sacked seven times this season, and he blames himself for most of them.
“On defense, they rally to the football,” Clark said, “so we have to do a really good job of reading our keys, hitting our holes and executing the game plan.”