Appalachian State hosts inaugural Sun Belt title game

The Mountaineers face visiting Louisiana-Lafayette for the conference title and an automatic bid to the New Orleans Bowl

Appalachian State quarterback Zac Thomas scores a touchdown during the Mountaineers’ home win last Saturday. App State hosts Louisiana-Lafayette in the Sun Belt Conference title game this weekend. (Walt Unks / The Winston-Salem Journal via AP)

Given the events of the four seasons since Appalachian State’s football program moved up to the FBS level, it’s no surprise that the Mountaineers will be hosting the inaugural Sun Belt Conference Championship Game on Saturday.

“We’re a program that likes to do a lot of firsts,” said coach Scott Satterfield, whose East Division champs will take on West Division winner Louisiana-Lafayette at noon in Kidd Brewer Stadium. “We’ve been able to do that the past four years when you look at making that transition, going to our first bowl game, then two years ago winning the conference.

“And now, the first year that you’re able to have an outright champion, we’re able to host the game. That’s a credit to our players and our staff. Games like this are what our kids play for.”

In addition to the conference title, the winner of Saturday’s game will earn the Sun Belt’s automatic bid to the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 15. The loser will be selected to play in one of the conference’s other postseason tie-ins.

As proud as Satterfield and his team are to be part of another history-making event, this won’t be the first time App State and Louisiana-Lafayette have met in Boone this season.

Back on Oct. 20, the Mountaineers beat the Ragin’ Cajuns 27-17 in a game that saw sophomore running back Darrynton Evans rush for 183 yards and a touchdown in his first start following a season-ending injury to star Jalin Moore.

Satterfield said that neither team has changed much over the month-and-a-half since they last met, other than the confidence Louisiana-Lafayette has gained while winning four of its last five regular season games to finish at 7-5 (5-3 in the conference).

“They started out 1-3 and have been on a roll the last half of the season,” Satterfield said on a teleconference Monday. “They have a very explosive offense (and) defensively (they’re) very aggressive. They’re a good football team.”

App State (9-2, 7-1) has been even better, with its only losses coming in overtime to Penn State and at Georgia Southern on a night in which quarterback Zac Thomas missed all but the opening series with a concussion.

That injury was one of several the Mountaineers, who earned their first FBS national ranking the week of the Georgia Southern game, have had to overcome this season.

Satterfield said that the ability to continue playing well and winning despite the loss of key players is a testament to the talent and depth of App State’s roster.

Not only are the Mountaineers the highest-scoring team in the Sun Belt at 36.6 points per game, but they also lead the league in scoring defense allowing an average of just 17.8 points allowed.

“We’ve tried to have a program here where we’ve worked hard, developed players and just tried to continue to get better every day,” Satterfield said. “We’ve been consistent with that. I think that’s why we’ve been able to stay on the top of the Sun Belt and have another opportunity to win this thing.”

App State has won or shared the last two conference titles. That success, however, could turn out to be bittersweet no matter how Saturday’s game turns out.

Although the Mountaineers dodged one bullet when Satterfield didn’t get the North Carolina job as many speculated following the firing of Larry Fedora on Sunday, his name is still being mentioned in connection with several other Power 5 positions.

The former App State quarterback declined to address his future when asked about it Monday, but he said that the attention from other schools won’t be a distraction.

“When you have a program that’s consistent winning football games and doing it the right way, you’re going to have people talk about you in a positive manner,” Satterfield said. “For us, that’s all we do, trying to put a consistent product out there to try to win football games.

“I’d rather be in these conversations than the other ones, particularly this time of year. There are a lot of bad things happening for some of these coaches. All I’m focusing on is trying to win this Sun Belt championship again.”