App State opens conference play riding wave of confidence

The Mountaineers host Troy — and ESPN’s “College GameDay” — after their upset of Texas A&M

App State running back Daetrich Harrington celebrates after the Mountaineers upset No. 6 Texas A&M on Saturday in College Station. (Sam Craft / AP Photo)

One week after pulling off the second-biggest upset victory in school history, Appalachian State will try to carry that momentum into Sun Belt play against visiting Troy.

After pulling off an improbable 17-14 win at Texas A&M on Saturday, the Mountaineers will also get a visit from “College GameDay” — the first time the ESPN show is headed to Boone and Kidd Brewer Stadium.

“Anytime you go on the road against the No. 6-ranked team in the country and get that win is great,” App State coach Shawn Clark said Monday. “It’s fantastic and it gives us an opportunity to bring ‘College GameDay’ to Boone, North Carolina, and we’re very excited about that.

“But we have a job at hand right now as we open conference play. Our goal was not to beat Texas A&M — our goal is to win the Sun Belt Championship.”

The Trojans (1-1) opened the season with a 28-10 road loss to No. 21 Ole Miss but rebounded a week later with a 38-17 home win over Alabama A&M.

Troy’s running game — with only 118 combined rushing yards through two games — has yet to click, but lead back Kimani Vidal has shown flashes of potential.

Junior quarterback Gunnar Watson has averaged 313 passing yards and completed more than 70% of his passes through two games. Wide receiver Jabre Barber, with a team-high 165 receiving yards, has emerged as Watson’s top target.

“Their quarterback can throw it, and they’re excellent on special teams,” Clark said of the Trojans. “In the Sun Belt as a whole, it’s tough to win — I don’t care where you’re at. Those teams are all better now and those games got a lot tougher, so we have our work cut out for us. I know those guys will be ready to play, and so will our guys.”

Clark’s Mountaineers (1-1) took the sports world by storm Saturday, beating Jimbo Fisher and the Aggies and rekindling memories of perhaps the most famous upset in college football history: App State’s 34-32 road win over Michigan in 2007.

Last weekend’s victory was just what App State needed after its season-opening 63-61 loss to UNC. The Mountaineers struggled defensively, allowing the Tar Heels to march down the field as quarterback Drake Maye racked up five touchdowns and 352 yards.

After a bounce-back performance by the defense in College Station, the Mountaineers will try to get their offense back to how it looked against UNC.

Against the Aggies, quarterback Chase Brice had only 134 yards and one touchdown on 15-of-30 passing for the Mountaineers, while wideout Dashaun Davis had four receptions for 39 yards. Running back Camerun Peoples was the difference-maker with 112 rushing yards on 19 carries (5.9 yards per carry).

“I think our guys will be focused and ready for the challenge,” Troy coach Jon Sumrall said of his team’s upcoming road test. “With a lot of what (App State) accomplished, I’d like for us to emulate and get to that standard and get back to where I think we were before. … They’ve been consistent through coaching changes and they’ve done a great job at having continuity and finding ways to continue their tradition and culture.”

Sumrall mentioned that the Mountaineers are in elite company among the most reliable programs in college football.

“App State, Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma are the only FBS programs with nine-plus wins every year since 2015, so what we’re getting ready to walk into is what we want to be,” he said. “I want our program to look like what they’ve been doing, so I have a lot of respect for them. I mean, they’re 42-8 at home since 2014.”

After a week of celebrating a win over an SEC powerhouse, the App State faithful will now show the country its enthusiasm during the ESPN visit. A win over Troy would not only get the Mountaineers off to a good start in conference play, but it could mean a return to the Top 25.