BOONE, N.C. — High school teammates in Georgia, now fifth-year seniors at App State, Jalen Virgil and Kaiden Smith both put together award-winning performances in a win against the longtime rival from their home state.
Virgil was named the Sun Belt Conference’s Special Teams Player of the Week by the league after he scored two touchdowns, including a fourth-quarter kickoff return of 100 yards to give the Mountaineers their first lead, in a 34-26 victory at Georgia Southern on Saturday.
College Sports Madness named Smith its Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Week thanks to his career-high 12 tackles (10 solo), a fourth-quarter interception and one pass breakup from his run-supporting safety position.
Virgil and Smith attended Mountain View High School in Lawrenceville, Ga., together and are among a group of App State seniors who are housemates in Boone.
Virgil’s 171 all-purpose yards in Statesboro, Ga., came from 126 yards on two kickoff returns and 45 yards on three critical catches. App State trailed 14-0 late in the first half before he made a contested grab in the back of the end zone on a third-and-goal throw from the 16, and the Mountaineers trailed 20-17 early in the fourth quarter as he followed Georgia Southern’s tiebreaking field goal with just the third 100-yard kickoff return in program history.
The most dramatic kickoff returns in recent App State history didn’t happen in the fourth quarter, like Virgil’s. Darrynton Evans broke a 21-all tie in the third quarter of a 2016 bowl win against Toledo, but the Rockets later tied the game, and a tiebreaking field goal gave the Mountaineers a 31-28 victory. In 2012, Tony Washington’s 99-yard kickoff return late in the third quarter turned a 24-21 deficit against Wofford into a 28-24 lead, but the Terriers went on to win 38-28.
With App State’s lead down to five points later in the fourth quarter, Virgil’s gain of 33 yards on a diving catch was the highlight of a drive that ended with a field goal to push the lead to eight.
Smith led all players with 12 tackles, and he snagged his third career interception on the Eagles’ first play of a fourth-quarter drive after the Mountaineers had taken a 31-20 lead. Two of Smith’s tackles stopped the Eagles short on third-down tries, as Georgia Southern went 2 of 10 on third down in the game.