Back Defense Leads App to Sun Belt Title Game

Defense Leads App to Sun Belt Title Game

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Appalachian State has now held seven of its past ten foes to ten points or less.

One of college football's best defenses will be on display in the first-ever Sun Belt Conference Championship Game as Appalachian State clinched a division title, and a berth, with a 21-10 victory over Troy. The Mountaineers continued their remarkable defensive play in their regular season finale, limiting the Trojans to just 232 yards and 12 first downs, Troy's second-lowest totals in two dozen games, and ten points, the Trojans' fewest dating back to early last October. Appalachian State has now held seven of its past ten foes to ten points or less. 

Since losing in overtime at Penn State to open the season, the Mountaineers have allowed 12.4 points per game; only Georgia Southern scored more than 17 in that span. Saturday was yet another example of that dominance. Appalachian State allowed merely 4.9 yards per pass and 2.3 yards per rush to Troy, forcing four turnovers. As the Trojans tried to mount a late comeback, the Mountaineers gave up just 25 total yards on their last five possessions. Troy was a combined 3-of-18 on third and fourth down conversions.

Appalachian State, which hasn't surrendered more than 229 yards through the air in any game this fall, solidified itself as a top five pass defense nationally, holding Sawyer Smith to 50% on his completions. All-American candidate Clifton Duck recorded his 12th career interception and Thomas Hennigan, a wide receiver, recorded his first defending a Hail Mary. The Mountaineers recorded three sacks and eight tackles for loss. This is a unit that entered the weekend tied for first in the country having given up just nine plays of 30 yards or more, a total that still stands.

The regular season is now in the books and the Appalachian State defense is allowing 278.2 yards per game; the Sun Belt record for total defense in a single year is 290.2 yards per game, set by North Texas in 2002. Appalachian State, ahead of Championship Saturday in college football, boasts one of the historically great Group of Five defenses.   

Up next for the Mountaineers is a conference championship game rematch with Louisiana, winners of the Sun Belt West. The Mountaineers defeated the Ragin' Cajuns 27-17 back on October 20th, slowing their powerful ground attack to 3.4 yards per carry, the lone rushing score coming late in the fourth quarter of a decided game. Appalachian State will host Louisiana at Kidd Brewer Stadium, aka The Rock, a nickname that now comes with multiple distinctions; no visitor has scored over 17 points in Boone all season.

Fittingly, the Mountaineers are headed to the inaugural Sun Belt Conference Championship Game. Their defense enters as the headline attraction.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports