For the second time this year, Appalachian State notched a key conference victory on the road behind the efforts of a defense that is shaping up to be one of the best in the Sun Belt.The Mountaineers held Georgia Southern to just 159 total yards of offense and overcame an early 10-0 deficit to win 34-10 on Thursday night to improve to 6-2 overall and 4-0 in conference play. It was the fewest offensive yards ever for a Georgia Southern team in a home game and only the second time ever the Eagles have been held without an offensive touchdown at home.In the first 10 minutes of the game, the Eagles turned a Taylor Lamb interception into a field goal and then returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown. But there was no scaring this Appalachian State team, now well-versed in these mid-week “Fun Belt’ contests. Lamb bounced back from his early mistake and ran for two scores, leading a ground attack that highlighted both Jalin Moore and the return of star back Marcus Cox.The makeup of this stellar defensive performance starts with dominance on third down. Georgia State on just two of its 13 third down attempts and the ASU pass defense again rose to the occasion with the flow of the game called for stops and short fields. Freshman Clifton Duck picked up his fifth interception of the season, and the team’s total was bumped to a whopping 15 on the year.Three things to note from the win:1. The Mountaineers are bowl eligible at 6-2The primary concern for any program making the jump from FCS (formerly I-AA) to FBS is maintaining a level of success that has put that team in the position to make the jump in the first place. Appalachian State isn’t competing for national titles, but in just three years Scott Satterfield has made the Mountaineers an annual force in the Sun Belt and bowl eligible for a second-straight year.2. The return of Marcus CoxCox was a star against Georgia Southern a year ago in Boone and made his triumphant return from injury against the Eagles on Thursday night. The senior running back recorded 115 rushing yards on 18 carries with a touchdown in his first action in more than a month. In addition to helping Appalachian State’s pursuit of a Sun Belt championship, Cox’s return means even more movement in the program record book as one of the most decorated players to ever put on the black and gold. In the second half, Cox passed John Settle to move into second place on ASU’s all-time rushing list. His career rushing total of 4,499 yards is the second-most among active players in FBS and just 305 yards short of tying Kevin Richardson’s school record of 4,804 (2004-07).3. The road to a title runs through Troy, Ala.Playing Georgia Southern on the road was a test that no Appalachian State coach, player or fan could look past when considering the potential for a conference championship in 2016. The two programs have too much history together and have played too many classics to assume any team had an irreversible advantage.With a convincing win in the bag, now the attention turns to Troy.If the Mountaineers take care of business against an Everett Withers-coached Texas State team next Saturday, they’ll enter that Nov. 12 matchup in Alabama undefeated in conference play with a chance to all-but-secure the Sun Belt title. Neal Brown has Troy, a team App State beat 44-41 in a triple-overtime thriller last year, rolling in his second year as head coach and you can bet the Trojans will be looking for revenge after losing on a field goal a year ago.
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